Review of the Day: The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon
Mini Grey, likes to do things a little differently. You would expect no less from a woman named after a car, I suppose. Back in the day, Grey’s first picture book, “The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-to-be” got her a bit of casual interest by taking a pea’s perspective. Her second title, “Traction Man Is Here”, roped itself a highly prestigious Boston-Globe Book Award and presented to us the too-often dangerous world of an action figure. Now something entirely different has come along the pike and Grey has given us a book that’s primed to knock our socks off yet again. We all know that old “Hey Diddle Diddle” nursery rhyme. You know the one I mean. With the moon loving cow, the fiddle-playing cat, and the dog who finds it all a gas? We’ve heard it all before, but what really happened to the dish and the spoon? Remember how in the poem they just took off without so much as a toodle-oo? For decades upon decades illustrators and writers have speculated as to the last known location of the intrepid duo. Now, at long last, we have the answer. They fled to New York City and their story is not necessarily a pretty one.
It happened one night. The record was playing, the moon was full, and Dish and Spoon just took off for parts unknown. A quick dive into the ocean, a sail across the sea, and before you know it the twosome find themselves in the Big Apple! It doesn’t take long for the pair to hit it big on the vaudeville circuit and for a while it’s all fame, fortune, and glamour. Unfortunately they go a little crazy with their dough and before you know it they’ve been replaced by a hot new act. Trying to get some money from a shady crew of knives, hammers, and tongs just gets our heroes into even deeper trouble. They attempt to rob a bank to pay back their debts but the Dish gets cracked and the spoon serves some time. Years later both have been deported back to Great Britain and in a junk shop the old lovers are reunited once again. And you know, there are people out there who have never seen Dish and Spoon tricks before. It’s a whole new world and our heroes are back on top.
Grey first honed her talents for animating inanimate objects in “Traction Man Is Here” and in this book she goes all out on the details. Did you notice that when Dish and Spoon get their first glimpse of Lady Liberty she isn’t sporting her usual greenish glow but instead a glorious coppery color? Did you see the evil knives and tongs going down a carnival slide near the end? How about the reappearing Liberty Head nickel that crops up from time to time? When Dish and Spoon are trolling about in their new jalopy, a nickel on the crest of the car identifies the year as 1933. The Liberty Head nickel motif was one of the more interesting and obvious details of the book, but there were plenty of others to catch the eye as well. Reading this book through several times you begin to learn more and more about the details of the Dish and Spoon escape. The cat with a fiddle, for example, seems to be the fellow who inspires the two to run away in the first place, bringing them together again at the end. As with all her books, Grey packs in the images and multiple storylines in new and interesting combinations.
The book is slightly more dour than its predecessor, “Traction Man Is Here”. In that book, the most depressing moment in the story was when our hero couldn’t defeat the villain because everyone was laughing at him in his bright green jumper. In “Dish and Spoon” one hero is cracked and sent to recuperate in Britain while the other does time for his crime. Still, it makes for a far more satisfying ending and I can honestly say that I’ve never read a picture book that presents spoon-dish love in such a sympathetic and truly touching manner.
Of course, Grey isn’t the first picture book author to speculate on the whereabouts of Baby-We-Were-Born-To-Run Dish and Spoon. Just back in 2001 Janet Stevens came out with, “And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon”. And while a lovely looking item and all, Stevens’ creation cannot touch Grey’s when it comes to pure bonified moxy. Grey brings to life the 1930s and 50s with more flair than you’d ever think possible. If you want to introduce young children to Depression-era America, or just need a couple of fractured fairy-tale/nursery rhyme picture books to pad out your collection, this should be one of the first items to purchase for your list. A tale of adventure, sterling silver, and true love. Fine fine cutlery indeed.