Living with his mother in a second-floor apartment above the local corner store, five-year-old Reggie enjoys a simple but good life. When Mom pays him with small change for helping with the chores, Reggie hurries down the outside staircase to the store to spend it. Each trip includes a passing tug on a knot in the clothesline that runs between two poles and past those stairs.
Usually Reggie snaps the line with a one-handed “ftoiing” and keeps on going, but, one unfortunate day, he holds on a bit too long and is lifted up onto the line and carried out into the middle of the yard.
This is what Mom would call a dilemma. Either I fall,
because my left hand is already telling me that I’m
too heavy for it to hold up, or I help my left hand with
my right. But then I’d have to drop my three dimes.
In his desperation, Reggie does drop the dimes his mother has given him, but he continues to twist and struggle, hanging on with both hands and calling out to no avail. Mom, “who can usually hear mischief from a mile away”, is seen curled up reading a book and wearing headphones, oblivious to the drama unfolding outside the window. A passing cat is not much help either.
More shouting for help and sweating. Nothing for it but to drop to the ground. No, he can’t. Yes, he does, more or less by accident. A thump, bruised knees, some tears. But the three dimes are there on the ground, and the friendly store owner is still waiting behind his counter, and so Reggie picks himself up, retrieves the coins and continues into the store to make his selection from the candy case.
Reggie has learned his lesson for, the next time he goes down the stairs, he ignores the knot in the clothesline, rewarding himself by calling out his own “ftoiing” and carrying on with his errand – to spend his money.
Simple line-and-watercolour drawings dot the pages describing all of Reggie’s delighted hops and uncomfortably-stuck wriggles in amusing detail. Lots of white space around each image allows readers to appreciate Reggie’s predicament at every turn, and the dramatic sequence of his antics on the clothesline will provide excruciating pleasure for young readers.
Mom is never made aware of Reggie’s adventure, at least not that readers see in the pages of the book. It is refreshing, if a little less than entirely credible, to read about a small child who has a bit of freedom to find his own way, making mistakes and solving problems without adult intervention or advice. The Clothesline is a fun addition to the picture book collection of school and public libraries and will be most useful for independent reading and on-on-one sharing.
The Quebec author, who is also the illustrator here, debuted with the book Sloth at the Zoom in 2018.
Ellen Heaney, a retired children’s librarian, lives in Coquitlam, British Columbia.