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Angelica Sprocket’s Pockets

Every time I come to write something about Quentin Blake I find myself at a loss how to describe him.  How do you offer a comment on someone of his stature in the world of illustration and children’s picture books and it not sound paltry, cliched or sycophantic?  What are we supposed to call him? The ‘divine’ Quention Blake? The ‘genius that is’ Quentin Blake? The spectacularly talented Quentin Blake?  All of the above?  After some consideration I think I’m going to stick with the ‘incomparable’ Quentin Blake on the basis that he probably is.  Ok. Here we go.  This then, Angelica Sprocket’s Pockets, is another offering  from the incomparable Quentin Blake and was (I think) published in 2010.

It’s a simple premise but full of well-mined potential.  Angelia Sprocket has pockets galore, and in them she keeps a collection of ever more bizarre and unlikely things.

We start with mice, cheese and hankies and fairly quickly graduate from car horns to cutlery and ice-cream to elephants. Of course none of these things would fit into the pockets on Ms Sprocket’s coat; she has many pockets but they do not seem particularly capacious and therein lies the humour and absurdity.

A few additional bits of cleverness make this even better.  Obviously the illustrations are superb, you could hardly expect anything else, but the placement of lines is also very good.

There’s a pocket for skateboards

(just look at those skaters!)

and another pocket for

occurs on one page, flanked by pictures of skateboarding children, and the punchline is not delivered until you turn to the next page.

alligators.

That’s pretty funny.

The other feature is the strange, meandering rhyme scheme.  It rhymes, but it does so after long, seemingly endless lines that disrupt the rhythm and in a way act like something being pulled out of these eponymous pockets.

There’s a pocket for ice cream

and all kinds of nice things to drink.

There’s a pocket for saucepans and frying pans and buckets and spoons and forks and cheesegraters and

[page turn]

the kitchen SINK.

It’s great.  It’s simple, effective, brilliantly and wackily illustrated, a pleasure to read, surprising on several pages, funny and original – what can I say.  Incomparable.

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Cockatoos

This is a new favourite.  I came to it by accident via the text of Quentin Blake’s excellent lecture on the role of illustration from this years Hay Festival.  It is another of those books where the power of it lies less in the words than in the interplay between word and picture.

Professor Dupont owns ten cockatoos who live in his conservatory.   Every morning he follows the same routine, getting dressed and ready before throwing his arms wide in the conservatory and saying “Good morning, my fine feathered friends!”  The cockatoos (perhaps not unreasonably) become sick of hearing the same words every morning and escape to play a trick on the unsuspecting Professor.

There follows what (to judge from the hysterical laughter) is a highly entertaining game of hide and seek for the reader.  Professor Dupont goes around his house looking in every room, trying and failing to find his birds.  The text regretfully notes the absence of cockatoos.  However, the cheeky cockatoos very much ARE there, and visible to us if not Professor Dupont.  The irony is simple but delicious and the increasing absurdity of “there weren’t any cockatoos there” becomes laugh-out-loud funny very quickly.

There is little text to comment on but the illustration is superb, even by Quentin Blake’s high standards, and the simplicity of the premise is what makes it work so well.  Some pages (notably the four cockatoos underneath the bath, and the above picture of the six hiding behind attic suitcases) are just a joy to look at.

There is a chance that very young children will not ‘get’ this, but certainly from age two to five I would think this is a great book to return to again and again.

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Mister Magnolia

Time for another classic.

This book is as old as me.  First published in 1980, it is one of the best of the books written by Quentin Blake, who is most famous as the oft-times illustrator to Roald Dahl.

Mister Magnolia has only one boot.  He has an old trumpet that goes rooty-toot, two sisters who play the flute, a newt, a parakeet-pecked suit, a water chute – and he’s a dab hand at juggling with fruit.  But poor Mister Magnolia has only one boot.  That is until a small girl turns up with a parcel…

This is great fun to read.  The absurd things in Mister Magnolia’s possession, all rhyming with boot, are delightful and of course beautifully and wittily illustrated.  The tiny mice marching past as he takes the salute are gorgeous.  And there is a kind of pathetic fallacy at the end as, depressed at the lack of a boot, Mister Magnolia stares out of the window at the rain and dull people hurrying past with umbrellas.  At the moment when he puts on his new boot, the sun is brightening and a man smiles at the sky, taking down his umbrella.  There is artistry and depth at work here.

For me, the most glorious aspect of this story is the fact that Mister Magnolia gets one new boot. Not a new pair of boots, but one new boot – that doesn’t match the old one.  That additional touch of the absurd is what lifts this story to classic status and has ensured it is now on its second generation (at least) of young fans.