Home » Children and Young Adult Novel Reviews » Book Review – Doctor De Soto by William Steig

Book Review – Doctor De Soto by William Steig

Almost anyone can tell you a horror story involving the dentist, how they felt terrified and that the man behind the surgical facemask and plastic white gloves was like a medieval torturer from a macabre fairytale. With his hands in your mouth, touching the sensitive gums with hooked wires and instruments with the most ear-splitting horrific noises. And you feared for your innocent teeth.

Or if you had a dentist like mine who you loved to talk with and could talk your ear off over episodes of The Simpsons (back when it was good) that is okay too.

After all, it could be worse, you could have Corbin Bernsen’s character from that movie “The Dentist” with his drill and anesthetic. Or to a more extreme extent: The Dentist from the movie “Marathon Man.” asking you,  “Is It Safe?” *Bzzzzzzt*

But, in this book, we get a different alternative, where this book asks us to sympathize and worry for the dentist instead of the patient. The book is “Doctor De Soto” written by William Steig; who is known for other books such as Abel’s Island, The Amazing Bone, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and Shrek! (a book which is basis for the popular movie series of the same name) these stories of which we will look at later on down the line.


The story is about a mouse and his wife who own a dental clinic for animals. And their attempt to treat a fox who likes to eat mice.

The Story

Doctor De Soto lives in a world where animals walk upright, talk, dress, work, and act like human beings. This sort of concept in literature and media is not uncommon and referred to as anthropomorphic animals.

Using animals to act on behalf of human personas was not a relatively uncommon practice in storytelling. Dating back to the olden days, the most common example of anthropomorphic animal stories were that of Aesop’s fables and Uncle Remus Tales. Children would be both entertained and learn the morals of these stories, being more in tune with the whimsical nature of the animal characters than if these morals were committed by ordinary human beings. This kind of thinking continues onto this day, usually taking on different forms in separate occasions of not just children’s stories, but various animated movies and cartoons shows as well. Used for both educational and entertainment allegorical resources that still remain to this day.

The mouse-dentist works in a dental office with his wife who is his assistant. Together they work with animals of different shapes and sizes with a combination of a special reclining chair and a series of pulleys to manuever around the mouths of larger animals. Now when I say they treat animals it seems (dare I say it) they seem “discriminatory” with their practices it feels, as they will refuse services to those whose diet consists of mice. Now when I was younger and I watched the animated short in my kindergarten classroom, I thought it wasn’t really fair when a fox arrived complaining of a bad tooth and being turned away because of the foxes reputation to eat mice.

Now granted it does sound like a safety procedure to the employees who are mice in this case, but still it does seem almost prejudice that the mouse does not want to treat the fox’s tooth ache nor does he refer him to another dental clinic where he could be treated. Is this the only time this has happened, is it an unfortunate implication of other standard business practices for prey animals to do in this world?

One wonders what kind of discriminatory suit would follow in a world like this, does the same thing happen to getting a job, a house, heck even owning property maybe in this clustered inter-segregated world of both hunter and prey animals?

Deer: *sitting in an office giving a job interview to a wolf* Sorry Mr. Wolf I can’t hire you on the grounds that you are carnivore and might eat our customers.

Wolf: But I have been rabbit-free for twenty-five years and made parole, and you’re not hiring because of what you think I MIGHT do!?!? I WILL SEE YOU IN COURT! MY ATTORNEY WILL HEAR FROM YOU!

Deer: You mean the badger?

Wolf: Yeah!

Deer: …..crap.

But, at the behest of his wife, Dr. De Soto agrees to come around and offer assistance to the fox, and fix his bad tooth. Dr. De Soto examines the tooth and finds that it needs to be fixed with a new one, so to remove the old bad tooth, he puts the fox under and as he works on him the fox starts talking in his sleep saying that he wants to eat them but it wouldn’t do seeing how they are helping him in the first place. When the fox comes too they tell him to go home and come back to the office tomorrow to get his brand new tooth.

Dr. De Soto regrets ever helping the fox in the first place but his wife, ever the calming voice of reason, reassured him that the anesthesia might have been to blame, since the fox had no idea he was talking out loud about eating them in the first place so gets to work creating the false tooth for the surgery tomorrow.

After all, who hasn’t said something embarrassing in their sleep?

Dr. De Soto almost becomes sort of reluctant hero, he is worried for the safety of his wife and other mouse employees but at the same time he would be in fear of breaking his Hippocratic oath if he turns away the toothache fox. His only bet is to play it by ear and wait until the fox returns to his next appointment for the surgery.

The middle of the story is intense (as was the animated short admittedly) as we see the De Sotos work on the tooth surgery and insert the new tooth, but shock and dull surprise instead of making the story turn out to have the fox not eat them and let it be a lesson about judging someone before getting the full story or jumping to conclusions, the fox decides to bite the hands that fixed his toothache and try to eat them.

But it looks like they’ve prepared this little betrayal, since during the surgery, Dr. De Soto puts mouth glue all over the fox’s teeth so that they would get stuck together and the fox couldn’t trap them inside his jaws. And with the fox running away with his tail between his legs and at least without a tooth ache, the dentist and his wife decide to close up the clinic and take the day off. With his wife replying that she will never again disagree of arguing against his policy of refusing hostile animals.

The Review And Aftermath

Is it that bad a story, no not really, it has its questionable situations but presents more of a gray morality line. True, on one hand most doctors and physicians in real life wouldn’t turn away anyone inflicted by whatever circumstances would arise. But on the other hand, it may be a question that will one day come up in surgery. If the patient has been known to have done criminal wrong in his life, can he refuse him or let him die?

But this is a children’s story and it doesn’t ask children to ask these tough questions, but it does at least acknowledges that through this story there is no right or wrong answers. What Dr. De Soto did was mean to turn away the fox in the first place and refuse him help, but the fox was also in the wrong to try to turn on his dentist and wife AFTER the operation. So what does this mean when the next animal wants to come in that has been known to eat mice expecting dental care, we will never know.

It is a cute little story, and with its plot as such, it provides an interesting obstacle and challenge to the main characters that will make the child-reader interested in seeing how it ends and what will become of whose involved. If you’re child is one of those that is interested in animal stories with a gray moral plotline check this out as well as other William Steig books.


1 Comment

  1. Aikou says:

    That was a nice review, I liked it. I didn’t really know that the author also made a book that Shrek was based off of. I like those movies. Also your dentist is cool for liking The Simpsons lol.

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