Page 45 Review by Stephen
There's a poster pinned to the wall in the staff room, sub-titled 'A Handy Guide For Firefighters'. It's quite succinct.
"IS IT ON FIRE?"
Below are depicted two houses, identical but for a single salient feature: one them is bursting with flames (On Fire), the other is entirely inert (Not On Fire).
Glad that's sorted, then. We wouldn't want to waste water.
Do your young ones dig dinosaurs? Of course they do! They dream of little else! Are fire engines - lights flashing, their sirens NEE-NAR-ing - the most thrilling way to travel? Yes, indeed they are! Preferably through an indoor shopping centre at lunchtime.
Behold, then, this Early Learning heaven which wastes no time in charging straight to the rescue of Snookums the cat, stranded on top of a pre-historic fern, the centre-piece of a quiet, cobbled courtyard on the coast. Dipsy the Diplodocus has just joined the crew and knows what to do!
"Her long neck was just right for reaching up to the top branch," we are told in letters that travel up her long neck to the branch. Neat! Nimbly, she grabs a giant frond in her mouth, pulling the cat closer. "But..."
Can you tell what well-intentioned Dipsy might have done wrong yet? I might have opted for securing Snookums by the scruff of its neck, myself.
It's already been visually established that friends and families are sitting relaxed around this piazza, sharing a pizza or drinking a cafetiere of coffee. Someone is selling ice creams. All eyes are on dynamic Dipsy! Over the page, however, the mayor is shown, cutlery poised, about to dig in to an enormous pink pudding, all wobbly and covered in cream. I'll write that again: all wobbly and covered in cream.
Your eyes cannot help but be drawn to it by the full-page parabolic arch which begins, bottom-left, with Dipsy's fellow firefighters, eyes wide, mouths gaping agog, all staring diagonally upwards from their lurching red and yellow fire engine; then there is Dipsy herself, long neck also curved round to the right as the frond snaps in two and the fern catapults poor, fluffy Snookums on the same curved trajectory, out towards the reader and the inevitable, jellied destination as the mayor eyes her prize, oblivious.
Both ellipses are invaluable to the comedy. On any second read through I can hear youngsters giggling in anticipation even as early as "But...", so by the time Snookums is sailing through the air towards its date with the cake they will be squealing, then SPLAT!!
Snookums seems quite delighted by the final sensation. Mrs. Mayor, maybe not.
More mirth from Sarah McIntyre, then, the creator of THE NEW NEIGHBOURS which wraps its warm heart round the welcoming of strangers, THERE'S A SHARK IN THE BATH which will cure any aversion to immersion, and the co-creator of JAMPIRES, PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH, PUG-A-DOODLE-DO! etc, all of which you can find reviewed with gusto in Page 45's Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre section. Hurrah!
Don't worry that Dipsy the Diplodocus doesn't get it right first time round, or even the second time when Trevor the T-Rex gets stuck in the climbing frame... again! The absurdity of that page is a scream. A) What does a T-Rex that large even want with a climbing frame? B) How did such an enormous beast get onto or even into the climbing frame in the first place, let alone then stuck in it and C) ... AGAIN?!?!?!?!
Everyone messes up a fair few times at first, but perseverance is everything and Dipsy will remain determined to do her best, quickly discovering that her individual attributes which made her an awkward fit for fire-fighting at first (the standard uniform jacket barely covered her neck - they have to order an XXXXXXXL especially) will be the very things to save the day when a real emergency strikes and the fire engine breaks down.
She might even make up for her mishap with the mayor. I hope so! Because that dry cleaning bill can't have been cheap.
One of the things I love most about McIntyre's work is that, along with the exuberant, colourful comedy, she so often has something important to impart to impressionable young minds, digging into her own awkward experiences to do so. With THE NEW NEIGHBOURS it was her insight as an American immigrant to England, so often asked when she's going back (!), which suggested to her that now would be a very good time indeed to create a picture book about welcoming strangers, appreciating the fresh things their individuality brings to any community, and most emphatically not listening to ill-informed gossip nor spreading it about in the first place!
Now, I'm not sure if you've met La McIntyre (she's so often touring and performing, inspiring young people to create for themselves, so you must!) but she is really rather tall. Amazonian, in fact! And in her online journal she confides that when young she too felt as awkward as Dipsy the Diplodocus when it came to standard-sized kit: https://jabberworks.livejournal.com/803407.html Now Sarah's stature - and wow factor fashion-wizardry - helps her stand out a mile, drawing excitable kids straight to her. So it is with our pre-historic protagonist, who will discover that her shape and size, while making her feel a little clumsy to begin with, will in fact prove pivotal to saving all and sundry. It's difficult not to compare yourselves to others, even as adults, but any book that helps improve a vulnerable child's self-esteem - when we all grow at different rates - is a winner for me!
The forms are truly gorgeous, filling each page to bursting. Dipsy especially can scarcely be contained, doubled over in the confines of the staff room when at her most disheartened. That's a very clever melding of cause and consequence, of physical discomfort and body-language embarrassment. The eyes there are ever so expressive, the pink flush of her cheeks standing out against her otherwise blue markings as she's offered a consoling beverage, and that those are so watery makes her stand out from her colleagues.
Although one of her peers on that very same page made me chortle with his horns fanning out like a punk's egg-white-stiffened hair.
Other random background observations (there really is so much to spot): I loved the traditional cuckoo clock which is given a bone- and Pteranodon-tweak, and that the fashions are a mix of contemporary and quaint (see mayor once more), with transistor radios sitting alongside laptops. I imagine this is the first time I've used the word "crockery" in a review, but that's worth a glance too.
I also adored that the mayor's Chain of Office appears to be made out of red- and blue-centred Jammy Dodgers, with a final berried biscuit in the middle. Mine would be too! Do you think that's a vote-winner?
Lastly I'd add that if your young ones love this, then their next step up the Young Readers ladder should be to Gary Northfield's TERRIBLE TALES OF THE TEENYTINYSAURS which still makes me chuckle and is reviewed. If memory serves (it does so decreasingly) Gary and Sarah shared a studio once, and now they share shelf space. Hooray!