April 25, 2013

Danny, Who Fell in a Hole

Written by Cary Fagan
Illustrated by Milan Pavlovic
Groundwood Books
116 pp.
Ages 7-11

Danny, Who Fell in a Hole is about a boy named Danny who, you guessed it, fell in a hole.  Yep. It's true.  And the answers to the questions of why Danny fell in the hole, what happened when he fell in the hole, and how he gets out of the hole, are essentially the whole story of Danny, Who Fell in a Hole.  Fortunately, with Cary Fagan's honest humour and Milan Pavlovic's quirky illustrations, the reader can be assured that Danny's story will be more farcical than tragic.

Danny's parents seem to be the new sort that decide to put their own needs ahead of those of their children, planning to temporarily part ways so that they might pursue their separate creative interests.  Mom plans on moving to Banff to extend her cheesecake-baking talents, while Dad will be heading to New York City to explore opera singing.  But, there are no worries about the kids, Danny and his older brother Doug (who would probably accept their decision more easily because of his musical creativity), as Mom and Dad have already decided about living arrangements, even giving their dog Thwack away to a nearby farm before springing their news on their children.  Not surprising, Danny does not take the news well, grabbing his backpack and running off and unfortunately falling into a large hole on a construction site.

Mom and Dad may have been expecting Danny to find it difficult to accept their decision,
"Danny, we knew it would be a little harder for you.  You're the level-headed one in the family.  It's not your fault that you're not creative like the rest of us." (pg. 14)
but they could not have foreseen the character and maturity he demonstrates while trapped in that hole.  Not only does he complete his math homework and write a family zombie story, he devises some shelter from the rain, plays a harmonica for a visiting mole, comes up with some imaginative definitions for a vocabulary assignment, and saves a life.  Not bad for a child with no creativity!

Cary Fagan does not disappoint, taking Danny from the incredulous son of self-indulgent parents to the practical boy who takes inventory of his backpack's contents, always playing out in his mind what his parents would be thinking or saying.
   Hey, Sheila, you don't suppose our son has run away?
   No, not Danny.  He's too sensible. Doesn't have the imagination. (pg. 43)
As imaginative as Danny, Cary Fagan conceives a chatty Mole with the casual demeanour of one who speaks his mind, without being catty or cagey.   
"Hey, Darnit, you seem a little down in the dung." (pg. 73)
"Problem with ants, you eat a few dozen and you're hungry half an hour later." (pg. 79)
While young readers may connect with the shortcomings of Danny's parents', and delight in the boy's quest for some say in the direction his life was taking, Cary Fagan ensures that everyone is able to see the other perspective without giving in or up.  With lightness and the clarity that comes from being stuck in a dark hole, both Danny and his parents are able find their way out of the void and come up for air, sharing it with those who might have sought to suck the life out of their lives.

So, if you ever fall into a hole, keep your head, share your thoughts, and keep working until you find your way above ground.  Danny, Who Fell in a Hole did and everything worked out the better for it.

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