Dodsworth in Rome written and illustrated by Tim Egan
Whilst visiting various kid's books websites (Educating Alice and Julie Danielson's column for Kirkus Reviews) in August of this year I discovered an early reader series that I had never heard of! Shocked and thrilled, I immediately ordered all four of the books in Tim Egan's Dodsworth series, including the most recent release in hard cover, Dodsworth in Rome. Egan's odd couple quickly became a favorite early reader of mine along with Poppleton by Cynthia Rylant (a multiple Newbery winner) and Mark Teague, Mouse and Mole by Wong Herbert Yee and Dav Pilkey's Dragon series and even James Marshall's fabulous George and Martha books.
The first book in the series, Dodsworth in New York, begins like this:
Dodsworth wanted adventure.
He wanted to fly in a plane.
He wanted to sail in a ship.
He wanted to see the world.
But first, he wanted breakfast.
Simplicity in story telling can be elegant. It can also be dreadfully dull. Egan definitely knows how to tell a story in a manner that is both simple, straightforward and entertaining, which can also describe the way most kids who are old enough to read this book on their own communicate verbally. This skill with simplicity is the first quality that makes for the perfect beginning to read title.
Next, you need a wild card and a straight man. Dodsworth is definitely the straight man, although in the style of Arnold Lobel's Frog or James Marshall's George. Dodsworth is not quite as neurotic as Mo Willems' Elephant or as fearful as Herbert Wong Yee's Mole. Instead, he is practical but flappable, resourceful and adventurous and, at the end of the day, loving.
Interestingly enough, Dodsworth gets to see the world by having breakfast. He heads over to Hodges Café for some of his famous pancakes. When he gets there the place is empty except for Hodges' duck, who, as Dodsworth notes, "is crazy." The duck proves this by proceeding to throw pancakes at Dodsworth until Hodges emerges and serves Dodsworth a proper breakfast. Dodsworth tells Hodges that he is about to embark on an adventure to who knows where. The duck listens but says nothing. Silence, along with a dislike for hugging, are two of the duck's most endearing qualities. Dodsworth eats his pancakes then buys a train ticket to NewYork. From there he will board a ship and go anywhere. On the train, Dodsworth discovers that the duck as stowed away in his luggage and refuses to go home. Dodsworth doesn't want Hodges to worry about his duck and does his best to right the situation and ends up chasing the duck all over the city, seeing the sights at the same time. Just when he thinks he has captured the duck, Dodsworth calls Hodges to ease his worry only to see the duck jump aboard a boat steaming toward Paris.
This lovely dynamic plays out in all of the books. Duck wanders into a situation and Dodsworth gets him out, all the while seeing the sights and entering a pizza-throwing contest ("Ya know, you might be great at that. You're good at throwing food," Dodsworth says to duck) in Rome and selling a painting that has been rained on and danced on by duck after sleeping on a park bench in Paris. I can't express enough how much I love these books! I know that Dodsworth and duck will be etched in my son's memory bank the way Frog and Toad are permanent fixtures and frequent points of reference in mine.
Dodsworth and Hodges have both been seen before in books by Tim Egan - The Pink Refrigerator and Friday Night at Hodges' Cafe. You can also get a little taste of Dodsworth by watching this great clip, below. For a great interview with Tim Egan from summer 2011, visit 7 Impossible Things.