I loved the first two books in Tim Egan's Dodsworth series: The Pink Refrigerator and Dodsworth in New York, and I was eager to get my hands on this third one. Dodsworth in Paris is a very early reader (four chapters, with color illustrations taking up more than half of each page) in which Dodsworth, a humanized and human-sized mouse, and his friend the duck continue their travels. Dodsworth is the practical one, while the duck is constantly trying new things and getting into scrapes. For example, the duck decides to fly paper airplanes off of the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower. This might have been ok, except that he made the planes from the money that Dodsworth was carrying in his backpack. But the duck keeps Dodsworth on his toes, and open to new adventures. And Dodsworth's appreciation for his feathered friend comes across on every page.
There are lots of funny bits in Dodsworth in Paris. I think the funniest is when the duck goes to investigate the bells ringing in Norte Dame. Up in the belltower, he finds "a bent-over fellow ringing the bells." There's a nice visual of this hunchbacked bellringer. The Tour de France, Impressionist art, and berets also make their way into the book (Duck makes a beret out out of an acorn cap). Kids will take the story at face value, but there is plenty of humor for adults, too.
I also like the resilience of Dodsworth and the duck. When they lose their money, they find a job. When they lose that, Dodsworth finds another way to earn money, with the duck's help. They don't sit around moping, or expect other people to solve their problems for them.
Egan's ink and watercolor illustrations add tremendously to the humor of the book, while also lending emotional depth. There's a lovely scene in which Duck gets out of a scrape, and Dodsworth hugs him. Dodsworth looks tender, but the duck is looking at him sideways out of narrowed eyes. The text notes, "The duck didn't really like to be hugged." There's another scene in which a tear drops from the duck's eye, but "He wasn't really crying. He just had something in his eye for a second." The detailed illustrations perfectly complement the understated text, just as the adventurous duck complements the more staid Dodsworth.
Dodsworth in New York and Dodsworth in Paris are perfect "step-up" books for picture book fans who are are just learning to read. The sentences are short, the vocabulary is mostly simple, and there is plenty of dialog. And yet, there is much more going on here than in a typical early chapter book. There are distinct personalities, humorous moments, gorgeous illustrations, and life lessons all wrapped up in a deceptively simple package. Tim Egan is brilliant, that's all I have to say. And I look forward to Dodsworth and the duck's next adventure (perhaps in London...?).
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: September 22, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.