Thursday, August 25, 2011

Book Review: Arthur, For the Very First Time, by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrations by Lloyd Bloom

     "Come, come," yelled Uncle Wrisby. "We'll have something to eat. Then we'll talk about the world and its workings." He took hold of Arthur's hand. "What would you like to talk about?"
     Arthur stared at Uncle Wrisby. Here was someone who wanted to talk about things! With him!
     Arthur opened his journal. "Moles!" he cried happily. "Let's talk about moles!"
     His pencil poised, the summer began.

Ten-year-old Arthur's summer isn't starting out so well. His parents are arguing. And a new baby is coming. And nobody seems to be listening to him. But then one day, his parents take him to stay with Great-Uncle Wrisby and Great-Aunt Elda for the summer. When hard-of-hearing Uncle Wrisby grabs Arthur's hand and yells, "What would you like to talk about?" summer starts looking much more interesting. 

Arthur meets Pauline - a chicken who loves French, and Bernadette - a pig who loves to be sung to. Aunt Elda introduces him to a mockingbird with no name, and Uncle Wrisby takes him to bargain with a trader named Yoyo Pratt. He finds new friends in Moira - a scrappy little girl who calls him "Mouse," and her grandfather - a veterinarian whom everyone calls "Moreover." As he spends his summer days and nights with this motley group, Arthur begins to see life in new and unexpected ways.

For Teachers and Librarians:
Arthur, For the Very First Time is a quiet book with a host of off-the-wall characters that work together to bring close-to-the-vest Arthur out of his self-imposed shell. But don't let this story's quietness lull you into thinking it's not powerful. As Arthur meets each of these characters, he's faced with decisions and situations he's never seen before, forcing him to look at things from a point of view other than his own, and letting him discover there are whole other new and exciting sides of himself that he never knew existed. 

Arthur learns to be brave enough to try new things, and to trust in himself and his ability to do what must be done. Moira who trusts only herself, learns that she can trust other people, too. Uncle Wrisby tends to keep some parts of life at a distance, to save his heart from possible hurt, while Aunt Elda prefers to embrace life closely, even if it means her heart may be broken. Each character in this book has their own ways of looking at life, and their own flaws that they're forced to examine. And each of them comes away from their trials with a new understanding of themselves and others. Students of all stripes will find connections with this story, and so will you.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Arthur, For the Very First Time is one of those books that, after you've finished reading it, you just sit and hug it to your chest. It is a story about family, and friends, and love, and heartbreak, and trust, and strength, and finding yourself. It's a story about discovering who you really are, and pushing your boundaries, and being there for others even when you're not sure you're able to. It is a story that will make your kids laugh out loud sometimes, and sit quietly and think sometimes, and smile sometimes, and maybe even cry a little bit. Let them read it on their own, or better yet, find a comfy spot to sit and read it together. You'll be glad you did. And so will they.

For the Kids:
Arthur, For the Very First Time is about Arthur, whose summer isn't going too well: his parents are arguing, and there's a new baby on the way. (His parents think he doesn't know about the baby, but he does, and he is not pleased about it.) So life is a bit itchy at home. Then one day, his parents take him to spend the summer with his Great-Aunt Elda and Great-Uncle Wrisby, on their farm. And finally, summer gets a lot more interesting. 

He meets their chicken who loves being spoken to in French, and their pig who loves being sung to. He meets Moira, who insists on calling him "Mouse," and Moira's grandfather, who everyone calls "Moreover." It's a story about what it takes to be a good friend. It's a story about letting yourself try new things. It's a story about learning to trust yourself. And it's a story about letting yourself trust the people you care about the most. Sometimes it's very funny, and sometimes it's a little sad, and sometimes it will make you think a lot. And isn't that the best kind of story? 

For Everyone Else:
Arthur, For the Very First Time is at times funny, at times sad, and many times deeply touching. Perhaps you will see some of yourself in one of the characters. Or many of the characters. It is a story of love, and trust, friendship, and family, and pushing your own boundaries, and learning about yourself. Whether you're 7 or 70, this is a book you will never forget.

Wrapping Up:
Arthur, For the Very First Time is well worth your time. Perfect for curling up and reading on a rainy day. Or a sunny day. Or any day, really. What are you waiting for?

Title: Arthur, For the Very First Time
Author: Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrator: Lloyd Bloom
Pages: 117
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: First Harper Trophy Edition, 1989
Edition: Hardcover, library copy
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $5.99
ISBN-10: 0-06-024045-8
ISBN-13: 978-0060240479
ISBN: 0-06-024047-4 (lib. binding)



  1. Gosh, Kim! I love this book. It's the only book I worked on (as an editorial assistant) that's still in print! That means I wrote the original flap copy -- the best part of being an editorial assistant. Plus, I got to meet Patricia MacLachlan.

    Great review! Very thorough. Thanks for the reminder. Sometimes I get too caught up in the latest releases and forget about the good books from a few years back.

  2. Joanne,

    Lucky you that you actually got to meet her! And that you worked on Arthur. How exciting!

    I would never have found this book if I hadn't been just browsing in the library. How I missed this book when I was younger, I don't know. It is a beautiful story, isn't it?

  3. Oh yes, it's a great story. And it's a lot of fun. I'm so glad it's still in print! It seems that these days books have to be filled with action (think Lightning Thief); they can't be just quiet stories about a kid discovering the world.

    Interestingly, Patricia MacLachlan didn't have a title for the manuscript when it came in! So I had to type a list of possible titles and that was the one we all agreed on!


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