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The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine

This book was, to the best of my knowledge, Donald Barthelme’s only book for children. It is also the last one of his books that I got to read in book form since it has been out of print since forever and damned near impossible to find a copy of. I tracked this one down vial inter-library loan so I got to revel in the weird layouts, colors and font faces and sizes, more commonplace now but positively wacky in 1971.

The story, such as it is, concerns a girl who wakes up one day and finds a little Chinese house in her back yard. She enters it and meets a djinn who shows her around the place. When I read the story to some fourth graders a few years back, it sparked a lively discussion about the three wish problem and was it or was it not fair to wish for more wishes. In any case, the book is illustrated in Barthelme style with the characters played by old engravings that he found who knows where. The layout is playful and interesting and the story is lively. It is one of the world’s great sadnesses that this book is so hard to find and is not required reading for children everywhere.