A Day Like No Other
(A Review of William Joyce’s A Day with Wilbur Robinson)
Few children picture books have that rare quality to equally charm and enchant youngsters as well as adult readers. William Joyce undoubtedly has it; this coming from someone who came around his second Joyce picture book and never seems to tire to read it repeatedly, for A Day with Wilbur Robinson is his best work I’ve encountered yet.
As the title makes plain, this simple plot, “a thickly disguised account of William Joyce’s childhood,” tells of the unnamed narrator’s (possibly Joyce himself) experiences on a day spent in the house of his best friend Wilbur helping him find Grandfather Robinson’s lost dentures and chatting with their oddball of a family. There’s their unusual butler, Aunt Billie playing with her train set, cousin Pete walking the cats (actually full grown tigers) and Uncle Gaston sitting comfortably in the family cannon. We also get to meet Uncle Judlow relaxing using his “brain augmentor” which “helps him think deep thoughts,” cousin Lazslo trying his new antigravity device, and a group of frogs who dance and sing their way into the reader’s heart.
As with Dinosaur Bob and his Adventures with the Family Lazardo, Joyce truly excels in fusing the outrageous with the mundane. His straightforward, almost prosaic storytelling complements and contrasts his wildly colorful, surreal illustrations with a retro-futuristic feel, a stylized variation reminiscent of 1930s comics. Actually each page is a story in itself. I think the best way to approach this book would be to spend a few seconds reading the text and a lot of time exploring the corresponding illustration. One builds on the other, and the story grows and grows with each reading.
Readers of any age will spend much more time than a single day visiting the pages of A Day with Wilbur Robinson, where dinner time is more than just a warm family affair; it is also lively and fun with dinner-serving robots and food-shooting canon. Bedtime is far from the normal sleepover when after an exhausting pillow fight, they all fall asleep atop a tree, listening to Uncle Art telling his outlandish stories while frogs play their violins.
Indeed, A Day with Wilbur Robinson is quite adventure and every visit is anything but dull.