Big Red Bath

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.



Bear Flies High

Bear Flies High is a short, rhyming book from Michael Rosen and Adrian Reynolds. It’s a sequel to The Bear in The Cave, which is a similar style.

Bear lives by the sea, on the beach, and longs to fly in the sky like the birds.  His friends the children tell him of a place where he can experience the excitement of flight, and take him off to the theme park.  There they go on the cups and saucers, in the haunted house, and finally on the Big flipper.

There’s lightness and jollity in the wordplay in this book.  The rhymes take the form of a dialogue between the bear and the children.

I’m a bear on a beach.

On a beach?

On a beach.

And I sing by the sea all day.

Doo be doo

Doo be doo

Doo bee doodily doo.”

This makes it quite fun to read, rolling the sounds around in your mouth, and more fun to listen to.  But there is skill at work here too. “I watch the birds in the sky./ In the sky?/ In the sky. /  And they fly above me up high.”  The desire in the repeated long vowels shows the quality and control of Rosen’s best writing, and this continues when Bear contemplates the Big flipper.

You can fly up there, if you dare.”

Scary scare

Scary scare

Scary scarety scare.”

For a short and simple book it is textually well-crafted and the tension ebbs and flows beautifully.  From the initial problem of the bear who wants to be a bird there is excitement on the theme park rides, followed by the tension approaching the flipper and the wonderful release as he flies down it. “I’m a bear who can fly!” 

Adrian Reynolds’ illustrations are just right.  The comically lumbering bear is huge but obviously friendly and again there is a subtlety of skill that lifts this above the norm: the framing of the pictures brings out the emotion of each situation: the whirling cup almost flies out of the page and the comic strip effect as he climbs up to the top of the Big flipper shows the fear and trepidation perfectly.

This is along the same lines as We’re Going on a Bear Hunt but to my mind is better; there is a greater depth and skill here and much more longevity.