Uff Da!, by C. L. G. Martin, illustrated by Richard Clark

Uff Da
Uff Da!, by C. L. G. Martin, illustrated by Richard Clark
(2004, Tricycle Press, ISBN 1-58246-117-1)

Uff da: the exclamation I have probably used more often in my lifetime than any other except, possibly, “Oh, my goodness!” (We say it kind of like “OOF-dah.”) If eating lefse and kringla and “putacaga” (presumably “potet kaker” [potato cakes] in Norwegian that hasn’t been corrupted terribly by my sweet and wonderful (albeit spelling-impaired) grandmother) for pretty much every family celebration throughout my childhood gives me leave to claim my one-quarter heritage and say my ancestry is Norwegian, so be it! Regardless, my family history with this word is why I grabbed this book from the library.

Timmer and his family move into a “real fixer-upper” according to his father (or a dump, according to his sister). Grampie Gustie says, “Uff da!” and shakes his head. Turns out that Grampie Gustie is in for a lot of “uff das” in this house as Timmer keeps reporting problem after problem that needs repairs, and Grampie Gustie, after uttering his customary exclamation (the rough equivalent to “Good grief!” in Scandinavia), calls another member of the extended family who can fix it to come on over, from Great Gramma Gerta with her rug-braiding skills to Great Grandpap Sea Dog Sven for the cooking. Timmer wants to help, but he is told repeatedly that he’s too little, so he spends a lot of time in his room constructing the elaborate Timmertown with scraps from his relatives’ construction endeavors. Soon the place is a madhouse, overrun with overworked, overwrought relatives from (nearly) every trade imaginable, and things are getting out of hand. Dinner one night ends up with a broken table and everyone sulking in their bedrooms. The next morning, they awake to discover traffic signs all over the house, signs that help them navigate the perilous hallways of an overly-full house, and there’s Timmer directing traffic into the dining room. When his sister suddenly discovers that gophers have invaded the yard and Grampie Gustie has to call in even more family to fix it, Timmer has his own “Uff da!” to exclaim, but with the newly appointed (by Grampie Gustie) best-in-the-world traffic director on the job, things are under control.

The illustrations are mixed media, but they have an oil painted feel. They are semi-realistic with somewhat exaggerated, caricature-like features (like the larger-than-life expressions, the plumber sisters’ stubby legs, and occasional perspectives like you might expect in a 3-D movie) which seems consistent with the illustrator’s style (since his image on the jacket flap is actually a self-caricature). The illustrator shows extreme attention to detail in textures and highlights, and the colors are bright and warm. My favorite illustrations are the one where Timmer is peeking around the corner when he discovers the broken windows and the one where Third Cousin Thurston is loading a sheet of glass into the oven and the fire is reflected in his goggles.

GirlChild’s Reaction: “That was…a little great.” Um, glowing review, GirlChild. She liked how Timmer said “Stop!” with the stop sign, but she didn’t like that the man banged on the table and broke it. Contrary to her normal wild and crazy behavior, I think she wasn’t happy with all the chaos in the book…maybe it was just the yelling at one another, since she’s really not into angry voices. I have to admit that it wasn’t the most compelling story in the world, and I kind of expected Timmer’s obvious construction skills (as evidenced by the impressive Timmertown) to be acknowledged, but the problem of a child trying to find a place to help is a pretty common one (although the solution is a little strange), so I think many kids could relate. Although I’m glad my Norwegian family isn’t as irritable at family gatherings as this one seems to be, I do wish there were more tradespeople to help out when we need home repairs! 😉

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