Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Clever Bill

So, a very brilliant thing is Resonance FM's new monthly radio show; 'Down the Rabbit Hole'. Yesterday's programme was all about the (just awarded) Greenaway prize and featured illustrators Nadia Shireen, Ed Vere, Jon Klassen and (small drumroll obviously) Shirley Hughes having a natter. Should you unaccountably have MISSED this treat you can catch up here. I recommend. Except it should be longer and on more often.

I particularly recommend because I won a prize from yesterday's show. An invitation was put out on Twitter to nominate your favourite picture book and my nomination of 'Clever Bill' by William Nicholson was selected. Hurrah- LOVELY books are coming.

Clearly the notion of a favourite picture book, or a favourite any book is a bit of a nonsense. There are so many to love for so many different moods and reasons. But 'Clever Bill' I picked and I'll stick with for today at least.
I've never reviewed it properly here before because it is out of print and back in the days when I had some sort of utilitarian notions about this blog, that seemed wrong. Having long abandoned such muddle-headed notions now seems a good time to consider its charm.

That charm IS immense- but be warned it's also a harrowing read. It's perhaps 100 words long but Fellow Reviewer number one (who shares the eponymous hero's name of course and thus may identify a bit too much) has been unable to listen to those words since about the age of 3: "It's just too sad in the middle bit Mum." It may be ethically dubious of me to love a book that upsets my child but, y'know, feeling stuff is the essence of appreciating great literature innit? He gets it. That's the point.
And, unlike the new controversial Carnegie medal winner, 'Clever Bill' does have a happy ending if you can get to it without breaking down.

Written and illustrated by that William Nicholson- the famous painter one- and first published in the 1920s it concerns the age old dilemma of how and what to pack for a holiday. Mary has been invited to visit her aunt and has proper notions of the essentials that must fit in her case:
"O! I must take Apple Grey...and my gloves with the thumbs and dear Susan and my Trumpet and I might need my shoes and my blue teapot and my brush with my name on it and of course I can't leave clever Bill Davis and my purse..."
But essentials can be difficult to fit- "first she packed it this way and then that way" and "at last she was in such a hurry that she had to pack them anyway and!
and she forgot poor Bill Davis"
It's all those ands that are the GENIUS. Heart-wrenching amplification which makes you wait and wait for the cold statement of horror even though the illustrations have already let you in on the problem.
And the picture of Bill Davis sobbing... I don't blame my Bill really-it is gutting.

Bill Davis is of course Clever Bill and like all the best toys his despair quickly turns into determination to find his way back  to Mary. Toy Story 2 compressed into 22 pages. Let me show you some (perhaps quite a LOT) of them as a treat- I think I'm allowed to do a few given its out of print and venerable status aren't I?
we're not even going to mention that William Nicholson's other lovely children's book can be seen in the background here are we? Because then my brother who 'lent' it to me some time ago might notice and ask for it back.

possibly the hardest spread to bear looking at in ANY book EVER. Thank GOD for the hope of that 'but'...

I think it is probably perfect. So there.