If you visit New York City’s Central Park at night there’s a chance you may be mugged. If you visit Bowring Park after sunset, there’s a chance you’ll witness something magical.
Sure, if you believe in magic, as Natalie does in “The Secret of Bowring Park” (Breakwater Books), you might even experience something magical in broad daylight … well, coming on duckish anyway.
Under her sister Elizabeth’s bored and barely-watchful eyes, Natalie climbs on the statue of Peter Pan as children have done since Pete and his pals arrived in the park a hundred years ago — give or take.
Natalie and Ruffles, her Stuffie dog, play around the statue until Elizabeth decides it’s time to head home for supper. Reluctantly, Natalie bids Peter farewell and turns to follow Elizabeth.
But get this — “…at that moment a fairy winks at her.”
Of course, Elizabeth — an eye-rolling teenager of the finest fettle — thinks Natalie is nuts: “Elizabeth ignores Natalie and keeps walking.”
Guess what is learned when they get home?
Natalie forgot poor ol’ Ruffles. Soggy with evening dampness — it’s possible, eh b’ys? — Ruffles is back in Bowring Park sitting under a bush, or somewhere.
Author Christine Gordon Manley doesn’t say so exactly, but I imagine that after realizing she’s neglected her doggy Natalie goes, “Waaaaaaah, waaaaaaah.”
Mr. Marsh sends Elizabeth — yes, Why-me-Elizabeth? — back to the park to fetch Ruffles: “‘Fine, whatever,’ Elizabeth mutters.”
At the park Elizabeth discovers that some bunch of rogues has chiselled Pete as well as all the fairies and animals off the statue and absconded with them.
Actually, that’s a lie.
Nobody has stolen anything.
What has really happened is that Pete and the menagerie have magically come to life, become animated bronze lifeforms. While bunny and squirrel, mouse and frog, snail and salamander romp on the ground, Pete and the fairies flit about like gnats and nippers and dragonflies.
Needless to say, Elizabeth nearly keels over.
Yet the next thing Elizabeth knows, Tink sprinkles her with fairy dust and Pete hauls her into the air and skirrs her around the duck pond a time or two.
Shades of Peter with Wendy Darling, eh b’ys?
Elizabeth commences to sing a Monkees — or Anne Murray if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Canadian — song: I’m A Believer.
That’s another lie.
In truth, Peter explains the nature of magic to Elizabeth who — impressed, no doubt — then hangs Ruffles over her bike’s handlebars and rides back home …
… and they all live happily, magically ever after.
Okay, that’s the plot summary of “The Secret of Bowing Park”, spoilers and all.
Remember through, there’s more to any book worth its salt though than just the yarn itself.
For instance, this book teaches children and grandfathers that bread is bad for ducks. Grapes cut in half are better fare. According to Natalie, regarding the grapes she chucks to the ducks: “Mommy cut them in half for me so the ducks won’t choke.”
I would be remiss if I failed to remark on Laurel Keating’s illustrations.
I’d deserve to have my noggin knocked, for frig sake.
At first glance, you might think the flower on the cover is my favourite spring bloom, a dandelion.
I don’t think it is. I think it’s a hawkweed, a lovable plant nonetheless.
As one of our grammatically-challenged youngsters used to ask, “Is I’m right, Laurel?”
Still on the cover, argyle socks shod with penny loafers hang in the air above the flower — Elizabeth’s loafers, I s’pose, since Peter has yanked her off her feet.
Inside the book, Natalie wears a hand-knitted sweater featuring an argyle pattern and — I love this bit, Laurel — in one illustration a couple dodging along in the background also wear diamonds.
Here’s a final illustration detail: Mr. Marsh wears a pair of suspenders — braces — identical to the ones Missus gave me for Christmas.
New point: There are always emmets to spoil a picnic, eh b’ys?
It always rains on a parade.
A line in a John Prine song says, “There’s always a pigeon to whoopsie on your hood.”
There’s a corresponding sour note in “The Secret of Bowring Park”.
Peter shouts at Abigail the dove, disgusted about “… a white, oozing liquid smeared on his shoulder.”
Struggling to control his anger, Peter asks what truly might be a universal, yet seldom-answered, question: “Why do birds have to poop on statues anyway?”
… always a pigeon …
Thank you for reading.
— Harold Walters lives in Dunville, Newfoundland, doing his damnedest to live Happily Ever After. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org