Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Queen's Hat by Steve Anthony

The Queen (accompanied by loyal Corgi) is off to visit someone very special, but as she steps out of Buckingham Palace, the wind does a great swoosh and blows the Queen’s hat off her head! Can she catch it, or will she have to chase it across London?

I love the idea of the Queen breaking protocol, running through the streets of London to try and catch her hat. Not only the Queen, though: the Queen’s Guard, normally so stiff and erect in their red jackets and furry black bearskin hats, are determined to chase the Queen’s hat down as well. We see them clambering over a lion’s statue in Trafalgar Square, in a mele of animals in London Zoo, racing across Tower Bridge – hundreds of them in tiny detail – scaling Big Ben, and then floating back to the ground with black umbrellas a la Mary Poppins.

There’s clearly a very British feel to The Queen’s Hat – not just in the images of classic London sights, but in the bright red jackets of the Queen’s Guard as they make their way across the city, enhanced by Steve Anthony’s colouring of the images in predominantly muted blue-grey tones (which matches the greys of the buildings of course). I also enjoyed the changes in perspective in the images, from close-ups with just three or four soldiers in the frame, then sweeping out for a distance view of the London Eye or Tower Bridge. The Corgi can be seen in every image, of course – and someone else too…

The text and voice of this story is quite basic, more action orientated than character orientated, so all of the characterization comes from the pictures. But what the voice does do is introduce a great variety of different descriptive words for where the hat goes and what it does as Queenie chases after it: soared, whoosed, through, along, around, across, over, which is great fun to read and then follow through in the illustrations.

This book is fun for those who both do and don’t live in London, and there’s something solid and identifiable in the fact that the London sites we see in the story belong to me as much as the next person, even though I live way out in the countryside. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside – especially when we find out at the end who the special person is that the Queen has gone to visit!

[This book has now been shortlisted for the 2015 Waterstones Children's Book Prize!]

A Possum's Tail by Gabby Dawnay and Alex Barrow

Young Samuel Drew is off for a walk, accompanied by his little wheeled dog, and we follow him as he heads down the street, past the sights and sounds of London, and into London Zoo. Wending his way around all the different animals, he makes his way to see the little possums. They’re sleeping – but as he turns to leave they awaken, drop from their perch and, seeing Samuel’s little dog’s string tail, grab on tight. So, as Samuel heads back the way he came, he’s unknowingly followed along by this little collection of furry creatures. But what will happen when he gets home and discovers them?

I’m not really sure what to think of A Possum’s Tail – it starts off as one sort of book and then becomes something else! It has quite a traditional sort of feel, with it’s careful rhyming, illustrations that conjure a time just gone by, and straightforward layout, picture above, words underneath. I suspect that much of the content in the pictures are real places, but not being from London I’m only able to recognize the obvious ones. It feels lovely and circular to read – but then, when Samuel Drew gets home and discovers his possummy trail, the tone changes, and the perspective changes, and it suddenly wasn’t quite so comfortable a story anymore. Nothing untoward happens, not in the least, but it just felt a little bit silly after that, after such a lovely beginning. I’m sure, though, that this is probably an adult perspective, and that young children reading the story would most likely give a different response.

The book is a lovely package, and something just a little bit different perhaps from your average picture book. Give it a try and I'm sure you won't be disappointed.