Joe is invited to his first party. As it gets dark he and his mum walk along the street in search of the house where Tom lives. (Joe has lost his invitation.) Full of apprehension, Joe asks, ‘What if there’s a LOT of people there? … What if I don’t like the food?… What if they play scary games?’ Mum reassures him and they finally find the venue. In goes Joe and later Mum is back to collect him. Simple and straightforward. Well not quite. This is Anthony Browne and nothing he does is ever simple or straightforward.
The story narrative is told through night vision blue and grey comic strip illustrations of mother and boy with many speech bubbles on one half of a page with opposite and on the following double spread, full colour scenes of the exterior and interior of each house.
As the two walk along, they stop to peer through the window of each house in the hope of seeing evidence of a party. The first house looks pretty normal; but look again. What is that on the man’s head, all the heads actually, and what about his cup and saucer? Then there’s that painting on the wall. On to the next house; certainly no party there; just one very large pachyderm. On again to more and more surreal scenes – some kind of boys’ tea party but that cannot be it. Then a Bruegel-esque snakes and ladders game and finally, at the end of the street Tom’s house. Joe goes in.
All those bizarre happenings glimpsed through the windows has Mum worried as she walks home and there is tension until the turn off the final page where we see a smiling Joe who has had a wonderful time.
As always with Anthony Browne, there is much to stimulate the imagination in the full colour spreads of the houses and their interiors. So, after an initial reading further visits to the book and the colour spreads in particular will unlock many more stories and flights of fancy.