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When I was a little boy I used to read (or at least I had read to me) Richard Scarry’s wonderful series, especially What Do People Do All Day? and the Huckle stories. These were fantastic books with animals, dressed as humans, at the heart them. In every tale, they lived, dressed and talked just like we did but the most wonderful part was Scarry’s exploded and cut away drawings, which allowed you to see inside buildings, cars, firetrucks and even submarines. Coupled with exquisite details but a relaxed style, you really got inside the lives of these characters – to dream and imagine what they were like and let your mind wonder beyond the stories.
Reading French Canadian author/illustrator Marianne Dubuc’s new book, Mr Postmouse goes on Holiday, I felt just the same way I did reading Mr Scarry. Along with my six-year-old daughter, we poured over the brightly coloured, charming and detailed water colour illustrations, almost forgetting to actually read the story. Actually, it’s not hard because Dubuc has intentionally placed the text, single sentence blocks, in amongst her drawings, as if she wants you to discover them. Perhaps those who are a bit eye-sight challenged may have to grab their specs but the learner-readers in my house hold took great delight in picking their way through the 10-point font size, as if there were treasures to uncover. And on that point Dubuc’s language is simple enough for new readers, years 1 & 2, especially. The translation from French is clean and intelligent. No clunky sentences or odd phrasing to stubble over. It remains compelling enough to move the story along and keep the pages turning.
The plot is very simple. What does Mr Postmouse do when he goes on holiday? He continues to deliver the mail of course. Sound like a few parents you may know, who just can’t switch off their work phones when they go to the beach? This a return of Dubuc’s characters, the Postmouse family, this time as Globetrotters bouncing around the planet dropping off packages to their friends on the way; sailing on ships with opera shows on board; toasting marshmallows over a volcano; flying in hot air balloons and visiting Eskimos at the Pole. In amongst the narrative illustrations, Dubuc drops in a few visual jokes which the adults and caregivers will appreciate. For example, there’s a scene where they all stay at a campsite. While family pitching tents in the foreground, two children are dropping bread crumbs as they approach a house made of candy. In the trees, there’s a squirrel with sunglasses and a troupe of Boy Scouts on a trek. In the desert scene, there’s a snake living in a palatially appointed four room cactus apartment, whilst another serpent is sneaking around in the branches of an apple tree and a little Postmouse is taking a luxurious a dip in the hotel’s oasis, blowing water spouts like a Blue Whale.
I’d not come across Montreal based Dubuc before but I’d be keen to explore here repertoire further now. She has books, including Here Comes Mr Postmouse and the Lion and The Bird, in over 20 languages for many different age groups but, clearly, she really enjoys producing material like this. You can feel the joy in every page. You can see why she won the 2014 Governor General Award, a Canadian literary award for English-language fiction, for outstanding illustrations for her book The Lion and the Bird.
Reviewed by Tim Gruar
Mr Postmouse Goes on Holiday
by Marianne Dubuc, translated by Greet Pauelijn
Published by Book Island