Proverbially true

4th September 1998 at 01:00
Shirley Hughes describes proverbs and sayings as "a kind of theatre of the absurd. Children, hearing them dropped into the adult conversation, form indestructible pictures in the head."

In these companion books (originally published 20 years ago) the creator of Alfie and Annie Rose puts her own indestructible pictures on the page. Thus we have an illustration of a timorous, downtrodden young man literally "tied to his (formidable-looking) mother's apron strings," glum resignation in his face and posture.

Then there is the double-page spread of various official-looking types with ladders, notepads and magnifying glasses, earnestly "looking for a needle in a haystack".

Alongside the literal visual interpretation (which is where the absurdity comes in to make a possibly dry project lively and entertaining) are given the explanations - so the former is "completely controlled by his mother'', while the latter group are "doing something impossible''. The Hughes style - realistic with the occasional hint of caricature - is perfectly suited to the subject matter.

Proverbs feature in the national literacy strategy and these books may prove useful in the classroom. They are certainly as informative as any dictionary and have the distinct advantage of providing a good chuckle.

My one criticism of Over The Moon is that there is no reference to the footballers' other favourite, "sick as a parrot". If this was edited out of your collection, Shirley, could I please have a photocopy?

Kevin Harcombe

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