Dreams Are More Real Than Bathtubs

by Susan Musgrave, Marie-Louise Gay,
32 pages,
ISBN: 1551431076

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Children`s Books
by Erinn Banting

There is nothing like the first day of school to crank up a youngster's angst counter. And it is on a tremendously bumpy journey through the anxiety-ridden imagination of a little girl entering Grade One that Susan Musgrave whisks her readers off in Dreams Are More Real Than Bathtubs.

The story is made up of a series of dreams which are just as real as reality because "Dreams are more real than bathtubs. Dreams are more real than houses". There are baths with Lion, who doubles as a pillow after he's dried off; scratching with her cat, Pine-Cone, whom her sister calls a "flea-bag"; staying up early instead of late; the ever popular "worm song" that every kid around the age of five surely knows ("Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I'm going to the garden to eat worms"); and the odd words of wisdom from her "old mum" who "has a crumpled face when she smiles and an old hairdo".

The girl's anxieties take the form of nightmarish creatures, like the hot dog who can eat your whole head off, the "fear-us tiger", the "Bloodsucker from outer space", and the Witch who looks like her "old mum" with a "new hairdo".

What makes this book such a pleasure to read is the consistent intelligence, and the refreshing logic and humour of the five-year-old voice in which the narrative is unfolded. (The voice was inspired by Musgrave's daughter, Sophie.) "This is My Old Mum," the girl says. "I got her when I was very small".

Marie-Louise Gay's lively drawings help to fuse the worlds of reality and dream by capturing the essence of the story in a perfectly complementary visual representation. The text is woven through the illustrations, making individual words come to life. The story's expressiveness and playfulness are reflected in Gay's drawings of ten-foot tall hot dogs, the gargantuan "fear-us" tiger bursting through her bedroom window, voyages in a red bathtub, and the frightening accuracy of the eclectic fashion choices five-year-olds tend to make on their first day of school.

This book deals with what for many young children is a serious issue. The first day of school can be overwhelmingly intimidating, and I think that Musgrave and Gay have rightly chosen to address this. The book is fun enough to simply entertain, and serious enough to serve in opening up the lines of communication between a young person facing Day One and his or her parents. (And "I'm not just dreaming you know.") 

Erinn Banting is completing her Specialist Program in English Literature at the University of Toronto.


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