cover image Down the Back of the Chair

Down the Back of the Chair

Margaret Mahy, , illus. by Polly Dunbar. . Clarion, $16 (31pp) ISBN 978-0-618-69395-5

When the kids suggest Dad look for his lost car keys in the depths of their wingback chair, the family's fortunes take a dramatic and deliciously silly turn for the better. Mahy's crisp rhyming quatrains, in the voice of a precocious girl, start the action at a comic pitch that escalates with every page. "We're facing rack and ruin./ No car, no work! No work, no pay!/ We're growing poorer by the day." Sticking his hand "down the back of the chair"—a phrase that refers to both a universe under the seat cushion and also the book's refrain—Dad turns up much more than keys or loose change. There's precious jewelry, a menagerie ranging from a conger eel to a pair of tea-drinking elephants plus "a missing twin" and a pirate with a treasure map. Dunbar's (Dog Blue ) watercolor and cut-paper illustrations goose the giddiness of the text without sacrificing a visual equilibrium. She creates a tantalizing contrast as Dad grows ga-ga from the magical goings-on while his children maintain a cool sense of delight. The car keys never surface, but a rich uncle's long lost will and treasure do. It's an inspired flight of fancy—and certain to turn "Down the back of the chair" into a rallying cry in many households. Ages 4-7. (June)