“I asked a scarecrow in out of the snow,
“Please be a guest in my house.”
The scarecrow said, “Can I bring a friend,
For in my sleeve lies a mouse?” ”
This beautifully presented book takes the form of a growing list of the animals who ask to come in and out of the snow. Eventually:
“Into the house and out of the snow / Came an owl, a fox, a heron, a donkey, a lamb, a fawn, a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a squirrel, a robin, a butterfly, a mouse, and an old scarecrow.”
Brian Patten is a well-regarded writer for both adults and children, rising to prominence along with Roger McGough and Adrian Henri in the 1960s. The so-called ‘Liverpool Poets’ were influenced by 1950s Beat poetry and wrote in a simple, direct but powerful style that lent itself to public performance. He has written several collections of poetry for slightly older children, including Thawing Frozen Frogs.
This book however is more subtle and calm, delicately written and delicately illustrated. Each animal asks to be let in in a slightly different way, and the lilting, shifting rhythms are very pleasant to read and to listen to. There is real skill and detail in the writing – the cat, for example. “allowed itself to be let in” in the manner of cats everywhere, but the heron adds a touch of absurdity with his request: “The lake (…) is covered in ice / Can I stand in the bath? / It would be nice!” Nicola Bayley’s pencil crayon drawings are executed with painstaking detail and a soft, fine touch; although they can seem a little stiffly worked at times they are unquestionably beautiful and the animals are realistic and accurate.
This is a subtle and charming book; it does not set the world alight with excitement or originality, but most children will enjoy the ever-increasing list of animals and the ending, with everyone snuggled up in the house together, is heart-warming. A good book for the winter and for a quiet moment.