Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories” was one of my favorite childhood books — a gem I found in my elementary school library. (I seem to remember the nuns just sort of setting us loose there during reading class with the instructions to find something we liked. It was the kind of unstructured activity that I don’t often remember from Catholic School.)
It’s basically a short collection of fables that Kipling concocted for his daughter about how certain animals got their key traits (“How the Elephant Got His Trunk,” “How the Leopard Got His Spots,” etc.). This was one of two favorite books that were consistently a magnet for me in the tiny, tidy library beside the principal’s office. The other was the collection of Arabian folktales, “One Thousand and One Nights.”
Growing up, I never realized that Kipling was the same author who wrote “Gunga Din” — both the 1890 poem and the eponymous 1939 war film with Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (That movie was beloved by my father and brother, and later by me.) I just never made the connection.