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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: July 1, 2015

8-year-old Dinah reviews “Down to the Sea: An Outdoor Adventure” at Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine

Written by: Ray Routhier

Kids review the darnedest things.

O.K., maybe we don’t see a lot of published reviews by children about eateries, museums or amusement parks. But every time a parent asks, “What did you like about that place?” or “Should we go there again?” that parent is soliciting a review.

And who better to review child-focused activities than a child? With that idea in mind, we enlisted 8-year-old Dinah Routhier (daughter of this reporter) to try out a new permanent exhibit at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine in Portland.

Read Dinah’s other review: Our 8-year-old reviewer finds Haven’s Candies tour in Westbrook to be sweet experience

“Down to the Sea: An Outdoor Adventure” is based on the whimsical picture book “Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee” by Maine author Chris Van Dusen. The exhibit is essentially a playground with elements designed around specific pages in the book. The story follows straight-laced Mr. Magee’s wacky adventure out in the ocean in his little motorboat, with his dog. (For a more detailed description of the exhibit, see the accompanying box.)

Dinah, being the daughter of a reporter, took her assignment seriously and worked hard to try out every aspect of the exhibit. Below is a Q&A with Dinah about her findings.

What were your favorite things to do?

I think my favorite thing was the ship because it had a hole in the bottom and you could go through the hole, like a doorway. And also there was a net thingy (a rope ladder) you could climb on.

I liked the tiny (pedal) cars. I liked the costumes and the fake food and the picnic basket. I liked the doghouse, I could stay in there forever.

What do you think younger kids might like best?

I think they’d like the shallow pool because there are lots of water toys you can play with, and whales that spout, that shoot water out of them.

What are some tips or advice you’d give kids about what to see and do here?

On the ship, when you’re climbing on the net thingy, you should be careful because that thing has big holes. (Dinah fell through one of those holes, which are the spaces between the ropes of the rope ladder. She was fine.)

Is there anything you would add to improve the exhibit?

Maybe they should make under the ship a bit more comfortable. I wouldn’t put in sofas, but stuff like benches and tables maybe.

Did playing here allow you to do some pretending?

The point of the ship is kind of like, high, so I like to stand up there and pretend I’m George Washington crossing the Delaware. In the dog house I pretended I was someone living in a tiny house.

(At one point Dinah wore Mr. Magee’s hat and glasses and snacked on toy food.) Then I was pretending I was a funny-looking guy having a picnic lunch.

Watch Sophie’s video

“DOWN TO THE SEA: AN OUTDOOR ADVENTURE” opened at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine on June 20 and is geared to ages 4 to 8. Here is a breakdown of the exhibit’s elements:

TO ENTER, children come out a back door at the museum onto a covered deck. The deck’s decor replicates Mr. Magee’s house in the book, including the yellow vinyl kitchen chairs and yellow kitchen table. Kids can grab props in this area, including replicas of Magee’s hat and glasses and a picnic basket full of (plastic) food. Magee takes a similar picnic lunch on his adventure to the sea.

From the deck, kids go down steps to an outdoor fenced and walled-in area. They can follow a circular path to the various play areas, each one explained by a page from the book. They can tour the greenhouse at Magee’s garden or pretend to drive Mr. Magee’s motor boat. Kids can actually drive little pedal cars that look a lot like Magee’s car.

ONE LARGER ELEMENT is a the old shipwreck from the book, but this “wreck” is a safe climbing structure made to look like a shipwreck. Kids also can climb in an out of the doghouse where Dee, Magee’s dog, lives.

THERE’S A WATER PLAY AREA with small models of the spouting whales that save Mr. Magee and Dee. Kids can lean over the water and play with boats and balls. And they also can play in a large sandy area with buckets and shovels, under a tall tree. At the top of the tree sits another replica of Mr. Magee’s boat, stranded, just like in the book.

“Down to the Sea: An Outdoor Adventure”

WHERE: Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, 142 Free St., Portland
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, weather permitting
HOW MUCH: $10 museum admission includes entrance to the exhibit; $2 museum admission the first Friday of each month from 5 to 8 p.m.

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