Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Bubble and Squeak

Apologies for Blog neglect. We had a death in the family in the form of my old and trusty Hewlett Packard computer.

*please take a moment for remembrance*

*wipes away a tear*

I have been reflecting on the various conventions of animals in picture books this morning. There are those that are predictable: Cats are often devious, dogs trustworthy, bears gluttonous, hippos lugubrious and so on and so forth.There are also those that are rather less predictable or subvert expectations...

Amongst the latter must be counted the elephant's reputation for sartorial elegance. We have Babar of course, who teaches us how to team a crown with a green 3 piece suit. We have JP. Martin's extraordinary 'Uncle' (about to be republished I am glad to say thanks to a brilliantly successful Kickstarter); an elephant perfectly attired in a purple velvet smoking jacket. We even have their went-to-art-school-and-got-ideas-perhaps cousin in multicoloured patchwork 'Elmer' (I sense Babar and Uncle sucking in their tusks with slight disapproval).

And now raising a flag, or rather a flowery fascinator, for the females of the herd we have the enchanting Bubble; heroine of James Mayhew and Clara Vulliamy's wonderful new collaboration, 'Bubble and Squeak'.

James Mayhew is normally found making the high culture of art or classical music accessible to the smallest in the form of his Katie and Ella books. Accompanying Eddie and his class on a trip to the National Gallery last month I can report just how good he is at this: The kids roamed the rooms with huge excitement shouting 'IT'S A KATIE ONE!!' every time they spotted a picture already familiar from the pages of his books. Central to the action of 'Bubble and Squeak' is the arguably more lowbrow culture of the circus but in Mayhew and Vulliamy's hands it becomes Pure Class.

The story revolves around the loneliness of Bubble's life on the road as the star balance act of the Pyramid of Peril. Shy mouse Squeak (dapper himself in navy and brass buttoned blazer) admires from afar. Both will need to be brave if they are to find each other and the value of friendship. If this precis has a slightly-breathy retro-movie feel to it that is only to complement the BEAUTIFUL homage to a more glamourous age that oozes from this book.

There is so much to enjoy in Clara Vulliamy's interpretation of the story; from YoYo and Noodle, odd-jobbing circus dachshunds, the glories of Bubble's powder puff and hatbox strewn dressing room and the detail of circus audience which includes satcheled guinea pigs, penguins in white tie and (oh my goodness only just spotted!) famous bear of the era, Mary Plain herself.

A new book, which already feels like a classic that has always been in your bookshelf, is not often encountered but this IS one. Elephants you see? Cutthroat cats and dogged dogs may come and go but it seems we're never going to tire of a well-turned out elephant.

Best Travelling Outfit Ever

'Bubble and Squeak' written by James Mayhew and illustrated by Clara Vulliamy, published by Orchard Books, isbn 978-1-40831-366-4

Disclosure: We received our copy by kindness of the publisher. Our opinions are our own.