Until I Met Dudley

By Roger McGough and Chris Riddell

Published by Frances Lincoln

32 pages, 1999


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Dudley Does Right

Reviewed by David Middleton

 

What makes your refrigerator cold and how does a toaster know when the toast is done? Do you imagine your vacuum cleaner is a sucking snake or that your garbage truck is filled with hungry hogs chowing down on your refuse? How do these everyday things really work? These questions are answered with simple, clear and funny explanations in Until I Met Dudley. It's a rare book that makes you smile all the way through, but this one had me grinning from ear to ear from start to finish.

A good children's book must have, in my opinion, three things to make it work. First, it must have superlative visuals. This is important because it's usually the first thing a child -- or the adult reading it -- notices about a book. When picked up, it must draw the reader immediately in order to make that first connection. Second, it must tell a good story or at least have something interesting to say. The pictures may be pretty but if the story falls short the book is incomplete. Third -- and this is not always necessary -- the reader should have learned something by the end of the book. Until I Met Dudley satisfies on all three counts and does it brilliantly.

In Until I Met Dudley we meet a young girl who believes that there is more to her everyday appliances than meets the eye. In her imagination, dishwashers are filled with purring cats licking the dishes clean, refrigerators have ice delivered late at night by clumsy polar bears, and her toaster is just the doorway to a gnome-and-dragon-populated labyrinth residing beneath her kitchen floor where slices of bread are conveyed past the fire-breathing beast. There is not so much a story here as there is a fun lesson -- given by a bespeckled dog named Dudley -- on how common appliances really work.

The illustrations are wonderful, making the book a joy to read. Illustrator Riddell has a real gift for creating humorous characters. As well as being informative, the pen and watercolor drawings are rendered in a rich, clear style. When the young girl sees the blueprint of how her toaster really works, the dragon of her fantasy looks a bit sad that he's out of a job and, as the polar bears discover the inner workings of the fridge, they seem very embarrassed to have stepped in the chocolate mousse.

And the lesson is a subtle one, telling children -- and probably some adults -- that things are not as complicated or as mystical as they might have thought. The book explains the technical workings of everyday household appliances while still acknowledging and understanding the importance of a full and vivid imagination.

I even learned a thing or two. Now could someone explain to me how the bugs that run my computer learned how to spell? | June 1999

 

David Middleton is the art director of January Magazine and is very concerned about the spelling ability of bugs.