Maybe it was the fact that the Pop Up Book of Poo (Walker) arrived with Harvey, the Boy Who Couldn’t Fart that caused the sense of humour short circuit. I’m sorry to be so po-faced - oh, let’s get in to the spirit of things and add an extra o to that - but ever since The Story of the Little Mole who Knew it was None of his Business (a mole goes round with a lump of faeces on his head demanding to know who did it) there has been a …. shit load of books on the subject, Andy Stanton’s Here Comes the Poo Bus being the worst; honestly, it’s crap. The Pop Up (they missed a trick there - plop down?) Book of Poo may disappoint children whose expectations will be raised by the lift-up lavatory seat on the cover, as it’s really quite educational. Yes, mice have “teeny-tiny poo. Elephants have simply ENORMOUS poo.” Who knew? Actually, it does get more interesting - blue whales have pink poo and geese go every twelve minutes…. And at least they don’t call it poop. In America you canbuy a book called It Hurts when I Poop!: A Story for Children Who are Scared to Use the Potty.
Admittedly she has only published one children’s book which shouldn’t really qualify her for an infatuation. But what a book! If you haven’t already read the 10 O’clock Question (Templar), rush out and buy it immediately. It was the best young adult novel published last year.
But having met Kate the other day (tea at Fortnums – it’s been a fattening week) it’s clear why she is such a brilliant writer. She lives and breathes children’s books. The last time she came to England from her native New Zealand she made a pilgrimage to all of her favourite authors, including Jan Mark, Diana Wynne Jones and – the usual awkward pause here -William Mayne. Though she talked briefly about the genesis of Frankie, the brilliant hero of her book with his “rodent voice” of worry, mostly she just wanted to talk about other writers. So we all sat around sighing like adolescents over their favourite bands, as we threw names in to the pot. Jerry Spinelli, Louis Sachar, Geraldine McCaughrean, David Almond, E L Konigsburg, Francisco X. Stork…. A roll call of honour on which she most definitely belongs.
Oh dear. Yes, these beautifully produced baby board books with cloth covers will totally go with your Orla Kiely handbag and patterned coat. And the colours are fabulously dingy in an ultra-cool mid-century-modern kind of way. Which is great news for design-obsessed 30 something parents. But not so good news for babies who, last time we looked, were rather keen on bright primary colours.
David Almond’s latest book, published simultaneously for adults and children is written entirely phonetically in the voice of Billy Dean, “a secrit shy & thick & tungtied emptyheded thing”. For teenagers, bilingual in textspeak, this is not a problem but adults, particularly the linguistic pedants amongst us (am I alone in wanting to give pre-nup spelling tests to potential sons-in-law?), will find themselves searching for rules and pouncing on transgressions in a distracting game of hunt the inconsistency. ‘Aha! Surely if he’s spelling endles like that, wilderness should have one s…’
Fortunately the sheer visceral quality of David Almond’s prose will win over even the most hardline apostrophe vigilantes. Billy wants the words to “enter yor blud & boans & to infect yor dremes.” And freed of the constraints of spelling this is just what they do.
For my full review see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/8722822/The-True-Tale-of-the-Monster-Billy-Dean-by-David-Almond-review.html
Just looking at the title makes me feel anxious: Let’s Make Some Great Art. It’s that exhortive “Let’s” which makes you immediately think Let’s Not. (Let’s Talk About Sex; Let’s Have Fun with Maths - these are not conducive book titles). But putting aside my own hang ups, this is a fabulous book - though it might not look quite so good when your less than talented offspring has finished scribbling on it. In amongst the pages designed to free imagination are excellent technical tips and short art history guides. After a short introduction to Magritte the reader is invited to “Draw something you would not expect to see through this door”. You need confident, uninhibited children when confronted with a double spread of a gallery wall and the instruction “Draw or paint something 3D in this art gallery.” The over-tested, hothoused child will panic at the very idea - but Let’s Make Some Great Art by Marion Deuchars (Lawrence King) will do more for your child’s creative intelligence than any number of reasoning books.
In Kate Kellaway’s summer round up in The Observer yesterday, four out of six picture books were from Walker. As a reviewer, you try to be inclusive - it somehow feels wrong not to share out the plaudits (though not quite as wrong as feeling morally obliged to review a book because you accepted an invitation to the launch dinner at The Ivy…) But when it comes to illustrated books Walker simply wipe the floor with the other publishers; if you’re choosing solely on the basis of quality, it’s impossible not to favour them in round-ups. Their books are always beautifully produced, immaculately designed, fresh and original. Other publishers go for quantity over quality, churning out lots of mediocre titles with the occasional gem, whereas Walker somehow manage to be both prolific and perfectionist. And they don’t do launch dinners either. Or maybe they just don’t invite me, and look how well that’s worked out for them….