A Mile From Ellington Station
Egan specializes in quirky towns and dignified, faintly distrustful animal characters. His latest wry tale begins in Ellington Lodge, a general store with golden-brown woodwork, quaint posters advertising fresh produce and bountiful countertops stocked with jars. Ellington Lodge’s proprietor, a bear named Preston, is enjoying a yearlong winning streak at checkers. He hunches over a checkerboard, observed by a leisurely pig, elk and cow all neatly dressed in the hats and jackets of country gentlemen. “As Preston beat[s] Eleanor Dorsey in game nine hundred and fifty-six,” a stranger enters the shop and offers to do some chores that Preston has neglected. The talented newcomer, a squat brown dog wearing a gray top hat, burgundy-red duster and powder-blue cape, whips up breakfast and teaches everyone how to say “hello” in 10 different languages. He also trounces the bear at his game, thus disrupting Preston’s routine and provoking the insular townsfolk. Egan’s matter-of-fact narration unwinds at an unhurried pace, and his deliberate lines and mellow watercolor palette likewise suggest stasis. It’s no wonder the eccentric visitor (who rides a unicycle and carries a walking stick with a certain hauteur) first poses a threat, then turns out to be “just a small dog with an attitude.” This understated tale, with its aura of mystery and its subtle mockery of prejudices, recalls past Egan successes such as Metropolitan Cow and Chestnut Cove.
Egan’s appealing, retro cover illustration leads readers off the beaten track to a small country lodge run by Preston, a carefree, childlike bear, and his somewhat maternal, hardworking wife, Ruth. Playing checkers is Preston’s passion. A 943-game winning streak has consumed him for over a year and left Ruth with all the chores. Enter Marley, a globe-trotting dog with amazing abilities-including being a master checkers player. Marley plays Preston and wins, unknowingly breaking his streak, and the bear broods over his defeat. Egan’s ink-and-watercolor illustrations, with their warm palette and understated, cozily rounded cartoon figures, have a low-key humor that helps anchor the sometimes over-the-top plot twists. With a format well suited to storyhour, this offbeat tale lightheartedly reminds its readers to think of the consequences before they act.
School Library Journal
Here’s the latest from Egan, known for his inventive stories and pictures. Preston is a champion checkers player. His winning streak stands at 992. One night a dog from France, Marley, appears. He does the chores that Preston has been putting off. It turns out Marley can also cook, tell stories, and, unfortunately for Preston, win at checkers…As usual, Egan’s art is offbeat and amusing.