Getting There! Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat
YOU ARE INVITED TO A BIRTHDAY PARTY.
WHEN? OCTOBER 24, 2016
WHERE? 257 CAPLAN AVENUE
The car trip to Grandma's is always exciting! But after the first hour, it can feel like an eternity. You might find yourself saying,
"Are we there yet? This is taking forever!"
At first the boy in the backseat sets forth with a smile as the landscape speeds by and familiar places are left behind. But after awhile... the passing scene begins to be a blur and boredom sets in. And with boredom his mind begins to wander beyond the confines of the car's backseat.
What's that? An old steam locomotive pulling a stream of cars appears on a track parallel to the road, pursued by... a gang of Wild West train robbers, six-shooters ablaze, in hot pursuit! Even his parents in the front seat are dressed in 1880s garb, bonnet and all. And then...
The scene switches swiftly. The car seems to be grappled by a pirate ship, with maties swinging their cutlasses...
And suddenly there are medieval knights jousting with lances, and then Egyptian slavedrivers, overseeing the construction of the pyramids.... Then...
It's the Cretacious Era and huge raptors are in hot pursuit....
SO TAKE A SECOND TO SAVOR THE MOMENT YOU'RE IN.
And suddenly the family car is headed back to the future. They zoom into a town, THE FUTURE CITY! Everything looks vaguely familiar and yet different--all new, all lighted brilliantly, including one of those electric signs with the time and... the date.
TODAY IS OCTOBER 24, 2059
And when they drive up to their destination, 257 Caplan Avenue, what they see is not Grandma's familiar white house! Can they somehow be 43 years late for her birthday party?
We've all been there--as adults in the harassed driver's seat and as kids in that backseat who feel as if they're stuck in a time warp, and in his latest, Are We There Yet? noted author-illustrator Dan Santat takes that scene and lets it spin out, with the highway that leads both ways in time, into the past and into the future. Santat's illustrations, set in a sort of time-hop sepia tones, and his clever book design, with text printed around and outside the frames of the illustrations, cause the reader to continue reading by turning the book upside down and turning left-hand pages toward the back of the book and then reversing the process to go forward in time and eventually back into the frame story itself.
Will his parents manage to steer their sedan somehow back in time to savor Grandma's birthday party? Will the kid appreciate sharing that moment of time at Grandma's birthday party?
Grandma's beribboned birthday gift turns out to be a clock, that symbol of time and time's passing, one that can be set back and set forward at will, a reminder of Santat's existential theme, with an unremarked but poignant tip of the author's hat to importance of Einstein's fourth dimension--time, and to that old saw--"There's no time like the present!"
Santat's work (see his Caldecott-winning The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend here) tend to celebrate that power of the imagination to take us outside ourselves and outside our own space-time continuum, and this one offers several layers of meaning, all the while playing with the format of the picture book itself, combining standard full-page color illustrations with comic-book-style frames, and even reversing the Western rule that books always move from left to right. Younger children will enjoy the passing characters and scenes beyond the windows, and older kids will be intrigued by the time-play and innovative book format and the always-inviting idea of travelling through time. A timely winner for Santat!