Frida and Diego

So, when starting work on a new children’s poem about chameleons falling in love, why wouldn’t I name them after Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera…?

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In a faraway land, by a sapphire-blue sea,
Two chameleons lived in a rainforest tree.
On the first branch, a boy named Diego was nesting
Next door to the branch where young Frida was resting.

Chameleons’ faces can often look glum,
But Diego was crying and sucking his thumb,
It was clear as he peered from the branch up above,
He was head over tails in chameleon love.

Now, they might not get tongue-tied when catching a fly,
But chameleon boys can be terribly shy.
‘I must go!’ said Diego, ‘I must say hello!’
‘Frida’s lovely and lives on the branch just below!’

Climbing down to the flower where Frida was basking,
He said to himself: ‘Well, there’s no harm in asking!
When left by myself, life gets duller and duller…
It’s hard to make friends when you keep changing colour.’

—Work in progress, Copyright © Jason Hook 2018

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Blood Moon

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The moon is rising full and round, a deep red-setter red,
The brighter that it shines, the more these voices fill my head.
I want to run and chase a ball, to boldly sniff your arse,
To urinate on lamp-posts and to defecate on grass.
I’ve torn off all my clothes but still I just can’t seem to sleep,
I long to ride into the countryside and worry sheep.
I ate a poodle late last night, my bark’s less than my bite,
Lock up your doors, chain up my paws, the Blood Moon’s up tonight.

The moon is rising full and round, with bloody lipstick lips,
I want to go out riding in my bicycle eclipse.
The beast in me is breaking free, the bat came out of hell,
I want to dress in leather and throw pussy down the well.
My booty call’s a duty call, do not pick up the phone,
I’m sniffing round a graveyard trying to find this dog a bone.
Lycanthropy, misanthropy, Lon Chaney’s out of sight,
Bring out your dead, and turn your head, the Blood Moon’s up tonight.

The moon is rising full and round, a scary clown’s balloon,
It lures me to the sewers of my friends’ impending doom.
I thought I was a vegan, but there must be some mistake,
I’m raving at this craving for a rare and bloody steak.
My claws are out, I’ve grown a snout, I want to see you bleed,
I’ve drunk a trunk of claret and I’ve turned all Ollie Reed.
Foie-gras and steak tartare, please pass the claret to the right,
The menu’s fresh with human flesh, the Blood Moon’s up tonight.

The moon is rising full and round, a bloodspot, bloodshot eye,
I feel a strange compulsion to start howling at the sky.
A glass of water terrifies, I’ll take a Bloody Mary,
I’ve always been hirsute but now I’m Wolverinely hairy.
My fingernails need filing and I’ve started having fits,
I’m running out of razors and my toothbrush is in bits.
This lunacy is killing me, my shirt is much too tight,
Let’s fire that silver bullet, there’s a Blood Moon up tonight.

 

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—Copyright © Jason Hook 2018

 

 

The Butterfly’s Ball

It was a weekend of butterflies. Taking part in the Big Butterfly Count (just two large whites and two meadow browns in Brighton’s parched Queens Park), brilliantly promoted by Sir David Attenborough, was both a joyful nudge to take fifteen minutes to stop and stare at nature, and a more salutary reminder that the wonders of our planet are fast disappearing before our eyes.

I remember the abundance of dazzling peacocks and red admirals we used to see as children in our back garden, along with the flocks of sparrows, swarms of bees, and bristling, bustling evening hedgehogs. Just imagine our countryside without such wonders. Just imagine if that is the shameful legacy of our generation. Perhaps if enough of us imagine that reality, and recognise its prevention as the cause of our age, we will find a way to step back from the sickening precipice of everyday extinctions.

By coincidence, a friend reminded me of the old poem The Butterfly’s Ball, which illuminated my childhood in rainbow colours as bright as the butterflies themselves. Very likely that is where the seeds of my Dream Weaver poem were first sown. Perhaps it’s time for another version (one by Alan Aldridge and William Plomer won the Whitbread in 1973) to mark the ticking of the clock and raise the hope that some Watchman is waiting for us. Such rhymes are vital in capturing the imagination of the next generation, which is why it is so uplifting to see the wonderful The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris enjoying such success. I hope these original verses by William Roscoe might offer an alternative way to celebrate the importance of the Big Butterfly Count, and present a different sort of invitation to a Butterfly’s Ball that is fast approaching midnight…

“Come take up your Hats, and away let us hasteillo5-f
To the Butterfly’s Ball, and the Grasshopper’s Feast.
The Trumpeter, Gad-fly, has summon’d the Crew,
And the Revels are now only waiting for you.

So said little Robert, and pacing along,

His merry Companions came forth in a Throng.
And on the smooth Grass, by the side of a Wood,
Beneath a broad Oak that for Ages had stood,
Saw the Children of Earth, and the Tenants of Air,
For an Evening’s Amusement together repair.

And there came the Beetle, so blind and so black,
Who carried the Emmet, his Friend, on his Back.
And there was the Gnat and the Dragon-fly too,
With all their Relations, Green, Orange, and Blue.

And there came the Moth, with his Plumage of Down,
And the Hornet in Jacket of Yellow and Brown;
Who with him the Wasp, his Companion, did bring,
But they promis’d, that Evening, to lay by their Sting.

And the sly little Dormouse crept out of his Hole,
And brought to the Feast his blind Brother, the Mole.illo3-f
And the Snail, with his Horns peeping out of his Shell,
Came from a great Distance, the Length of an Ell.

A Mushroom their Table, and on it was laid
A Water-dock Leaf, which a Table-cloth made.
The Viands were various, to each of their Taste,
And the Bee brought her Honey to crown the Repast.

Then close on his Haunches, so solemn and wise,
The Frog from a Corner, look’d up to the Skies.
And the Squirrel well pleas’d such Diversions to see,

Mounted high over Head, and look’d down from a Tree.

Then out came the Spider, with Finger so fine,
To shew his Dexterity on the tight Line.
From one Branch to another, his Cobwebs he slung,
Then quick as an Arrow he darted along,
But just in the Middle,—Oh! shocking to tell,

From his Rope, in an Instant, poor Harlequin fell.
Yet he touch’d not the Ground, but with Talons outspread,
Hung suspended in Air, at the End of a Thread.

Then the Grasshopper came with a Jerk and a Spring,
Very long was his Leg, though but short was his Wing;
He took but three Leaps, and was soon out of Sight,
Then chirp’d his own Praises the rest of the Night.illo5-f

With Step so majestic the Snail did advance,

And promis’d the Gazers a Minuet to dance.
But they all laugh’d so loud that he pull’d in his Head,
And went in his own little Chamber to Bed.
Then, as Evening gave Way to the Shadows of Night,
Their Watchman, the Glow-worm, came out with a Light.

Then Home let us hasten, while yet we can see,
For no Watchman is waiting for you and for me,
So said little Robert, and pacing along,
His merry Companions returned in a Throng.”

—Based on the text from the Project Gutenberg Ebook

 

The Dream Weaver

There is something both thrilling and terrifying about that moment when waking slips into sleeping, when watching drifts into dreaming, and when the veil that separates the imagined from the real blows aside so that we suddenly cannot tell one from the other.
If a spider happens to be dropping from the ceiling on a long, black thread of silk at that magical instant, who knows what we might dream…

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The Dream Weaver

Tonight, as you snuggle up warm in your bed
With your eyes nearly closed, cotton wool in your head,
A spider drops down from the ceiling above…
He’s wearing a top hat, striped socks and one glove!  

Crawling over your pillow, the spider creeps near,
And whispers what sounds like a spell in your ear:
‘I am the Dream Weaver, as strange as it seems,
Not spinning my webs now, but weaving your dreams!’

Your blankets grow cobwebs, your bed legs grow roots,
And your curtains sprout mistletoe, thistles and shoots,
As the spider swings by in his gold-buckled shoes,  
Shouting: ‘Quick! Follow me! We have no time to lose!’ 

Your head starts to spin and you slip from your pillow
And fall through the leaves of a sad weeping willow,
Who weeps as his whiskers are hooked on the reel
Of a hunch-backed old toad at an old spinning-wheel.

With whirrs of her wheel, and a nod of her head,
The old toad spins a waterfall wave of white thread,
Which coils like spaghetti on trays held by waiters –
Who look just like beetles in tailcoats and gaiters.

With trays piled high from the white-cotton fountain,
The beetles climb over a tortoise-shell mountain,
To bright-coloured rivers where rainbow trout lie
And chameleons’ tails stir up ponds filled with dye.  

Each beetle dives into the pool of its choosing,
In which a chameleon keeps the dye oozing,
Selecting its pattern by changing its skin
From zig-zags to polka-dots, thick stripes to thin.

In one pool, a rubber-gloved frog feeds a tangle
Of nettles and weeds through the jaws of a mangle,
While crickets with nutcrackers squeeze a French bean,
And the thread turns from snow-white to gooseberry-green.

In the next pool, a hairy-legged bluebottle settles,
And tears up a heap of forget-me-knot petals.
He wrings them together and gives them a chew,
And the thread turns from milk-white to blueberry-blue.

Purple plums dropped like bombs by fat moths in fur capes
Stir a pool where a centipede slowly treads grapes
On a waterwheel turned by his one hundred shoes,
And the thread turns the shade of a freshly made bruise.

The threads are now lifted on dragonflies’ tails,
Silhouetted like bi-planes with long vapour trails.
Into clouds made of dandelion flowers they swoop,
Tying knots in the threads while they’re looping the loop.

Flying up from the dye-ponds, past mushrooms and weeds,
Diving down through a storm cloud of sycamore seeds,
Taking turns through the creepers, the vines and the brambles,
The rainbow-tailed, dragonfly flying squad scrambles…

—Excerpt from The Dream Weaver, unpublished 32-page picture book

Text copyright © Jason Hook 2018
Illustration copyright © Christa Hook 2018

Magnificent Mibo

Very pleased to see the MIBO board books out today, loved writing these and enjoyed working with Madeleine Rogers. Always exciting to work with a great illustrator who has lots of creative ideas. And the result is a series of beautifully illustrated poems for young children that convey fun facts about different creatures, while reminding the reader of how precious those creatures and their environment are. Available from Button Books!

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Spike

Last week, I helped out with creating a ‘mid-Atlantic’ version of the poems I wrote for Madeleine Rogers’ beautiful MIBO series of illustrated activity books, published by Button Books. Always interesting to look again at your work. Although they were written for toddlers, I like the verses best when they have enough mad logic to remind me (at least a little) of Spike Milligan! I visited Spike’s grave in Winchelsea last summer, and the epitaph really does say ‘I told you I was ill!’ albeit in Gaelic. He was my comedy hero. I had a great friend as a child, Tony Lowe, who used to send me glorious letters featuring quotes from The Goons and his own inspired lunacy.

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Anyway, my favourite Milliganesque verses from the MIBO series. They sound best if you read them in Spike’s inimitable voice. But I guess you can’t if it’s inimitable…

‘The great white shark is grey on top
And only white beneath,
But in her great white smile you’ll find
Three hundred great white teeth!’
(The Marine Team)

‘Don’t try to sneak up on the owl,
Her ears hear every sound.
Her eyes can hear you in the dark,
Her head can turn right round.’
(The Sky Guys)

And something, to aspire to, from Spike:spike

‘Said a tiny Ant
To the Elephant,
“Mind how you tread in this clearing!”
But alas! Cruel fate!
She was crushed by the weight,
Of an Elephant hard of hearing.’
(Ant and Elephant, Spike Milligan)

Bridges Not Walls

On this foreboding day in history, I was heartened by the #bridgesnotwalls campaign that was making itself seen and heard along London’s bridges and across the Twitterscape. Inspired to share in the collective expressions of freedom and inclusion, I immediately wondered what bridges had been built by book illustrators. That is, after all, what this occasional blog is supposed to be about.peter-jacksonThe first bridge that I stumbled across (as it were), which got my juices running, was not from a children’s book but from a remarkable series of London artworks by the wonderful Peter Jackson. Ironically, I found it on the Internet, when all along it was staring me in the face: I have it hanging on my wall. Peter’s extraordinary reconstruction shows London Bridge c.1600, with the ferociously flowing Thames whipping boats towards its pontoons, and the many grandiose Elizabethan buildings piled precariously upon its back. Take your pick from any number of metaphors for our modern world right there. With Peter, you know that what you are seeing is historically correct. He was not only a wonderful illustrator but one of the great historians and collectors of London ephemera. He scoured the city’s markets and second-hand shops to gather up over 25,000 prints. Between 1949 and 1980, Peter drew historical cartoon strips of London for the London Evening News, and he built up an unrivalled knowledge of the city’s history, beautifully conveyed through his work in a number of authoritative and evocative books.

Peter was a friend of my father’s, and his London Bridge led me across to another bridge very close to home. What better than a dragon’s tail for making a bridge when you’re on a dragon hunt and can’t see for looking, as illustrated by Richard Hook in our children’s book Where’s the Dragon? It’s funny how when you start looking, you can find bridges right beneath your nose, within your own four walls.

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6a019103c45ca1970c01b7c7de029e970b-500wiThat dragon-tail bridge carried me back in time to my childhood, as I started thinking about my favourite bridge from a children’s story. Surely, it must be the bridge in the Three Billy-Goats Gruff, with a hungry troll lurking beneath its humped back in wait for delicious goat flesh. The story originates in a Norwegian folk-tale, and has a classic narrative structure of three heroes moving from danger to safety by outwitting a threatening presence. In case you’ve forgotten it, the smallest and medium billy-goats succeed in crossing the bridge by each promising the troll a larger prize coming along behind, with the sumptuous finale of the third and biggest goat being of sufficient size and sharpness of horns to give the troll its just desserts. It’s an idea to make any writer or artist salivate, and I’d offer a bridge to any illustrator who would like to join me in a retelling.

I am instantly transported to my childhood when I see the splendidly realistic cover of the Ladybird version of the story, where both bridge and troll lurk unseen. I also discovered a beautiful early illustration from A Selection From The Norse Tales For The Use Of Children (Edinbugh, 1862) in Barbara Hawes’ excellent British Library blog, which gives a fascinating summary of the history of the tale and how it crossed over into our language.

billygoatsOn a day such as this day, when #bridgesnotwalls lifted me up, it seems appropriate to celebrate three satiric heroes crossing safely over a bridge beneath which a troll will always lurk in the darkness.

Do you have any bridges from children’s literature that you’d like to share with me?

A Dragon in the Library

On a Bonfire Day when we remember, remember to protest the plot against our precious libraries – a plot that seeks to put a match to the idea that ideas, imagination and inspiration may be freely available to all, rich or poor – it is a good time to write of books and the sparks and fireworks that can fly from their pages.

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Where’s the Dragon?

There is a magic in books, as all readers know. Every book holds within it the power to breathe life into characters, creatures and entire worlds. These things begin in the imagination of the writer. They start with the spark of an idea, that magical, mutable thing that comes from nothing, from nowhere, from something, somewhere. That spark lights the furnace in which the idea might, if you are lucky, survive the heat long enough to be forged into a story.

Ah, but that story is, when left in the darkness, a lifeless creation. It requires a lightning bolt to animate it. And that lightning bolt is cast not by the writer but by the reader. It is the reader who discovers the story in a book and grants it life. The more readers who read it, the brighter the story burns. The more readers who return to it, the higher its fireworks fly. Most magical of all, the story starts to take on a life, or lives, of its own. It is told and interpreted. It is given as a gift. It is borrowed from a library. It starts to cast sparks of its own.

This is a magical process indeed with a children’s story, which finds its light from a bedside lamp and its life from the regular breaths of a bedtime reader. I once wrote of a fire-breathing dragon, so big that the closer people got to him the harder they found him to see. That was the spark, and it began to breathe fire through the alchemy of my artist father, Richard Hook, in the book Where’s the Dragon? That was back in 2003. To our delight, the dragon was summoned in sufficient bedtime stories for him to grow old. He hides away for a while, and then emerges in the most surprising of places. Today, when I give talks at schools, it is the old dragon that children always seem to know about. It is the story of the dragon so large that he can’t be seen that they still want to hear. He lives on, both as a glowing memory of my father, and as a story that is still being told. He is almost old enough for a grown-up child to hand him down to the next generation, and what finer fate could there be for a dragon, for a story, than that.

If the spark of one idea, one story, one book, survives to cast its own sparks through the readers who breathe life into it, just imagine how many sparks and fireworks fly from a library. A library is a crucible filled with a thousand hot metals, each one of which might turn to gold in a child’s imagination. It is an infinite free firework display, where any firework is possible. It is a fire-breathing dragon, which appears different to every child who discovers it, and which every child should be free to discover for themselves. Otherwise, we might just as well tell our children to stop believing in dragons.

 

Sky Guys

“The albatross can glide across,
The ocean waves for weeks.
And when, at last, he meets his mate,
They dance and rub their beaks.”

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The Sky Guys title was launched at the foot of Brighton’s suitably skyscraping i360 last week, just before the plastic pod launches its own maiden flights up the pole. Our host was the creator and illustrator of the series, Madeleine Rogers, and the venue the Cadeau emporium of delights in the shiny new arches.SkyGuysCaseWrap.indd

It was a joyful evening of bubbles and laughter accompanied by the raucous screeches of the gulls wheeling overhead. Well, I guess they just wanted to read all about the extraordinary flight that the albatross makes just so that he can dance and rub beaks with his mate.

The sixth title in the Mibo series of entertaining and educational nature titles, featuring verses packed with fascinating facts, gorgeous illustrations and SkyGuys_Pages.inddpress-out paper creatures, The Sky Guys is published by Button Books and is suitable for little readers of 5 and up.