When I read, I want to care about the characters. I want to become emotionally involved with them. I love it when a book makes me laugh out loud. I also love it when a book makes me cry.
Many picture books make you laugh out loud. I've just spent a week with my nearly-two year old grandson, Daniel, and we laughed and laughed. His favourite right now is Ding Dong Gorilla! by a certain Michelle Robinson - it's a scream!
None made him cry, luckily. But picture books are for two audiences - the prime audience, young children, but also the adult who picks it up in the shop or library, and who then shares it with children. It's crucial that the book works for both - and works, therefore, on more than one level.
Some books, which children happily accept as one more enjoyable story, somehow have the capacity to reduce adults to quivering wrecks. I realised this when a very kind reader responded to a previous blog post about my book The Dancing Tiger.
'Five years and two daughters on
and after hundreds of attempts,' she told me, 'I am yet to actually finish the story.
My noise twitches when I pick it up, it stings on the opening line and
the tears are flooding at ‘But now that I am old and grey...'
Luckily it hadn't put her off. 'I have discussed this book for
hours on end and my sister and I often wonder if you or Steve and Lou (the illustrators)
can actually comprehend what you have created. I have ten copies ready
to pass to my children and my grandchildren. When my children ask (as
they often do), do I believe in magic? I think of your book and gently
reassure them that yes I do.'
Isn't that wonderful! It got me thinking about the picture books that have had a similar effect on me. I'm not sure if any have been quite so dramatic, but I'd have no trouble naming some that moved me intensely.
Books about death, if they're done right, are inevitably deeply moving: I'm thinking Frog and the Birdsong, by Max Velthuijs. I'm thinking Badger's Parting Gifts, by Susan Varley.
And then there are books that are so beautifully told and illustrated that you just love them, over and over. I'm thinking The Mousehole Cat, by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley. I'm thinking Susan Laughs, by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross. I'm thinking Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson. And I'm thinking Dogger - always Dogger. They don't necessarily make me cry, but they move me deeply, every time.
Anyone want to own up to crying at a picture book? Any recommendations for the tear-jerker list? Or just ones that move you deeply. I'd love to read a few more. (And maybe write a few more...)
On that subject, I've a picture book coming out later this year (hopefully) called Tadcu's Bobble Hat. Tadcu means grandfather in Welsh, and that's all I'm saying...