Animal news: Pandas, horse manure and a rare book

So why are pandas covering themselves with horse manure?

The question jumps well over what I personally know about pandas. Which is, they’re impossible to take your eyes off. And you are impelled to wrap your arms around them and have a cuddle. And they’re beautifully white with black accents. So, horse manure?

Actually, I know a bit more about pandas than that. When I was a child, my father, Nate Fein, wrote a children’s book called Peter Panda, about a little panda who “lived seven thousand miles away, seven thousand feet up, in a land of seven thousand bamboo trees.”

He had been inspired, so I believe, by an excitement in the US caused by the first visit of a panda cub before World War II, initiating a demi-craze known as “Pandamania.”

In my father’s book, a little American boy (name I have forgotten or maybe he was Peter) was devoted to a children’s book of animals for every letter of the alphabet. But when he turned to the P page, although the name “panda” was inscribed, there was no picture of a panda. So the little boy developed an illness called “panda-citis,” which could be cured only by seeing an actual panda.

Thus, the panda visited the United States and the little boy. Who was cured.

I don’t think the book was a bestseller. As my brother has pointed out, “Our father thought that the sentence, ‘Peter was particularly partial to the tender shoots of bamboo,’ would be hilarious to two-year-olds.

The book’s illustrations were enchanting. In the 1980’s when I was working for Malcolm Forbes, somebody sent him a magnetized panda (for the fridge, I guess). He didn’t want it. It looked like the illustrations in Peter Panda, so I asked Malcolm if I could keep it. Absolutely, he said, and it rests on my kitchen counter (the magnet isn’t strong enough to grip my fridge).

Well, that was a long diversion.

If you want to understand why beautiful pandas would smear themselves with horse dung, read the link. Although the article sort of explains it, I’m still wondering how pandas and horse shit come into contact with each other seven thousand miles away, seven thousand feet up, in a land of seven thousand bamboo trees.

Meanwhile, curious about Dad’s book, I googled “Peter Panda.” I found a number of children’s books called that, but not our Peter Panda. Then I did what I almost never do: I went past the first screen Google provided onto the next one.

And there, on Etsy, I found my father’s book, listed as rare. So I bought it.

P.S. I’d forgotten that, for fairly obvious reasons, a/k/a anti-Semitism, Dad’s agent nudged him into publishing under the pen name “Paul E. Walker.” My brother remembers the agent’s name — Manny Eagle — because when he was a little boy he heard the agent’s name as Many Eagle, and thought he was a native American.

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1 Response to Animal news: Pandas, horse manure and a rare book

  1. Sue Cummings says:

    I bought a copy on eBay because my personal one was written on (childhood scribbles?)
    But kept the original because it was inscribed to me by my wonderful Uncle Nate! I LOVE that story!

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