1768 Oscar and Sawdust take wing

Oscar and the Folding Airplane
by Peter Chapman, illustrated by Carl Osberg, with Polly Wilson (book design), Brent Alley (photographer), and Tom Hellum (web design)

Victoria: Privately printed, 2022
$18.00 / 9781777941505

Also available for free download here

Reviewed by Candace Fertile

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Peter Chapman’s children’s book grew out of father-son story-telling sessions, in the way I imagine many children’s books were born. Oscar and the Folding Airplane is a gentle nostalgic story about a boy who earns ten cents during chores for a neighbour. He spends the money on a paper airplane.

Oscar and Sawdust

But this paper airplane is no ordinary piece of paper. Anyone who remembers making paper airplanes — or perhaps still does make them — knows the pure joy of a millisecond of flight until the inevitable crash to the floor, denting the paper point and rendering the plane just another piece of crumpled paper. At least that’s how I remember it, and I didn’t fare much better at the balsa wood and elastic contraptions that held so much promise and again delivered so little. It’s a wonder I didn’t develop a fear of flying.

Buying the folding airplane from Mr. Putt
Carl Osberg (illustrations)

But Oscar’s plane is magic. It becomes a real plane, albeit a biplane with an open cockpit for a pilot and a passenger. It’s hard not to think of Snoopy and his Sopwith Camel doghouse, another marvel of the imagination combining words and images. And so Oscar’s adventure begins, although unlike Snoopy, he has no war or enemy to contend with, just the sheer wonder of flight. He soars over the landscape marvelling at what he can see.

Chapman includes details of BC, its mountains, lakes, and trees. Oscar stops off at a sawmill, where he finds an abandoned dog. Carl Osberg’s illustrations marvellously capture the nostalgia of the story with vibrant colour.

Oscar’s first flight
Peter Chapman (text)

I can imagine adults reading this book to children and then eventually children diving into it themselves in a natural progression of the joy that books offer. And much of that joy is the activation of the imagination that stories foster. Oscar’s story is limited to one flight in this book, but I can imagine a whole series of colourful adventures, crafted in Chapman’s calm voice and illuminated in Osberg’s pictures (the one of the dog — named Sawdust — sleeping in the forest is particularly wonderful). Or I can envisage both adults and children using the book as a jumping off point for the creation of their own Oscar adventures. Where will Oscar and Sawdust, the friendly scarf-wearing pooch go next? Whom will they meet? Will Oscar take friends (no adults) on his plane reminiscent of how Calvin and Hobbes have a different world when they are away from adults? Will the paper get tattered? And if so, will Oscar become a engineer able to fix his plane? Okay, I’m getting a bit carried away here, but any book that revs up the brain is an appealing one to me.

And any book that gets kids and adults interacting without a screen or kids able to revel in the complexity of their minds through the relative simplicity of peaceful words and pictures on paper, well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

Sawdust sleeping at the sawmill

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Candace Fertile

Candace Fertile has a PhD in English literature from the University of Alberta. She teaches English at Camosun College in Victoria, writes book reviews for several Canadian publications, and is on the editorial board of Room MagazineEditor’s note: Candace Fertile has recently reviewed books by Janie Chang, Pauline HoldstockAva BellowsBeth KopeGeoff Inverarity, and Angélique Lalonde for The British Columbia Review.

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The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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