When a limb isn’t a limb … Book review of The Snatchabook and The Bad Trousers

I’m going out on what may appear to be a bit of a limb for this blog. It isn’t in fact a limb at all, as I adore children’s books and continue to enjoy them with my young family. In fact, I’ve never really stopped enjoying children’s books as I continued to read them as an adult before becoming a parent, and what better excuse than studying children’s literature for three years! Then it wasn’t that long until I had children of my own.

I was planning to focus my blog on themes of the books I was working predominantly on (which was, at the time, horticultural books), but have decided to broaden this to encompass any and all the books I enjoy, focusing particularly on travel memoirs and children’s books, but on anything that takes my fancy, including editorial and self-publishing topics.

I haven’t blogged in a while but today I can’t help myself; I simply must share my enthusiasm and delight. Because last night I fell in love with two books. The first of these, The Snatchabook, by Helen and Thomas Docherty, impinged itself on my consciousness for the first time a few weeks ago in the CBeebies Bedtime Story slot. I was charmed by the illustrations, especially the cosy underground houses of the animals, and the inside/outside pictures. (I love illustrations which give you a “slice-through” of interiors and exteriors, or above ground and below ground.)

Anyway, having visited our local library yesterday, what should we come home with, among many other volumes, but the aforementioned Snatchabook and The Bad Trousers by Ros Asquith, illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick (whose Katie Morag books we love), and more of this wonderful book later. And now I have a problem. When I really like a book, I have to own it, and both of these books have called out to me.

The Snatchabook enticed me in straight away with the first illustration of Eliza Brown in her cosy bedroom. I may be a grown-up human, not a girl rabbit, but I wanted that to be my lovely room, with its bed tucked into a cosy nook, bookshelves carved out of the earth and a carrot-patterned lampshade casting a soft orange light over everything. The wind might have been whistling outside and whipping up the leaves, but in there it was cosy and warm.

What follows is a wonderful story, whose message seems to be that everyone has the right to have a bedtime story. Its beautiful and humorous illustrations – as with all good picture books – showed you more than the words, and so extended the story, and the text with its sound, not contrived, rhymes, drew you through the action and lulled you to sleep in the end. We have already read it several times.

And now to The Bad Trousers (nothing like Wallace & Grommit’s Wrong Trousers, I hasten to add), which was also a revelation. Part of the Little Gems collection published by Barrington Stoke, an Edinburgh publisher, the book has dyslexia-friendly features including being on cream, not white, paper, and having a lot of space around the words. But these features aside, it is a wonderful book. Mairi Hedderwick’s drawings are recognisable as those of Katie Morag’s creator, but somehow different. Because they aren’t the huge double-spread tableaus of the island tales, they appear more focused and detailed. Perhaps it’s just because the reader has less to look at on each page. It’s in chapter book form, but a mini version, measuring 14 by 16 cm. This gives it a lovely feel – substantial with over 80 pages, but small, which young readers will appreciate.

It’s a sweet tale of Robbie, who’s counting the days until his birthday, and all the daily comings and goings in a small Scottish village. The character was actually created by Mairi Hedderwick (with the illlustrations dating from the early 1990s) and Ros Asquith has written a charming tale, full of quirky names and characters. Another one to read again and again. I will have to investigate more Little Gems.

The visual and physical aspect of books, and perhaps in particular in children’s books, is a very important part of the reading experience. While I’m a big fan of the ebook, and believe there’s a lot of work to be done to produce more and better children’s ebooks, I can see that it is harder to adapt them for this medium. I’m going to enjoy owning these two very appealing books in paper form, once we’ve taken these borrowed ones back to the library.

The Bad Trousers, by Ros Asquith, illustrations by Mairi Hedderwick. 2014/1993-1994. Edinburgh: Barrington Stoke.

The Snatchabook, by Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty. 2013. London: Alison Green Books/Scholastic.


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