Monday, 21 March 2011

A perfect picture book - Josh Lacey

What makes a great picture book? It should have wonderful pictures, of course. And an immaculate fusion of images and text. A memorable narrative, an interesting theme and some good jokes all help too. But the real sign of a great picture book is that you can read it again and again (and again and again) without going nuts.

I don't know how many times I've read The Tiger Who Came to Tea - certainly hundreds, maybe even thousands, as a child, a sibling and a parent - but I still haven't tired of it. I'll usually try to steer my daughter in its direction when she's choosing a book. Are you sure you want that? I’ll say. Wouldn't you rather have this one?

What do I love about it? The simplicity of the story; its warmth; the sweet domestic details; and the mixture of gentility and terror in the character of the tiger. In what little he says - he speaks only twice in the book - he is terrifically polite. "Excuse me," he says at he pokes his head around the front door, "but I'm very hungry. Do you think I could have tea with you?" As he leaves, he waves and says, "Thank you for my nice tea. I think I'd better go now." What a perfect guest! And yet he's a wild destructive force who rages through the home, draining the taps of water, eating every scrap of food, leaving a scene of chaos.

Why doesn't he eat Sophie and her mother? When we're reading, aren't we waiting for him to turn on them and open his wide jaws? A lesser story might have expressed these fears, but Judith Kerr leaves them unsaid; Sophie and her mother calmly let the tiger fill himself up and leave.
...and he drank all the milk,
and all the orange juice,
and all Daddy's beer,
and all the water in the tap.
Is there a more perfect picture book?


catdownunder said...

Oh, you just chose one of my all time favourite books - of course a tiger is just a large cat...purr!
I also love the Katie-Morag books (Mairi Hedderwick) for the detail of their illustrations and the way they portray life in a small community in so few words.
I think really good picture books "say more with less".

Abie said...

I love 'The sad Story of Veronica who played the Violin' - David Mckee. I could read it a thousand times over (I have!)

Sue Purkiss said...

Peace at Last, by Jill Murphy, is my all-time great. I never tired of reading it, and got to know it by heart; it worked as a sort of mantra - I could just start reciting it to my son if he got fractious, and he'd calm down...

michelle lovric said...

For disruptive visitors, my favourite is The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. I love it when the boy rushes in after his uninvited visitor, and tells us of his outrage:
'Do you know where I found him?
Do you know where he was?
He was eating a cake in the tub!
Yes he was!
The hot water was on.
And The cold water too.
And I said to that cat
"What a bad thing to do."'

May not be exact as from memory, but it does express that secret joy children feel when someone is actually naughtier than they are, breaking all the rules, and THEY have the opportunity to be the adult who tells the transgressor off.

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

The words 'and all Daddy's beer' receive wide Os of mouths here. And Sue, Peace at Last is funny and excellent, one I like.

My eldest boy's favourite is, unsurprisingly, Where the Wild Things Are, followed by We're Going on a Bear Hunt. Two books that have survived the test of time.

My own current favourite is A Summery Saturday Morning by Margaret Mahy - fine line jolly watercolours and the simplest yet most evocative of stories: taking the dogs for a walk to the beach and getting chased by geese. I have gazed at the bay scene so many times and wondered where, if anywhere, it is set - Ireland, Corsica...? Then The Room on the Broom by Julia and Axel. Another Axel that I can't wait to read to them is Axel Hacke and Michael Sowa's Little King December, and A Bear Called Sunday. Fabulous sophisticated stuff.

Rosalind Adam said...

Yes, that is a lovely picture book but there are also the books where each viewing creates a different world in the child's mind, like Pippa Goodhart's You Choose. My grandchildren adore to sit and talk over each page again and again.

Pippa said...

Oh, I'm blushing now! Thank you for that, Ros! I'll vote for wonderfully simple, yet rich, 'Goodnight Gorilla', the Ahlberg's 'Bye Bye Baby' (which I'm sure wouldn't get published now, what with the old man in a mac propositioning a child!), Martin Waddell's 'Owl Babies' and good old 'Dogger'.

Emma Barnes said...

You are right, it is perfect. It is the "gentility" of the tiger that makes it so wonderful.

I love the Church Mice books above all other picture books, but they are for much older children (and parents).

adele said...

Where the Wild Things Are takes some beating. Though Tiger and lots of others come to mind as well. Does anyone remember Mr Rabbit's lovely present? Illustrated by Sendak too. There are SO MANY! How about the Frances books by Russell Hoban, not to mention his THE STONE DOLL OF SISTER BRUTE...I must stop. Could go on and on.