Quill and Quire

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The Sidewalk Rescue

by Hazel Hutchins, Ruth Ohi, illus.

Hazel Hutchins’ and Ruth Ohi’s new picture book – the 16th they’ve done together – is a lively fantasy about a girl named Josie who disappears into the world of her sidewalk chalk drawings. We first hear the news from her older sister, Morgan, who bursts into the house to tell her parents that Josie is being chased by a lion. The mother comes to the rescue, drawing a chalk boat in which Josie momentarily escapes from danger. Several more crises arise, each being averted by the chalk drawing of a friendly passerby, until Morgan finally finds a way to bring her sister back.

This isn’t the first time a chalk art fantasy has appeared in a children’s book. Mary Poppins first hopped into the drawings of her friend Bert in 1934, and then again, 30 years later, in the Disney musical version (with Dick Van Dyke playing Bert in a buffoonish, mock-Cockney performance that positively cried out for a chalk-lion mauling). This book bears some similarity to that scene in the film, with its vivid watercolour pictures full of smiling, cartoon-style humans and animals. The language, too, is bright, enlivened by adjectives and action verbs. But the fantasy world in this book is not an entirely jolly holiday, consisting of a series of last-minute reprieves from death and the anxieties of a child who can’t trust anyone to protect her younger sister. Children who can relate to this darker layer will see and appreciate it, while the rest will simply enjoy the more immediate charms of another great collaboration by Hutchins and Ohi.