Children's Literature

30th December 1994 at 00:00
King Kong, By Anthony Browne, Julia MacRae Books Pounds 12.99, 1 85681 258 8.

Happy the children's book which can offer equal - if different - pleasures to the giver and to the receiver. I bet that Anthony Browne's King Kong is one of them. Adapted from Edgar Wallace's novel and Merian Cooper's screenplay, it tells the story of the giant Kong from the moment when film director Carl Denham is scouring the streets of New York in search of a star for his latest film, to the poignant death of the monster on the summit of the Empire State Building. The immediate inspiration for Browne's paintings is therefore Cooper's 1933 film, starring Fay Wray, but behind them also lies a tradition of the graphic novel, advertising, pop art and more.

When Denham finds his star, he transforms her, not into Fay Wray, but Marilyn Monroe; only gradually does she come to look more like the actual star of Cooper's film.

Meanwhile, the earlier illustrations will repay close study, for their anticipation of what is to come, and their use of techniques which the graphic novel has borrowed from cinema: a single action broken down in several frames, close-ups, long shots and silhouettes. The child who has read this, or heard it read once, will be able to reconstruct the story from the pictures, while noticing significant new details on each successive "reading" of them: the ape's head badge on the sailor's cap very early in the story, for example, or the advertisement for a circus showing "the largest gorilla ever exhibited" (a very inferior creature to the hero of this tale), and other still more subtle ways in which we are prepared for Kong's entrance. Suitable for any child around reading age, it is well enough produced to survive repeated wear and will probably still be giving pleasure next Christmas and beyond.

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