Tod­dler ter­rors, and tech­niques for tick­ling

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS & BOOKS - Sara Keat­ing

The Gi­ant Jumperee

(Puf­fin, £12.99, 2+) is a new pic­ture book from two of the most pro­lific tal­ents work­ing in chil­dren’s books to­day. With an orig­i­nal story by Julia Don­ald­son (62 pic­ture books and count­ing) and il­lus­tra­tions by He­len Ox­en­bury (who can boast a 50-year ca­reer), even on first read­ing it has the feel of an in­stant clas­sic. Don­ald­son sets aside her trade­mark singsong rhyme for a more sub­tle scheme struc­tured around a dis­arm­ing catch­phrase – “I’m the Gi­ant Jumperee” – which comes echo­ing from the hol­low of Rab­bit’s bur­row, ter­ri­fy­ing its res­i­dent and a suc­ces­sion of big­ger, bolder an­i­mals. It takes the in­ter­ven­tion of Mummy Frog to put them at their ease, and they all re­alise how silly it is to be scared of in­vis­i­ble mon­sters. Don­ald­son’s story will work par­tic­u­larly well for a very young read­er­ship, but Ox­en­bury’s an­thro­po­mor­phic il­lus­tra­tions will have a broader appeal. With their near-hu­man stance and wide-eyed ex­pres­sive­ness, they are char­ac­ters to iden­tify with; never more than in the fi­nal pages when they re­alise their folly and can re­lax with gig­gling re­lief.

by Ciara Flood ( An­der­sen Press, £ 11.99, 3+) also tack­les a spe­cific tod­dler fear: sleep­ing on one’s own. Flynn’s mum and dad have just, op­ti­misti­cally, bought him a new bed, but they had not an­tic­i­pated that it would come with a res­i­dent wal­rus. Flynn tries his best to squeeze in be­side it, but the wal­rus is as rest­less as he is: it is hun­gry, thirsty, a lit­tle bit cold, and needs just one more song. Flood, who trained at DIT, en­sures that the wal­rus is as be­nign as he is beastly, and the night-time set­ting al­lows her to play with light and shade in a rich, re­al­is­tic set­ting. The fi­nal pages, where Flynn sleeps soundly and Mum and Dad fi­nally meet the wal­rus in the flesh, will add an ex­tra layer of recog­ni­tion for adult readers, ex­as­per­ated by sim­i­lar strug­gles with their own chil­dren. Kathryn White and Adrian Reynolds’s

(An­der­sen Press, £11.99, 2+) pro­vides just the an­ti­dote to all those anx­i­eties. Two sci­en­tist mice per­form a tick­ling ex­per­i­ment upon a menagerie of an­i­mals, in­clud­ing a gur­gling gi­raffe, a jig­gling bear and a sneez­ing tiger. Some, how­ever, are more re­cep­tive than oth­ers. Go­ril­las, rhi­nos and croc­o­diles threaten to tickle them back, or worse. White’s sim­ple plot uses a pre­dictable rhyming scheme that will lull young readers into the singsong story. Mean­while, the mice’s thoughts, printed in

There’s a Wal­rus in My Bed The Tickle Test

smaller text, en­rich the rhyming scheme with an op­tional ex­tra line, pro­vid­ing an edge for older readers. Reynolds’s vividly coloured, car­toon­ish char­ac­ters leap from the pages; in par­tic­u­lar the fi­nal page, where the sci­en­tists train their eyes on the reader. If you haven’t yet started tick­ling the child on your lap, you will now.

by Paula Ley­den (Lit­tle Is­land, ¤8.99, 8+) also fea­tures an an­i­mal promi­nently in its story. Eleven-year-old Ella is seek­ing sanc­tu­ary for the sum­mer at her grand­mother’s house in the coun­try­side af­ter the re­cent sep­a­ra­tion of her par­ents. She be­comes drawn to a stal­lion that grazes nearby, and it is while tend­ing to it that she meets Johnny, the young Trav­eller boy who owns him. When Storm is taken by “the pound man”, Ella and Johnny em­bark on a mis­sion to save him. Ley­den cap­tures Ella’s emo­tional life with great con­vic­tion as she strug­gles to deal with her fraught fam­ily life. Al­though Ella has a unique gift – she can see the thoughts of those close to her – Ley­den en­sures she re­mains grounded and em­pa­thetic. The story has a fa­mil­iar feel, but Ley­den’s use of tech­nol­ogy (from Granny’s rules about din­ner-ta­ble eti­quette to Ella’s phone record­ing de­vice) gives Keep­sake an up-to-date feel that is never forced. The prej­u­dice that drives the plot, mean­while, is sub­tly in­tro­duced and re­solved with great com­pas­sion.

Like Ella, Denizen Hard­wick has ex­tra­or­di­nary pow­ers, al­though his have a mag­i­cal rather than an in­tu­itive ca­pac­ity. We meet Dark

Flynn tries his best to squeeze in be­side it, but the wal­rus is as rest­less as he is: it is hun­gry, thirsty, a lit­tle bit cold, and needs just one more song


Dave Rud­den: wields a cre­ative lit­er­ary touch that makes ev­ery page a plea­sure to read. PHO­TO­GRAPH: NICK BRADSHAW

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