I adored Tim Egan's picture book The Pink Refrigerator. So much so that it made the short pile of picture books that I keep for myself, instead of giving them away. The Pink Refrigerator ends with Dodsworth hopping on his bike, setting out for adventure. Thus when I read that the sequel, Dodsworth in New York, was coming out, I requested a copy from the publisher immediately.
Unlike The Pink Refrigerator, Dodsworth in New York is a chapter book. However, rest assured that it is a very early chapter book, just the tiniest step up from beloved picture books. Each page has a picture that takes up the bulk of the space, in most cases accompanied by four or five short lines of text. Kid-friendly, accessible text, with a subtle, philosophical underpinning.
On the first page of Dodsworth in New York, our hero, a somewhat frumpy-looking mouse in hat and jacket, prepares to set out on his trip:
"Dodsworth wanted adventure.
He wanted to fly in a plane.
He wanted to sail on a ship.
He wanted to see the world.
But first, he wanted breakfast."
Dodsworth stops for breakfast at Hodges' Café, where Hodges' crazy duck throws pancakes at him. This is not enough to destroy Dodsworth's mood, however, and he sets off on the train for New York. To his astonishment, however, he finds that the duck has stowed away in his suitcase. It seems that the duck is also looking for adventure. Dodsworth tries to send the duck home, but the duck runs away into New York City. Dodsworth is briefly tempted to wash his hands of the duck, but knows how worried Hodges will be. So he scours New York in search of the now elusive creature.
And the duck takes Hodges on quite a tour of the city, from Washington Square to the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty and Central Park. To movies and museums and tony shopping districts. Following the duck, Dodsworth sees things that he never would have found on his own. And repeatedly he sees the duck enjoying himself with careless abandon. The duck is not very well-behaved (throwing popcorn in a movie theater, for instance), but sure is good at having fun. I won't spoil the ending for you, but I hope that Dodsworth and duck have many further adventures.
Dodsworth in New York is a manual for letting go and enjoying life, as well as a love letter to New York. But more importantly, it's a delightful early reader, sure to please kids and adults. I think that it takes a gifted writer to convert the short sentences and limited vocabulary of an early reader into something with tone and substance. Egan accomplishes this feat admirably. The personalities of Dodsworth and the duck both come through clearly. And the short sentences function as understatement, allowing the reader to fill in details of mood and subtext. For example (Chapter 3):
"The next morning, the train pulled into New York City.
Dodsworth bought a ticket for the duck to go home.
He turned to give the duck the ticket.
He saw the duck getting onto the subway."
So simple, but we see Dodsworth's plodding, responsible nature juxtaposed against the insouciance of the duck.
The illustrations are ink and watercolor on paper, with muted colors that suit Dodsworth's nature. Occasionally, they add detail to the story. The funniest is when Dodsworth is searching the Museum of Modern Art for the duck. The text just says that he can't find the duck. But the picture shows the duck camouflaged as part of a sculpture. The illustrations also add to our understanding of Dodsworth's personality, sometimes because of his expressions, and sometimes because of his small size compared with the people around him. His determination to find the duck is evident in every line.
I highly, highly recommend Dodsworth in New York for early readers, especially those who already love Dodsworth. And who, having met him, could help loving him? Certainly not me.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: September 24, 2007
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher