In a Telegraph article here which talks about Paddington Bear's 50th Birthday and the results of a recent British survey showing that fewer than half of parents read to their children at bedtime, Melanie McDonagh also has the following to say about picture books:
The survey found, in the Telegraph's words, that "fairytales and traditional children's bedtime classics are being shelved in favour of funny books". This is no cause for lament. The top three favourites were The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffer, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, and The BFG by Roald Dahl - ahead of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Wind in the Willows.
While I yield to no one in my admiration for The Wind in the Willows, I would hesitate to read it to a child of less than, say, eight. For a three- or four-year-old, the Very Hungry Caterpillar is brilliant. And Julia Donaldson's rhyming story about a little mouse who outwits a succession of predators, culminating in the Gruffalo, a beastie with orange eyes and a poisonous wart on the end of his nose, deserves that overworn title of classic. And need I remind anyone of the unvarnished genius of Roald Dahl, whose naked moralism and delight in the hideous punishment of his villains precisely reflects the outlook of most children?For the best children's books, traditional and modern, share the same characteristics: an element of subversiveness, perhaps of danger overcome, refuge from the rest of life and ideally a sense of justice being done.
They also share something that most adult fiction lacks - pictures. Julia Donaldson's books wouldn't have half their appeal without the captivating drawings of Axel Scheffer. Actually, it's pictures rather than words that stay with us as children. As for the double act of Roald Dahl's stories and Quentin Blake's drawings, why, it's like Ernest Shephard and Kenneth Graham, Gilbert and Sullivan, eggs and bacon - a combination so sublime, it's impossible to imagine one without the other.
I showed a galley of my new book to a friend last night and we had a nice chat about how lucky I am to have found just exactly the right illustrator. She draws the way that I can only imagine.