Ben and Bella are in the bath one night when a surprising collection of animals turn up to join in with bathtime. Dog, Lion, Duck, Penguin, Turtle, Giraffe all climb in with no trouble – but then Hippopotamus tries to get in on the act and things really get exciting.
This is a flight of fancy story in which the big red bath takes a leap of imagination (literally) and slides down the stairs, out of the house and up into the sky, carrying its menagerie of passengers along with it. There is a LOT of splashing, a significant amount of the ridiculous, and an appealing concept rooted in the simple, common experience of a bath. At the end, when all the animals finally climb out, there is a lovely touch in the way all the creatures mentioned can be seen in the bathroom – in the dog slippers, the flamingo tiles, the kangaroo towel.
The language is fun and appropriate with lots of bath-time words and sounds: ‘splish’, ‘splosh’, ‘rub-a-dub’, ‘sloosh’ and could lead to a discussion with slightly older children about other onomatopoeic words. There is a pacy rhythm that drives you onwards through the story particularly at the start with the repeated and extended refrains:
However, if you are sensitive to such things, the scansion is patchy and the rhymes occasionally either do not quite work or seem forced. For example: “Hello kids, can I come for a paddle? Course you can Duck, dibble and dabble!” It just about gets away with it but it does grate if you have an ear for poetry.
The illustrations, as you can see, are excellent. Adrian Reynolds is also responsible for Bear Flies High and the other Michael Rosen bear books and again his style fits admirably here. There is a small board book version but the larger, paperback one really explodes off the page with the splashing and water. Real attention has been paid to the way the water flows on the page and the placement of bubbles such that the lively, playful mood of the story comes across beautifully.
Despite the odd irritation in the language this story is well worth sharing with your children. All those I’ve seen it read to have loved it and the narrative really captures their imagination. And if it proves popular, there are others: Big Yellow Digger and Big Blue Train to name two.