Quill and Quire

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When They Are Up

by Maggee Spicer and Richard Thompson, Kirsti Anne Wakelin, illus.

The newest collaboration between husband-and-wife team Thompson and Spicer is delightful. Their wacky twist on the nursery rhyme The Grand Old Duke of York comes with lyrics and music; that’s apt, since the music of the words, and their rhythmic foolishness, determines the text. This is a great participatory book; whether they’re knitting overcoats for rocks or dressing in silly suits, these soldiers are on permanent leave of their senses, which makes for the kind of grand old fun that encourages young readers to sing along or make up their own verses. In an inversion in the spirit of the rhyme, the “narrator’s” mother decides to join in the fun with the army.

While the text is delightful, the illustrations are the book’s real joy. Kirsti Anne Wakelin’s soldiers are a whimsical wink and nod to the knaves on playing cards. Her lines are bold, her colours bright and engaging. Like the text, the illustrations
balance detail and simplicity with grace. That balance extends to Wakelin’s lovely marginal details; each double page is bordered by an ornamental margin that plays a variation on its visual/textual theme. Colours are more subtle, details more refined here; often the ornament is itself a sly joke: the verse about the soldiers telling lies has a border of fishing lures, alluding to that tallest of fishing tales. This book is a pleasure, one that definitely should not get away.