Monday, 20 February 2012

Big-Top Benn

Children back to school and so normal service can resume; I realise you may miss Eddie's angelic nose picking- he'll be back I'm sure.
Today I am racked by the notion that I am over six weeks into this blog and have featured no David McKee yet! What was I thinking?

'Mr Benn' fever was a passion that gripped Eddie a year or so ago and at it's height involved watching all ?13 episodes of the 70's tv series back-to-back on a daily basis whilst clutching and reading along with his Mr Benn books and requiring my complete focus to assist in the matter of completing  his 500 piece Mr Benn jigsaw. These passions come and go for the boy (at the moment it's all about the Gruffalo (again), Michael Rosen and CBeebies Gigglebiz) but it's fair to say when he's a fan of something he's really a fan. At some point I'm guessing he will progress on to the 'Lord of the Rings' and then God help us all.

For anyone who doesn't know him, Mr Benn is an ordinary bowler hatted bachelor who escapes his suburban life in different adventures by means of a magic fancy dress shop that has a portal in its changing room. I loved to watch 'Mr Benn' as a child and bought the DVD first- really for myself more than my children; a nostalgia-fest. Eddie's immediate enthusiasm was both surprising and gratifying. Apparently children are broadly the same creatures now as they were in circa 1975! Who'da thunk it? I'll confess though I hadn't realised either at the time or as an adult that Mr Benn actually started life as a series of books. This is an interesting one then- we all came to the books through the medium of the screen first.

Obviously there are plenty of people for whom that's the only way they ever come to a book; whether through a love of Disney Princesses or the 'novelisation' of a Ben10 episode. Nothing wrong in that per se, but I would normally try and always start with the source material first (whether that just means actually watching Ben10 or stopping poor Bill from seeing any Harry Potter films before he's ready to read the books). I'm a little shame faced that I got it the wrong way round here. Plain snobbery really.

The confusion was exacerbated by the fact that the first (out of print) Mr Benn books I managed to get hold of for Eddie were actually re-developed post TV show. He loved them as a faithful replica but they weren't particularly visually exciting to me. But THEN. Oh Joy! Eddie's obsession coincided with the thirtieth anniversary of Mr Benn and two of the original books were reissued as new. 'Big Top Benn' is one of these.

It's a completely different beast to the other Benn books we have. The story is basically the same as the equivalent 'clown' TV episode but the language of the text is richer and not written to the precise formula of the redeveloped books. As in all Mr Benn stories (and most David McKee stories come to that) there is a moral that peaceful collaboration will always triumph over ego. The pictures are just glorious. A combination of intricate black and white pen work and pleasingly 'imperfect' rich painted double spreads; they present a semi 3D take on Mr Benn's adventure which repay sustained looking. I find it interesting that they have a quality of moving narrative in themselves; almost anticipating their second life, as we see the characters several times within one picture visually advancing the story.

So, here's your comparison point. First the book:

and now the TV episode (you'll need a cup of tea and a biscuit).

Both lovely. 
Even if the nostalgia means nothing to you because Mr Benn was not part of your own childhood I would say 'Big Top Benn' might deserve a place on your bookshelf.

'Big Top Benn' by David McKee, pub Tate publishing, isbn 978-1-85437-961-0
I have to say I have now thoroughly addled myself as now I look properly it says it was first published in 1980- which post dates the TV show- although it also says it inspired it. Chicken or egg all over again. Can anyone help?

Cumulus who writes here at about the pleasures and challenges of bringing up her three sons with additional needs in NZ was kind enough to nominate me for a Leibster Award this weekend. This is an award which draws attention to us smaller bloggers and invites us to pass on our own awards having been nominated. I've been a bit stumped about this part of the equation as there is no doubt there is no smaller/newer blog than this one! I'm also aware that those I might nominate have already had a Leibster. Can I invite you instead in honour of this achievement to have a gander at the Blog List to the side and follow your nose to somewhere new in the world of children's books today? You'll enjoy it.

1 comment:

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