The Foggy Foggy Forest

What can this be in the foggy foggy forest?”

This is an original and enjoyable book by the prolific Nick Sharratt  It has no real plot, but the word play and interesting use of shadows in the illustrations give you plenty to think about.  It’s a rhyming question and answer format, and with each page turn you discover the answer to ‘what can this be?’

So far, so straightforward, but the illustrations are in varying shades of grey, giving the reader the chance to get what will be revealed in colour on the next page.  Even more cleverly, the shadow of the next character can be dimly seen behind the darker shadow in front.  So if you look at the image above, on the right you can see the dark shape of “three brown bears in picnic chairs”.  Behind it, if you look above Baby Bear’s head, you can just about make out the dress of the “fairy queen on a trampoline”, and behind that you can see the curl of the unicorn’s (French) horn.  Just like the way objects move mysteriously out of dense fog.  Clever, eh?

This is also a fun book from a linguistic perspective.  All children love silly rhymes, and there are some great and original ones in here, my personal favourite being the “ogre doing yoga”.

I’m not the only one who liked this book, as it won a number of awards in 2009 and 2010.  If I have a criticism it’s that once you have enjoyed the gimmick and the words there is not much left to it; it’s a great book to borrow from the library but I can’t see it sustaining interest long-term.  It’s therefore probably better, as a purchase at least, for younger children.

Overall though a very clever premise and an enjoyable read.


The Pirates Next Door

Here is the well-observed opening double page to Jonny Duddle’s prizewinning picture book:

Matilda’s boring life is enlivened only by the prospect of – perhaps – another young girl moving in to the empty house next door.  But one day new occupants do turn up, and they are not quite what the reserved, middle-class inhabitants of Dull-on-Sea (twinned, naturally with Ennui-sur-Mer) were expecting.

Matilda is rather taken with young Jim Lad and his sea-faring family, but the other landlubbers of the town are less than enthusiastic.  There follows a superb commentary on middle-class snobbery and narrow-mindedness, with the various residents demanding the removal of this blot on the moral landscape.

” ‘Miss Pinky called the council, to see what they could do.  She didn’t live through two world wars to have pirates spoil her view!’  ‘It really is DISGRACEFUL, on such a lovely street.  You’d think that they would TRY to keep their garden looking neat!’ ”

The whole town (except Matilda) unites against the pirates and demands they leave.  “Before you know it, there’ll be more – we’ll ALL have pirates lodged next door!”  However, before the aptly-named Jolley-Rogers leave they have a surprise for the townspeople that may change their opinion of pirates.

Adults will love the satirical humour and children the nefarious antics of the pirate family, who board rowing boats in the park and dig up the local roundabouts.  The text is clever and the rhyme works well, despite the occasionally jarring piece of scansion.

Jonny Duddle’s illustrations (sketched initially in pencil and then drawn onto computer via a tablet) have all the detail and skill of someone who worked on the character design for the latest Aardman film (“Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists”)  There is an astonishing amount to spot and to talk about in the pictures and lots of extra little jokes that are worth looking for.

The Pirates Next Door won this year’s Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and it’s a worthy champion.  It is clear how much work and thought went into creating it and a wide-range of ages will enjoy it on different levels.  With five and six year olds this could lead to quite complex moral discussions about the presence of the pirates and the attitude of the landlubbers, but younger children will like the rhymes and the comic pictures.

Highly enjoyable, original and very very pretty.