Oh No, George! Chris Haughton
Splat Says Thank You! (Splat the Cat): Rob Scotton

The Man from the Land of Fandango: Margaret Mahy & Polly Dunbar

Book: The Man from the Land of Fandango
Author: Margaret Mahy
Illustrator: Polly Dunbar
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8 

The Man from the Land of Fandango is another collaboration between author Margaret Mahy (who died this past summer) and illustrator Polly Dunbar. I adored Mahy and Dunbar's Bubble Trouble, and it remains a family favorite (we have the board book edition). I was slower to warm up to The Man from the Land of Fandango, however, because it doesn't have as much of a plot. The premise is that the man from the land of Fandango comes to visit two children, leaping out of a picture that they have painted to lead them through a series of remarkable antics (dancing with bears, making music with dinosaurs). At the end of the book, he disappears back into the painting. 

Story-wise, it's a bit too surrealistic for me. But the more I read it, the more I appreciate Mahy's gift for writing lyrical text. She varies the structure of the rhymes, but maintains a consistent, bouncy feel from page to page. She's not afraid to stretch out a rhyme sequence over 3-4 pages, and she uses fun phrases like "bingles and bangles and bounces" and "tingle and tongle and tangle". Here's a snippet: 

"Oh, whenever they dance in Fandango,
The bears and the bison join in,

And baboons on bassoons make a musical sound,

And the kangaroos come with a hop and a bound,

And the dinosaurs join in the din."

(Here each paragraph is a separate page spread.) As you can see in the above example, there aren't a lot of words on each page, and I think that having text like the above spread out over multiple pages makes the book a bit harder to read aloud than it might be otherwise. But the writing is still brilliant.

Polly Dunbar's watercolor and collage illustrations are as bright and bouncy as the text. The man from Fandango visibly started out as a child's drawing, with curved lines for eyes, nose, and mouth, and pink circles for his cheeks. But after he leaves the painting, he is clearly 3-dimensional, and seems to even become increasingly more human-looking throughout the course of the book. The two children are clad in gray, a subtle reference, I think, to the dullness of their lives prior to the visit from the man. They look slightly more realistic than the man does.

Mahy's backgrounds are filled with stars and bubbles and flowers. The page in which "the man from the land of Fandango is given to dancing and dreams" shows the man and the two children riding a sort of stream through the air, filled with stars, hearts, and other shapes. There are other humorous elements, like spilled drinks, and a dinosaur reaching over a bear to take a bite of cake. There are plenty of tidbits to reward repeat reading. 

In short, even though surrealism sans plot is not really my sort of thing, I was won over by the quality of both the poetry and the illustrations in The Man from the Land of Fandango. Recommended for at home read-aloud with preschoolers and early elementary school kids, and for anyone who enjoys nonsense. 

Publisher: Clarion Books (@hmhkids)
Publication Date: October 23, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).