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April 30, 2012

New Books: Arthur's Dream Boat

A quick post about a book I meant to write about back in March but that somehow got lost in the shuffle back then: Arthur's Dream Boat, another marvelous product of British author-illustrator Polly Dunbar's imagination. We've been fans ever since she came out with the quietly hilarious Penguin, which has long held a treasured place on the bookshelf of first our older son, and now our younger one (with an occasional revisit from the seven-year-old, even now).

This time, though, Dunbar is dealing in dreams, with all their surrealism infused with perfectly sensible internal logic. The title character, a young boy, wakes up one morning and tells his family about a remarkable dream he's just had, about a "pink-and-green boat with a striped mast." He adds detail after detail as he describes the boat to various members of his family, but no one pays much attention, not even to the fact that the very ship he's describing is growing on Arthur's head as he speaks!

Finally, Arthur shouts "Listen to me!"—and a huge wave breaks over the whole family, which finds itself suddenly all at sea in the boat with Arthur, sailing off into the setting sun. As is usually the case in Dunbar's work, the text is simple and spare, but the subtext could hardly be thicker or richer.

The idea for the book, the author explains in a note, came from a trick of visual perspective: Her view from a beach of a far-off sailboat seemingly perched atop the head of a young boy sitting near her on the shore. Illustrated in pencil and vivid watercolor, and pleasingly reminiscent of, without being imitative of, the best work of Maurice Sendak, Arthur's Dream Boat is an unusual, special picture book.

[Cover image courtesy of Candlewick Press]

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