Family viewing

27th November 1998 at 00:00
By Charlotte Voake
Walker, #163;9.99
By Max Velthuijs

By Benedicte Guettier

By Babette Cole
Hamish Hamilton, #163;10.99

By Babette Cole. Red Fox., #163;4.99

ZAGAZOO. By Quentin Blake
Jonathan Cape,#163;9.99.

Picture books are almost always designed for a dual audience, but generally favouring the child's point of view, as they do here in Charlotte Voake's Here Comes the Train. She captures the intense pleasure that many children take from such a commonplace experience as standing on a railway bridge and waiting for trains to pass beneath.

That's where viewers join Dad, Chlo and young William. Far below, maintenance men get on with their work and rabbits scamper through the bushes. Tension is built up as other families and dogs arrive, then signal lights change, and first one train whooshes through (beep-barp! ) followed by two more (Beep-BARP), (BEEP-BARP!). Young readers can make the sound- track. Voake expresses the excitement in a loose graphic style, with the pen and paint skirmishing over the paper in flickers, dashes and dabbles.

Many adults will have a wry smile at the portrayal of relationships in the next two picture books, though the books' perspectives are truly those of a child. Frog and the Wide World begins with Rat setting off on his travels, then being persuaded by Frog that two is more fun than one. It's not long before Frog is asking if it's time for lunch, whether they are nearly there, and when they are going home. He can't get to sleep in a strange place, feels cold, falls down, whinges, weeps, and, of course, needs to be carried. Home they go, whereupon Frog enthuses to their friends about the fantastic time they've had. Dear Frog! His view on the world is not the same when eating cake at the tea table, as it was when flat on his back on the mountain top. Each picture is a beautifully simple model of communication, the sequence is a simply beautiful small work of art.

Everything about Benedicte Guettier's warmly satisfying tale appeals to five and six-year-olds. They perceive her illustrative style with its semi-abstract simplicity and boldness as being like that of their own art work. The double-page illustrations have an outsize sensuous appeal with strong shapes, paint in rainbow colours, insouciant disregard for perspective and 10 identical infant characters like animated jelly babies.

Not all offspring are so amenable. Still primarily from a child's perspective, Babette Cole's Bad Habits (or The Taming of Lucretzia Crum) is a fantasy on the allure and dangers of behaving badly. The outrageous Lucretzia is rightly regarded as a problem by Mr and Mrs Crum, as dead cool by her friends, and deadly poisonous by their parents. Double-page spreads of anarchic imagery build towards a spectacular visual climax as the desperate adults, through being even bigger monsters, ultimately transform Lucretzia into a civilised little angel. Real parents might well blench at some of the details while approving the outcome.

Cole's prize-winning picture book, Drop Dead, is now available in paperback, and its range of humour can engage audiences of all ages. It's a grandparents-to-grandchildren account of the seven ages of man and beyond.

Late adolescents and parents will best appreciate the visual metaphors in Quentin Blake's Zagazoo, which plays with ideas similar to those in Drop Dead but in a less varied and stylish way. Bella and George receive a pretty little baby. As it grows, it changes ... into a screeching vulture, a clumsy elephant, a mucky warthog, a small bad-tempered dragon and, finally, a young man with perfect manners. But there is more change to come as we begin to see George and Bella through their son's eyes. Blake animates the drama with his twitchy line, characteristic livewire poses, and jubilant flurries of colour.

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