Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 30 Jul 2018

Home and Dry by Sarah L. Smith

I just love children’s books that are - (what shall I call them?) - a touch eccentric. I’m not sure what the exact characteristics are that make them qualify for this appellation but I can tell you that this one is a pretty joyous example. Let’s just say you can instantly spot one when you see it.

Sarah L. Smith’s Home and Dry tells us the story of the Paddling family – Albert, Sally and their young son – who seem to like everything watery. They live in a house on a hill surrounded for most of the time by water and the rain rains day after day but they are cosy and happy together. Albert teaches swimming, Sally fishes and they wait for the boat that brings their supplies – including the post.

But in the summer the rain stops and the water recedes and the supplies and mail stop coming – they even have to haul their boat off to try and find whatever water they can.

What Albert doesn’t know is that his Uncle Bastian Paddling has decided it’s time he paid his only nephew a visit – but when he finally turns up at the house on the hill he finds the family aren’t in. He waits and he waits. Finally he gives up and starts to head back to the station when the weather suddenly turns and rain starts falling again.

It falls and it falls catching Uncle Bastian stranded as the water rises – and he can’t swim. Just as it looks as if he’s going to drown along come the Paddling family heading home in their boat and Albert leaps into the water to rescue Bastian. When the supply boat turns up to take them all back to the house on the hill, Uncle Bastian’s letter telling Albert of his visit is in the undelivered bundle he’s given and the family finally realise who is who.

The story ends beautifully with a slap-up fish and chip supper in the cosy living room.

But the story is only half the experience because the illustrations are really marvellous. Albert Paddling is drawn as if he’s straight off a beach in Edwardian England while his wife has a penchant for big stripy trousers and a bright red sowester. Uncle Bastian goes in for more formal attire – a bit of tweed, a yellow waistcoat, trilby hat and umbrella.

I love the way that the drawings can be domestic and detailed or sweeping across a big canvas. The colours capture the brightness of a sun-drenched landscape or the dark fury of a sudden flood of water. Importantly given the age of the audience, the drawings express emotion without ever being really dangerous – there’s just enough jeopardy to thrill.

I loved this book the moment I picked it up – I knew it was my type of children’s story with its slightly off-centre characters and an unusual storyline that doesn’t just trot out a stereotypical narrative. Children will also love the family reconciliation and just show me someone who wouldn’t like to be in that room at the end participating in the fish and chip supper!

Terry Potter

July 2018