Review: Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen
By Bianca Schulze, The Children’s Book Review
Published: March 3, 2011
by Chris Van Dusen
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 36 pages
Publisher: Chronicle Books (October 27, 2010)
What to expect: Skiing, Rhyme, a Dog, and a Moose
It’s not often that someone has the whole package—writing and illustrating, that is. Most well known for his adventurous duo Mr. Magee and his little dog Dee, Chris Van Dusen certainly has it. As a child, he spent hours and hours drawing pictures: “We didn’t have video games or computers to entertain us, so we drew instead. One of my brothers would sketch intricate war scenes. Another would draw animals so realistic you’d swear they were breathing. My specialty was aliens, robots and monsters.” Van Dusen also considered Dr. Seuss and Robert McCloskey as heroes—it’s no wonder he has a rhyming style to envy: “I loved the rhythm of Dr. Seuss’ words and I was fascinated by the meticulous detail of Robert McCloskey’s illustrations. I had no idea back then that I’d end up writing and illustrating children’s books when I grew up.” We’re so glad he did!
Mirroring Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee and A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee, Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee boasts the crackerjack formula that Van Dusen’s fans have all come to love: Adventure followed by a humorous mishap, self-realization, relief and a happy ending. The 60’s era inspired illustrations, which are rendered in cool colored hues of gouache, set the chilly-but-sunny scene brilliantly.
On a perfect blue bird day, Mr. Magee and his little dog Dee decide that they’d like to give skiing a try. After choosing a beautiful spot to practice—”Across from the house and just up the way is a great little hill with a view of the bay.”—the well-formulated mishap quickly trails. Mr. Magee and Dee, who is strapped onto Magee’s back, are heading straight for a Moose and are struck with the realization that Magee does not know how to stop his skis from sliding, they are sure to collide. The text is adrenalizing, the pictures even more so, as the pair manage to escape the predicament—not without much excitement—unscathed. Then comes the realization from Mr. Magee, “I think that I might need a lesson or two.” From the words that “zip” and “zing” from the page, to Mr. Magee’s extra-rosy cheeks and the stunning back-drop, this story offers a gentle reminder to spirited kids (and adults) that a little lesson, or technique, can go a long way (you may try Mini Grey’s Egg Drop for a more dramatic effect in this lesson). But, besides that, it’s a delightful winter read and pure fun for skiers, skiers-to-be, non-skiers and everyone in-between. Two mitten-clad thumbs-up!
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