Arthur, for the Very First Time deals with the important issues of communication and perception. In the first chapter, MacLachlan introduces several examples of the inability to communicate effectively. As the story opens, Arthur is unhappy because his parents argue and whisper. When Arthur questions his father, it angers him so much that he throws a shovel against the garage. Later, his father suggests that the two of them fix supper, which Arthur realizes is his father’s way of apologizing. Arthur knows—and resents—that his mother is pregnant; he also resents that neither of his parents have told him about it. In retaliation, he asks for a pet rat, knowing that his request will send his mother running to the bathroom. Arthur’s family is loving and caring, but they do not always speak clearly, directly, or honestly with one another. The chapter ends with Arthur’s surprise when he discovers that Uncle Wrisby wants to talk with him.
The novel is filled with many other illustrations of the failure to be honest or to communicate, such as Arthur’s refusal to read his parents’ letters. More serious examples occur in Moira’s life. Her father abandoned her, saying that he would return soon but never coming back. When Moira’s mother left, she vowed that she would never return. She does come back; unfortunately, it is only to borrow money, not to visit Moira. Because Moreover has never told her that he loves her, Moira thinks that he does not care any more for her than for the animals that he treats. He once said that one should not care too much:...
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Patricia MacLachlan is an award-winning author particularly identifiable by the warm, eccentric families that populate her novels. Born in Wyoming and reared in Minnesota, she bases many stories on her life and on tales about her ancestors. Aunt Mag was based on a distant relative, a mail-order bride from the East Coast. The character was more fully developed in Sarah, Plain and Tall (1985), which won the Newbery Medal. MacLachlan frequently redevelops characters; for example Moira’s background is used in Journey (1991).
Arthur, for the Very First Time won the Gold Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers in 1980. MacLachlan describes it as one of her favorite stories. It is typical of her books, filled with articulate and thoughtful young people and adults who defy the established norms. She clearly shows that it may be difficult to be different. Characters such as Arthur, children who must learn to live with eccentric people, frequently grow themselves as they learn to experience the world in a new way. MacLachlan’s characters are warm and loving. Although many of her details verge on the fantastic, such as animals that seem almost human, she never strays too far from realism. Instead, she leaves the reader with a picture of a world where both adults and children learn to follow their dreams.