Review Blog

Nov 12 2019

The Underhills: a tooth fairy story by Bob Graham

cover image

Walker Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781536211122.
(Age: 3+) Highly recommended. Themes: Teeth, Tooth fairies, Fairies, Cupid, Angels, Airports, Immigration, Grandparents. With the Underhill parents called to a job, the girls and their baby brother go to their grandparents' house, a teapot by the airport, to stay. Here a splendid time awaits: fairy cakes, pancakes for breakfast, feather beds and chocolate. And the girls bring a jar of tadpoles for Grandma. But an urgent call comes in: a tooth is arriving from Ghana, and they are close to the airport. Grandpa is left reading his poetry book in the garden with baby Vincent tied to him lest his wings take him up like a balloon.
Grandma, Esme and April (seen first in April Underhill: tooth fairy, 2010) fly to the terminal, there to wait for the plane. Cupids and angels are there too, waiting to ply their skills: cupids to help loving people greet each other, and the angels to comfort those who are alone and sad, enfolding them with their wings and helping to push their trolleys.
An announcement alerts the family to the plane's arrival and the girls watch out for the Ghanan family and the young girl whose tooth has fallen out. Grandma reminds the girls about where to find the tooth and the girls fly to the young girl and climb into her pocket. They retrieve the tooth, leaving a small coin behind, whispering in Akuba's ear that she will not remember the event.
Grandma was worried about the girls doing their first extraction but had confidence in them.
That night the girls sleep in the feather bed, the tooth safely beside them, while Akuba sleeps on the other side of town with her small coin, unsure of how it got there.
This charming story full of hope and love, shows the Underhill family plying their trade. The girls are supported by their gran on their first job at the airport, searching for the Ghanan family as they come into England. They are successful and the Ghanan family is at peace in their new home.
Graham's playful illustrations reveal the lure of staying with grandparents, while the children take on a role usually done by the parents. But his delightful micro world always pays homage to what is happening around us. The endpapers have huge planes landing over the tea pot house, wire fences and bright lights surrounding the airfield, the outline of the plane overshadowing the nearby suburbs, Gran has a mobile phone. In the airport, a soldier returns from duty, older people come in alone, people arrive from other countries, some heads covered by a hijab, but all hopeful and full of anticipation. While outside the now quiet airport, some tadpoles turn into frogs and slip away into the night.
Graham's work always leaves readers with a warm glow: recognition of a familiar scene, reworked to reveal a different perspective. Children will look again at the images presented here, not only the loving family, but the background figures, those coming into the airport for a variety of reasons, but all finding a safe haven.
Fran Knight

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