CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 21 . . . . June 20, 2003
Oceans, continents, and strange, wonderful peoples lie waiting for brave adventurers and explorers! The operative word here is "brave" which the heroes of the story are decidedly not.
Two ethnocentric little dogs named Safe and Sound, enthralled by the accounts of world travellers, decide that they, too, could accomplish famous exploits. They, too, could write tomes of their adventures. Flush with naive self-assurance and little planning, Safe and Sound discover the world really is a strange place. Afraid of heights and waves, the wee dogs discover they don't like air planes or ferries. They don't like the English custom of driving cars on the "different side from us.” In the Alps, the chair lifts are too scary, and they have to hide their eyes. Strange culinary and sanitary customs, scandalous birthday suits at the beach, and limited personal space at the markets send Safe and Sound scurrying back to their home. In the end, Safe and Sound seem to be advising the reader to be "safe and sound" and stay at home.
Nichol's story is full of warmth and indulgent humour which is accentuated by the author's creative use of the first and third voice. Quotations are used to indicate to readers the dogs' opinions of the cultural and geographical differences that they encounter. Italics indicate the thoughts of the narrator/observer, which can alternate between the first and third voice. Clever use of the plural pronouns seems to bring the reader in league with the "observer/narrator." "Oh, Safe and Sound, dear little friends, We gather from your books You're finding out Adventure's not as easy as it looks."
This style of writing gives the reader a sense that the narrator is rather like an indulgent parent or relative, who, rather than protect them from the world, has allowed Safe and Sound to make their own mistakes.
Like the writing style, Anja Reichel's illustrations, which appear to be comprised of primary colours in oil paint medium, create a sense of the narrator/observer's distant, but gentle, mirth. Scenes are portrayed from the height of the observer/reader's vantage point. This sense of height also juxtaposes the smallness of the dogs against the vastness of the world.
Parents, teachers and other caregivers will find that this fun, relaxing book is a pleasure to read with their children. Reading this book before a family vacation or during a unit on multiculturalism will help young children prepare for an experience of the "otherness" of the rest of society and/or the world. Discussion topics could include a definition of a "foreigner." Are Canadians or North American cultures different from the rest of the world? How many different kinds of accents can we find in Canada? Do these accents mean that the people are not Canadian?
Children will relate to this book as they are often reluctant to try new things, eat new foods, make new friends, and leave the comfort and safety of their familiar surroundings. Shy children and homebodies of all ages will also be comforted by the ending of the book which has the narrator/observer say:
Reading this little story will make readers feel "safe and sound" in the comfort of their own home.
Denise Weir is a consultant with Manitoba Culture Heritage and Tourism, Public Library Services.
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