Friday, December 08, 2006

A Camping Spree with Mr Magee by Chris Van Dusen

A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee
by Chris Van Dusen
Ages: 4-8
Topics: Camping, wildlife, adventure

Cheerful Mr. Magee and his little dog Dee, pack up the camper and "hit the road" for a camping trip in the mountains. "There's nothing like camping," a jubilant Magee tells Dee:
The views are fantastic! There's hardly a sound.
Aside from the wildlife, there's no one around"

Their campsite certainly offers a spectacularly colorful sunset view, and the companions enjoy a happy evening cooking hotdogs and marshmallows over a campfire and enjoying the serene view of the surrounding mountains, brook, and waterfall.

It's soon time for bed and, while the duo snuggle down in carefree repose, they are visited by a large bear with poor eyesight, but a good nose for marshmallows. In his quest for sweets, the bear manages to unhitch the camper and send it rollin' down the mountain and straight into the brook,

Dee and Magee both started to quiver,
As faster and faster they headed downriver.
But just when they thought they'd fall over the edge...
Their camper got stuck on a rock at the ledge.
So there they were, stranded, Magee and his pup,
On the top of the waterfall, fifty feet up!

Luckily for the camping pals, the nearsighted bear comes to the rescue, mistaking the hitch for, no...I'm not going to give away the creative resolution of this entertaining story!

This is one of those rare children's books that is as appealing to the adults reading aloud as it is for the excited children listening to the story. As you can tell from the quote above, this book has a wonderful read aloud pace, magically reminiscent of Clement Moore's The Night Before Christmas, yet decidedly modern and tongue-in-cheek, with a dash of superhero hyperbole. These elements also translate to Van Dusen's vivid gouache illustrations.

Magee's world, rendered in 50s retro style, has an ordered and idyllic brightness to it, from Magee's perfectly trimmed and mowed backyard and spotless camper to the symmetrically consistent fir trees of the wilderness. All the illustrations convey a buoyant optimism and symmetry, even in the most dire circumstances (as the duo float down the river and end up looking over the waterfall, their hair stands on end reflecting the shape of the fir trees around them). Magee's thick glasses, plaid shirt, and sneakers suggest a nerdy character, but when the situation knocks a golden hair or two out of place, the glasses seem Clark Kentish, a superficial geeky detail covering a noble interior. Dee is the perfect wordless companion. His long ears speak for him: they fly behind him with carefree aplomb as the couple drive out in the convertible, stand up on end in the more nail-biting moments, and gently hang by his side when all is serene.

The illustrations include wonderful details - a very-surprised raccoon watching the camper hit the water, the spilled salt and pepper and cheesy placemats in the rescued camper - and grandiose, brilliant landscapes that really draw the reader in with amazement.

This lively and funny story conveys a rare enthusiasm and will bring wide-eyed excitement and twinkling eyes to both girls and boys, before returning them to a perfectly ordered world. So if you're looking for that perfect gift, I suggest A Camping Spree with Mr Magee and Van Dusen's other wonderful books.

Chris Van Dusen also wrote and illustrated two other wonderful books, Down to the Sea with Mr Magee and If I Built A Car, which I also highly recommend. Chris is also the illustrator of Kate DiCamillo's popular Mercy Watson books. You can find out more about Chris and his books at his website.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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11:22 AM  
Anonymous Marlene said...

Cool review.

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