Quill and Quire

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The Party

by Barbara Reid

Barbara Reid’s amazing ways with Plasticine are familiar to readers from her imaginative illustrations for a number of books such as Have You Seen Birds? and The New Baby Calf, but in this new book her invention and creativity seem as fresh as ever. Slices of ham with pineapple rings, expressive faces of different ages, party hats, lawn chairs and a shaggy dog – Reid manages to give them all a convincing texture and vitality on the page. As well as shaping Plasticine into pictures, Reid also composed the verse of the text here. In bouncing rhyme, a little girl gives a present-tense account of being taken with her younger sister to a family party. After some initial feelings of shyness and discomfort, the girls soon plunge into the pleasures of unstructured fun with the other children – running, spinning, laughing ’til it hurts, and eating lots of party food. The focus of most of the book is on movement, and both text and pictures give a vivid sense of physical experience of the moment, as the narrator suffers Aunt Joan’s welcoming kiss, zips through the crowd of adults, and hides under the table to lick icing off candles.

We learn that this is Grandma’s 90th birthday party, and the mixture of ages of the family party-goers, the huge fenced backyard where the event takes place, and the often-repeated refrain “at the party” combine to evoke a feeling of security and warmth. The pictures are full of amusing details, such as the many different kinds of shoes – all convincingly evoked in Plasticine – and the fat uncle finishing up leftovers as the table is cleared. Personalities and little dramas are suggested in the background: an early tableau of romping children is framed by a pair of droopy adolescents, caught between the generations and feeling too old to join in the fun, but a few pages later we see that they have found each other and are enjoying themselves. Reid skillfully presents the pictures from different angles and always suggests a strong tactile awareness of the everyday world. Perhaps one of the most appealing qualities of her work, finally, is the way her own creativity with her medium tempts readers to find some modelling clay and try it too!