Tickle Tickle is a very successful example, which works partly because it reflects babies back at them in a solid and characterful way that they recognise and respond to, and partly because it is interactive. It prompts communication between reader and child, even when the child cannot speak. At seven months, my daughter began to laugh in anticipation, on the page before the tickling.

Farmer Duck

Martin Waddell, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, Walker Books, 978-0-7445-3660-7, £6.99 pbk

It is hard not to choose the revisionist The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, or the Captain Jack books about children playing in a garden,

but Farmer Duck works

perfectly. Martin Waddell’s story of a lazy farmer and his industrious duck who masterminds a rebellion of farm

animals, is itself satisfying as a political allegory. But Oxenbury’s drawings, her expressive vignettes of the busy duck, atmospheric autumn-coloured fields and farmyards, and spreads, like theatrical scenes, of the duck serving the portly farmer lunch in bed, or animals lounging in the hay at their mutinous meeting, are glorious. They bring us onto the stage or open up the landscape with distant perspectives, until we live in the story. Even the silhouette of a wintry tree is evocative. And this book demonstrates superbly Oxenbury’s capacity for humour and characterisation, and how she can magically anthropomorphise animals without misrepresenting their physique. ‘How goes the work?’ Brilliantly.

Borka: The Adventures of a

Goose With No Feathers John Burningham, Red Fox, 978-0-0994-0067-7, £6.99 pbk

The first picturebook John Burningham wrote

and illustrated, Borka: The

Adventures of a Goose With No Feathers, was immediately acclaimed. It won the Greenaway Medal for 1963, and gave rise to a whole new children’s book list at Cape. It is the Ugly-Ducklingesque tale of Borka, the sixth gosling born to Mr and Mrs Plumpster, who wears a

grey jumper his mother knits because he has no feathers, and can’t fly. Bullied and left behind by his migrating fellows, he stows away on a trawler, makes friends and ends up in Kew Gardens where the geese don’t mind strangeness. The appeal of this story has endured, partly because it is witty and involving and its theme of difference is timeless, but, with its rich textures and patterns and sure, bold, inky line, it is also still beautiful. A stormy sky and landscape, splattered and worked in purples, oranges, greys and greens is almost an abstract; a flight of geese, angular against a sunset, is vibrant with colour and movement; the Impressionistic blurry grey and orange of a misty, wintry estuary is transporting; trees at Kew are lovely, layered, textured blobs; even patches of ground are gorgeous surfaces. This fabulous combination of expressive drawing and sumptuous texture is characteristic of Burningham (see also Simp, Humbert, Harquin, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, for instance) and makes me want to look again and again.

Mr Gumpy’s Outing

John Burningham, Red Fox, 978-0-0994-0879-6, £7.99 pbk

With its simple, repetitive text, and big splash climax, Mr Gumpy’s Outing has become a nursery favourite. But the strength of the experience of this grand day out is in the images, with cross-hatched

line drawings, with

inviting detail, of Mr Gumpy’s punt on its journey, opposite coloured, textured full pages.

These larger

images both show and suggest in line, crayon, and paint the creatures, all individual and full of life, that Mr Gumpy encounters among reeds, ferns and wildflower meadows. And as a bonus the book tells us that there is no need to punish anyone who fails to follow instructions. You can take them home to tea instead.

Edwardo The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World

John Burningham, Red Fox, 978-0-0994-8013-6, £7.99 pbk

Burningham’s books are often resonant about big subjects: death (Grandpa); the environment (Oi! Get Off Our Train); refugees (Mouse House); the power of imagination (The Magic Bed, Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley…), instance; but I am particularly fond of


Edwardo The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World, which I think should be read by every parent and politician because it says something fundamental about how we should treat children, and indeed each other. Edwardo behaves badly until his behaviour is interpreted kindly. This book, with a looser, lighter line than the early books, is economical and expressive, and reminds us that demonising and punishing children, adults or whole cultures only perpetuates misery.


John Burningham, Red Fox, 978-0- 0996-6681-3, £7.99 pbk

Dogs with remarkable powers are a recurrent theme of Burningham’s books, and Courtney is a favourite of mine,

marvellous uncertainty

partly because of the of

the plot.

Funny, with complete scenes conjured with a tentative line, it’s about an old mongrel, regarded by adults as ‘not a proper dog’, who can cook, clean, juggle, and play the violin, and who

rescues a baby from a burning house. It has a wondrous mystery ending and a sense of magic.

Motor Miles

John Burningham, Red Fox, 978-1-7829-5555-9, £7.99 pbk

Dogs, cars and landscapes all seem to be favourite subjects of John Burningham’s, and they, and other aspects of his work, all come together in a recent book, Motor Miles, which proves that Burningham has lost none of his creative powers. As funny and quirky as we expect, this is a story of a dog, Miles, that learns to drive. Miles is uncooperative until he finds what makes

him happy (echoing

Edwardo…). Motor Miles hints at an enigma, reminiscent of Courtney. And it uses the economy of line of Burningham’s later work, but also evokes the countryside with skilled and sensuous use of colour, texture and atmosphere in a way that harks back to Borka and Mr Gumpy. And it has a theme of freedom, which underpins so much of what Burningham has done.

Nicolette Jones has been the children’s books reviewer of The Sunday Times for more than two decades. In 2012 she was nominated for an Eleanor Farjeon Award for outstanding service to children’s books, and she has judged many book prizes including BookTrust’s Ten Best New Illustrators, the Klaus Flugge Prize and the Macmillan Prize for Illustration.

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