For many years, when Margaret Mahy read books for groups of children, at schools and in libraries, she would also recite her poem, Down the Back of the Chair. It’s a nonsense tale, sort of, about all the things that have disappeared down the back of the chair. A dad who can’t get to work because the car won’t start because the keys have been lost decides to search down the back of the chair. The most astonishing things turn up. I especially love…
A packet of pins
and one of the twins,
down the back of the chair.
The look of delight on the other twin’s face is gorgeous, and on every page thereafter, in Polly Dunbar’s illustrations, we see the twins cuddled up together, playing together, sleeping together, cuddled up together on Dad’s lap.
At last, Dad turns up his old money box, all crammed with cash.
The chair, the chair, the challenging chair,
The champion chair, the cheerful chair,
The charming chair, the children’s chair,
The chopped and chipped but chosen chair
To think our fortune waited there
Down the back of the chair.
This book is made for reading aloud. The words rollick along, carrying the reader with them into a joyous zaniness. Mahy makes ample use of rhyme – A cake, a drake, a smiling snake – and alliteration – A skink, a skunk, a skate, a ski – which can make it a little challenging for the unprepared reader, but it’s always fun having a go at the lines. The words “down the back of the chair” are repeated many times; I can imagine groups of children gathered around Margaret Mahy shouting them out with her. It is a marvellous book, and if you have small children, you should be getting a copy for them for Christmas this year.