Ian Whybrow

…coming soon…

March 16th 2015. A Little Touch of Harry (and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs) in the night…

March 16, 2015 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

More request-letters from small fans today – tis the season – and this time unusually challenging.

A class teacher from Penarth was doing a pilot project based on the study of picture books with her Year5/6ers. Then a letter turned up from a Literacy Specialist within the Central South Consortium declaring that there would be action taken on the school if the children continued to read these unsuitable texts.

I ars kew! Action against an initiative to look at what picture books are for, how they work? Le chat, as they say in Wales, etait parmi les pigeons.

Anyway, I sent a couple of girls who wrote to me a supportive email explaining a little about my thinking when it came to writing some of the texts they like:

Dear Edie and Jessica

I’m very sorry to be so late in replying to your beautifully written and interesting letters. This is a busy time for children’s authors and I’ve just dug you out from the bottom of a pile in my in-tray.

I entirely agree with you both that it’s a very interesting idea for older children to make a study of picture books. When I write one, I try to bear in mind that there’s an adult or older person reading it with the 2/3/4/5 year-old – so I have to try to engage both readers.

Edie mentions Harry and the Snow King. Ask a youngster where the snowpeople come from and they’ll tell you – “From the sky!” or “The Snowking sent them.” The important thing to them is the magic. An older person, however, can work out that Mr Oakley being a farmer as well as a friend of the family, sympathises with a little boy who doesn’t understand where his snowman has gone. He tells the boy not to give up hope – having looked up at the clouds and guessed – with his farmer’s experienced eye – that more snow is on the way. A slightly younger person may suspect that Sam put the snow people in the yard – but they will have overlooked the conflict between the children. So the story is about hope and its rewards – and about the kindness of understanding fellow humans; and it provides plenty of things to talk about.

Similarly, a 5 year-old won’t appreciate that Harry and the Robots is partly a story about death. Nan is hospitalised and may not recover but is given a new lease of life by her grandchild’s faith in the robots he builds in order to blast her cough. For little children, the story is about robots that come to life and are commanded by a small boy; about the good feelings that controlling things bring. For older people, the story is about the power of love and belief and the possibility of new life (resurrection, even). I was considering having Nan die in the book but the publishers insisted that Nan should be around for more books – so I had the robot “die” and then get restored to life.

I’m a firm believer in sharing books – in books providing opportunities for conversation. 80% of parents – according to Professor Winston – never have a conversation with their children about things that matter. A book that opens a door (maybe not while the story’s being read but later perhaps) to a conversation about matters of life and death, one that provides a chance to deal with loss or the potential loss of a grandparent, say; surely that deserves some attention.

About “Splash”. Here the story is (for a youngster) about mucking around in a swimming pool with a gang of fun-loving dino-chums and Nan; about the joy of swimming. However, it’s also about self-consciousness and about two people helping each other overcome fears and anxieties. Like my mother, Nan fears that she’s too old and ugly to be seen in a swimming costume. However, she sees how nervous Harry is about the water (having been knocked over by a wave) and realises that he needs help to get his confidence back. To that end, she sets aside her worries and buys a costume. (Incidentally, a small child won’t notice that Harry’s scared; only that the dinosaurs are nervous. The dinos help Harry and the child-reader cope by allowing their anxieties to be put on others.)


There’s plenty more to say, of course and I hope other correspondents will. I’m just dis custard of Middlesex.

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