1063 Garage magic and memory

Saturday at the Garage
by Nancy Hundal (text) and Angela Pan (illustrations)

Vancouver: Midtown Press, 2020
$21.95 / 9781988242323

Reviewed by Caileigh Broatch

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The Saturday morning sun rises to greet a father and daughter on the way to the garage. While there’s no school to attend, there are chores that must be done: floors to be swept, dogs to be petted, gas to be pumped, and customers to attend. Dressed in denim overalls and pigtails, the girl seems a natural addition to the garage staff. Saturday at the Garage, by Nancy Hundal (text) and Angela Pan (illustrations), tells the story of a family-owned service station through the voice of the young girl who side-lines as a mechanic on the weekends.

Intended for children aged 3 to 8, Saturday at the Garage follows the unnamed girl and her father through their day at work. The coffee is brewed as the bay door opens. Gordie and his red truck, Stella, greet them. Gordie is a Saturday regular; he fills up with gas, shares a piece of candy, and collects their pop empty bottles. While the little girl helps carry the bottles to his truck, he tells her about the elves that live in the neighbourhood.

“‘A real elf? Like with pointy ears and freckles?’” The little girl asks. Cheeky Gordie replies, “‘Course a real elf … what’s the good otherwise? You watch for him, y’hear? I saw him just now in the shop.’”

Nancy Hundal

Not for a lack of trying, the girl can’t find the elf, but her imagination runs wild while she continues caring for the garage. Under the hood of a red car with shark fins, her father works to put engine parts back together. Handing him a file, she ponders over how shark teeth stay sharp.

Mrs. Deighton visits the garage to collect gas for her car and chocolate for her grandchildren. The young girl handles the transaction herself and then, when the sun is hanging overhead, it’s time for lunch. The magic introduced in Gordie’s visits continues well past lunchtime. For readers with a sharp eye, the little elf can be found hiding behind the shrubs just beyond the garage. The girl’s imagination drives the story forward with charm and imagination.

Nancy Hundal and Angela Pan take the reader back to a simpler time of manual registers, retro-styled gas pumps, and flashy, square cars with shark fins. Saturday at the Garage is based on Hundal’s memories of working with her father at the family garage. The tenderness displayed in the prose and in the pictures show that her memory is a window into a special place of happy nostalgia. The love between father and daughter illuminates in the soft lighting of the scenes.

Angela Pan

Hundal is a children’s author and retired teacher-librarian from Vancouver. In 1991 she received the Shelia A. Egoff B.C. Book Prize for her first published book, I Heard My Mother Call My Name (HarperCollins Canada). Together, Hundal and Pan have captured a sentimental 1960s era moment. Readers might reflect on moments of their own time that hold the same special magic.

Angela Pan bathes the pages of Saturday at the Garage in sunlight. The sun’s journey across the book, from morning until night, illuminates the garage in with ethereal delight. Pan is no amateur when it comes to transporting her viewers to another time and place; she uses a mixture of chalk and pastel to create the landscape and scenery in Saturday at the Garage. Currently based in Vancouver, she studied animation at Sheridan College.

There is something to be said for the novelty and unexpectedness of a young girl relishing daily chores in a dirty garage. Perhaps it is not the activities around the shop that she looks forward to but rather a day spent as her father’s helper. Saturday at the Garage inspires one to look more closely at details, at shared moments, and to reflect on one’s own memories with a fond tenderness.

The second-to-last page of the book vibrates with this lesson; the words breath a familial legacy and a familiar comfort:

When the sun has slid all the way from the top of the sky to the edge of the world, it’s time to go. I help Dad put tools back in careful order; Dad wipes some of the black grease off his hands. Some never goes away. Its dark smell hides in the lines of his calloused hand. Some day my hands will look that way, too.

As the sun sets behind the neighbouring buildings, father and daughter bid the garage a fond good night.

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Caileigh Broatch

Caileigh Broatch is a writer from Vancouver Island, with a BA in creative writing and journalism from Vancouver Island University. Her work has been published in Portal Magazine and The Nav (VIU’s student magazine, where she was the features editor from 2018-2020). Her studies have taken her to investigate Canadian literature, gold panning, ghosts, and killer whales, among more academic topics. Editor’s note: for The Ormsby Review Caileigh has reviewed books by Denyse Waissbluth, Barbara SmithAJ DevlinPJ Reece, and Susan Scott.

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