The Billy Goats Gruff

A ‘Verse a Day’ fairy tale told in who knows how many parts.

Do you remember the Billy Goats Gruff, and that fearsome Troll lurking under the bridge they wanted to cross? One by one they tried, each asking the Troll to spare them with the promise that a bigger, fatter prize was following behind. Perhaps, today, those three brothers might appear something like goateed gangsters, or horned Peaky Blinders, and I hear them speaking in gruff Yorkshire accents as they discuss their search for grass that is greener and thistles that are tastier. This new version of the fairy tale has something to say about both billies and bullies…

(Illustrations by Christa Hook, copyright © 2020)

Billy Goats Gruff fairy tale 1

1
In a valley of green, back in Fairy Tale days,
Gangs of billy goats fought over which land to graze,
There were billy goats tough, there were billy goats rough,
But no goats were as bad as the Billy Goats Gruff.

2
These three billy goat brothers ate thistles and thorns,
And they butted their rivals with curly, sharp horns,
Growing fat in a field by a fast waterfall,
Where the thistles grew thickest and richest of all…

3
But one dark autumn evening, the Gruffs felt a chill,
Looking over the valley from high on their hill.
‘All our kingdom’s grown muddy!’ one growled with a shiver.
‘The grass looks much greener beyond the Great River.’

Billy Goat Gruff Fairy Tale 3

4
‘My brothers! It’s time for us Gruffs to expand!
We must cross that Great River and grab our new land.
But there’s only one bridge, under which lives a Troll,
And she’ll drown any strangers who won’t pay her toll.’

5
‘Let me cross over first!’ bleated Tiny Goat Gruff,
Who was youngest and smallest, but made of tough stuff.
He was wide as a wolf, with a beard of blood red,
And a hat with a crow’s feather perched on his head.

6
Tiny rolled out a motorbike, polished and black,
Started up the loud engine and climbed on its back.
And then, dipping his horns, gave his brothers a poke,
Before roaring away in a great cloud of smoke.

Billy Goat Gruff Fairy Tale 6

7
Tiny stopped at the crossing and stroked his red beard.
On the bridge, in the moonlight, a figure appeared.
She was really quite small, dressed in rags and old shoes,
And her bald head was covered with goat’s-head tattoos.

8
‘Your whole business,’ said Tiny, ‘is one we’ve admired.
But Gruff Brothers Inc. think it’s time you retired.
I’m taking your bridge, cos that grass looks much greener.’
He tried to look mean… but the Troll looked much meaner.

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 8

9
‘My dear Tiny Gruff,’ sighed the Troll, ‘Can you float?
Do you fly? Can you swim? Did you bring your own boat?
This stone bridge is my castle. This river’s my moat.
And we’re stronger by far than some hillbilly goat!’

10
‘Take a look,’ she went on, ‘at my inky-blue head,
Each tattoo shows the face of a goat that lies dead.
They all drowned in this river, one hundred all gone,
If you fight me, I’ll make you one hundred and one!’

Billy Goat Gruff Fairy Tale 10

11
Tiny’s hair stood on end, his legs started to shake,
And he bleated: ‘I think there has been some mistake.
I’m not worth all this bother, I’m just skin and bone.
Please await my big brother and leave me alone!’

12
‘I will let you cross over my bridge,’ hissed the Troll,
‘If you leave me your bike and your suit as my toll!’
So, poor Tiny was stripped of his bike, suit and pride,
Before galloping off to the opposite side.

BillyGoat12

13
‘It is time I set forth,’ bleated Curly Goat Gruff,
Who was older than Tiny and smelled very rough.
He was big as a bear, with a beard full of curls,
And his horns wore a bowler hat covered in pearls.

14
Curly entered the barn through a large, sliding door,
And from inside the building there rose a great roar,
Before Curly drove out in a black limousine,
And cruised off down the hill in the groaning machine.

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15
Parking close by the bridge, Curly stepped from his car
And called out: ‘Brother Tiny, point out where you are!’
But instead saw a Troll, who was bald as a coot
And was dressed in what looked like his brother’s best suit.

16
‘I have followed,’ said Curly, ‘this river’s direction,
To sell you some shares in Gruff Brothers Protection.
We’re taking your bridge, now then where is my brother?’
‘He’s gone…’ trilled the Troll. ‘He ran off to his mother!’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 16

17
‘My dear Curly Gruff,’ sighed the Troll, ‘Can you float?
Do you fly? Can you swim? Did you bring your own boat?
This stone bridge is my castle. This river’s my moat.
And we’re stronger by far than some hillbilly goat!’

18
‘Take a look,’ she went on, ‘at my inky-blue head.
Each tattoo shows the face of a goat that lies dead.
I have drowned me one hundred and one just like you,
If you fight me, I’ll make you one hundred and two!’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 18

19
Curly’s knees started knocking, his face turned quite pasty,
‘Hold on now!’ he bleated, ‘No need to be hasty!
I’m sorry to see that my offer offends,
Please await my big brother, and let us be friends!’

20
‘Oh, you grizzling, grovelling, grotty goat Gruff,’
Said the Troll, ‘Did you not think that I’d call your bluff?
Leave the keys to your car, and your pearl-covered hat,
Then please cross, and cross quick, ’cos you smell like a rat!’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 20

21
Meanwhile, high in the valley sat Biggy Goat Gruff,
Who was thinking: ‘I’ve waited up here long enough.’
He was huge as a horse, with a beard of jet black
And a mane of grey hair down his billy goat back.

22
Biggy pulled on a greatcoat of scarlet and gold,
And he growled, ‘I’ll make sure that troll never grows old!’
Then he hauled back the sheets from a rusty green lorry,
Jumped in, turned the keys, and drove off in a hurry.

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 22

23
On reaching the bridge, Biggy searched for the others,
But try as he might found no sign of his brothers.
And there in the moonlight a little Troll sat,
Wearing Tiny’s best jacket and Curly’s best hat.

24
‘I have come,’ Biggy rapped, ‘for your bridge and your river.
This message my brothers were meant to deliver.
I’ll butt you, and beat you, and bite you in half.’
But to Biggy’s amazement, he heard the Troll laugh.

BillyGoats24

25
‘Oh, my dear Biggy Gruff!’ sighed the Troll, ‘Can you float?
Do you fly? Can you swim? Did you bring your own boat?
This stone bridge is my castle. This river’s my moat.
And we’re stronger by far than some hillbilly goat!’

26
‘But I see by your size, and the gold of your cuff,
You’re the greatest by far of the Billy Goats Gruff,
So, I’ll give you my bridge, and I’ll bow down my head,
If you’ll just let me keep one small stone for my bed.’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 26

27
‘Be my guest!’ Biggy roared, growing careless with pride,
‘But beware, as my truck is both heavy and wide!’
So, the Troll gently slid out a stone marked with moss,
Before stepping aside to wave Biggy across.

28
Roaring over the crossing, the truck gave a moan,
As the bridge’s loose stones groaned a terrible groan,
And the Troll wore a grin as her bridge tumbled down,
Dropping Biggy Goat Gruff in the river to drown.

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 28

29
Never knowing their big brother’s fate in this matter,
The two younger Gruff boys grew fatter and fatter.
They grazed their new grass with such monstrous greed,
That they gobbled up every last thistle and weed.

30
‘Little brother,’ said Curly, ‘Our luck has turned bloody!
Once more, it would seem, all our land has grown muddy,
While over the river, there’s green grass and flowers,
We’ll have to return to reclaim what is ours!’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 30

31
They galloped to where the Troll’s bridge had once been,
But as hard as they hunted, no bridge could be seen,
Just a pile of stones, stacked up neatly enough,
With a sign that read: ‘Here lies poor Biggy Goat Gruff.’

32
On the opposite bank, where a garden had grown,
Stood a little, grey cottage of moss-covered stone.
On the drive, in a limousine, there the Troll sat
In a greatcoat of scarlet and pearl-covered hat.

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 30

33
‘I’m much bigger than last time we met!’ Tiny hissed,
Throwing pebbles and shaking his billy goat fist.
‘All that grass would be ours if we’d thought to remain!’
Grumbled Curly, ‘Now help us cross over again!’

34
‘My dear Billy Goats Gruff,’ called the Troll, ‘Can you float?
Do you fly? Can you swim? Did you bring your own boat?
Your big brother has left you no bridge, just a moat,
Now I’ll never be crossed by some hillbilly goat!’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 34

35
The next morning, with needle and ink of deep blue,
Her friend Fox gave the Troll one more goat’s-head tattoo.
‘Did you really drown one hundred goats?’ old Fox said.
‘Golly, no!’ laughed the Troll, ‘Only Biggy lies dead.’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy tale 36

36
‘Like the pearls on my hat and the stripes on my cuffs,
There are all sorts of ways to beat bullies and Gruffs.
You don’t need to be bigger and badder by far,
But it helps if the bullies all think that you are…’

37
They both sat back and laughed as they heard the Gruffs quarrel,
And Fox said: ‘Your tale has at least one more moral.
You’ll never be happy, and always act meaner,
When grasping and grabbing for grass that is greener.’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 38

THE END!

 

Text Copyright © Jason Hook 2020 
Illustrations Copyright © Christa Hook 2020

 

 

 

Wendy and the Wallpaper Cat: the show

IMG_0862When Grandpa Walter opened the door,
he was wearing a green suit that looked
just like his garden. ‘Welcome to my world
of wonderful wallpapers!’ said Walter.
‘I wonder which room will be your favourite…’

When I wrote Wendy and the Wallpaper Cat for V&A Publishing a few years ago, my idea was that a picture book about a magical house in which the wallpapers come alive might in turn bring fresh life to the wallpapers in the V&A collection by inviting young visitors to the museum to look at the patterns and pictures not just with their eyes but with their imaginations. Grandpa Walter was named after Walter Crane, whose wallpaper designs form the backdrops in the book, and the artist Ilaria Demonti breathed life into the characters of Walter, his sleepless grand-daughter Wendy, and the fiddle-playing Wallpaper Cat with her fabulous illustrations.

We published the book, we celebrated, and that might well have been that. But if cats have nine lives, then it seems wallpaper cats have at least two. Last week, I had the thrill of watching Lisa O’Hanlon and Dan Willis perform Wendy and the Wallpaper Cat at the V&A theatre to row upon row of young, wide-eyed, shrieking spectators. Now the wallpapers, and the book itself, really did come to life. Butterflies flitted over Walter’s wallpaper garden; rose petals tumbled from the sky; sea-shells carried the sound of the ocean to a hundred eager ears; a giant orange was bounced from hand to hand; and, wonder of wonderful wonders, children gasped at nothing more, nothing less, than projections of Victorian wallpapers as Wendy dashed from room to room.

When the electric-blue Wallpaper Cat leapt from the walls to play enchanted fiddle music, not just Wendy but all the children in the audience ran through the midnight garden and danced. And so the Wallpaper Cat lives on, summoned from the wall to play for any child struggling to get to sleep.

Many thanks to Lisa and Dan for their wonderful work, to Ilaria, and to everyone at the V&A including Astrid, Harriet and Tom.

“Wendy looked up at the roses on the walls.
When she reached up to touch them,
a red petal fluttered down.”

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“And when at last she caught up with the cat,
he played his fiddle and they danced together
the whole night long.”

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Copyright © Jason Hook 2019

The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38

 

There are a number of butterflies hidden in the poem.
In a Small Butterfly Count, can you find and count them?

1SwallowTail
Welcome all of you here to this barren small heath,
Where the speckled woods rise from the plastic beneath,
And the dead meadow browns under orange-tip sun,
Which glares down clouded yellow on all that we’ve done.
We have gathered today, as we’ve gathered each year,
To record and survey all our planet holds dear,
Tell your last swallowtail, and remember the date,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

2Gatekeeper
In my childhood days, all you needed to do,
Was to laze in your garden while they came to you,
And the air would grow bright with their scrap-paper hues,
Green-veined whites, purple hairstreaks,
small coppers, large blues,
Like kaleidoscope blossoms blown down from the trees,
A collection of postage stamps thrown on the breeze.
Let us wait as the gatekeeper closes the gate,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

3ChalkHillBlue
Where they once flew in wildflower meadows and parks,
Now they shrivel and die like a bonfire’s sparks,
Chanting brimstone and treacle, on large heath or small,
There’s no witchcraft can roll back this butterfly ball.
We have broken their butterfly wings on a wheel
That stops turning for children whose ringlets we steal,
And the last chalk hill blue is wiped clean off the slate,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

PurpleEmperor4
When a butterfly won’t flap its wings in Brazil,
Will the wind cease to blow and the oceans grow still?
Will we go to the wall with our hothouse neglect,
As we gaze through the glaze of our greenhouse effect?
Will our butterfly minds flutter on and forget
The last butterfly stitch in our butterfly net?
Now the old purple emperor lies here in state,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

5BrownArgus
Is there anyone here who remembers last year,
When we waited all day for just two to appear?
But how lucky we were! Now our race is near run,
As we set out to find and record the last one.
Because all of our one hundred eyes looked away
While the last painted ladies made peacock display,
And the northern brown argus predicted their fate,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

 

6
There it is! The large white! What a sight! What a tale!
A great white that’s as rare as Old Ahab’s white whale,
Like a blank scrap of paper, a snowflake, a ghost,
As the last grizzled skipper abandons his post;
We are stood on the bridge looking down on the drop,
This is not just a comma, but final full stop.
Sail a fleet of red admirals before it’s too late,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

RedAdmiral

© Text copyright Jason Hook 2019

A Verse A Day: 3 Little Pigs

1
A letter arrived at the Pig Pen one day,
From Great-Auntie McPig to her three little nieces.
It warned of a Wolf that was heading their way,
Who would chew them all up into bacon-sized pieces.

image1

2
“Och, dears!” said that note. “You had better be quick!
I have sent three gold coins that I managed to borrow.
Now build your defences, and build them from brick,
For that Wolf will arrive the day after tomorrow!”

3
“Now mark my words well,” wrote Great-Auntie McPig,
“So that when that Wolf comes you will know him by sight:
He walks up on two legs, like a man only BIG,
While his tail has a twist, and is totally white.”

4
“He has wire-wool whiskers and whiskey-stained teeth,
And his fur is as thick as a blackberry thicket.
One eye has a scar like a star underneath,
And he boarded the train with a second class ticket.”

5
The eldest pig, Ada, reached out a plump trotter,
And took down her bicycle clips from the shelf.
“Let’s ride to the market, that Wolf sounds a rotter!
We’ll each take one coin. Every pig for herself!”

Pigs2

6
Off they rode down the higgledy-piggledy track
Through a forest with piles of logs on the ground,
Past a farmyard with hay in a high, yellow stack
To the tumbledown town where the market was found.

7
At the first stall, the eldest pig, Ada, jumped down,
“I am rich!” she declared, “I can buy what I choose!”
And she spent her gold coin on a leopard-print gown,
A fur coat, a silk hat and a pair of red shoes.

Pigs7

8
“What about your new house?” Ada’s two sisters squealed,
As she stared in the mirror and grinned more and more.
“Don’t you worry,” she oinked, “I’ll ride back to the field,
Where I’ll tear down that haystack and build it from straw!”

9
At the next stall, the middle pig, Bessy, drew near,
“I am rich!” she oink-oinked, “I can choose what I buy!”
And she spent her gold coin on a bucket of beer,
Pickled eggs, cheesy chips and a blueberry pie.

IMG_9468

10
“What about your new house? You can’t build it from chips!”
Squealed her sisters, “That junk food will do you no good!”
“Don’t you fret!” Bessy belched, loudly licking her lips.
“I’ll go back to the forest and build it from wood!”

11
The last to the market, the youngest pig Hilda,
Was tempted by trinkets and trumpets and tricks,
‘Til she came to the stall of an out-of-work builder…
And spent her gold coin on a cartload of bricks.

Pigs11

12
Hilda hitched up her bike to the front of the cart,
And rode higgledy-piggledy home to her door.
In the wood she passed Bessy, who let out a fart!
In the field, she passed Ada, all covered in straw!

13
It was half past eleven, the following day,
A tall gentleman stepped from the back of the train,
And he asked the conductor: “Please tell me the way
To find Number 3, Higgledy Piggledy Lane.”

Pigs13

14
The conductor was struck by the size of the brute,
By the scar like a star on his whiskery snout,
And the twisted, white tail that hung down from his suit.
But he gave him directions, to help the gent out.

15
Near the station, the stranger arrived at a farm,
Where he saw a small hut built completely from straw.
“Let me in!” the gent whispered, “I mean you no harm!”
And with one furry fist, he knocked hard on the door.

16
When there came no reply, the gent peered through a crack,
And it’s hard to say who suffered most from the shock:
The strange gent with a twisted white tale at his back,
Or the pig in red shoes and a leopard-skin frock!

IMG_0246

17
“What a sight!” drooled the gent, “I believe I smell bacon,
You look like a pig who’d taste good in a stew!”
“You’re the Wolf,” Ada squealed, “If I’m not much mistaken,
Great-Auntie McPig warned me all about you!”

18
After thinking out loud, “I will first marinade her!”
With huff and with puff, the Wolf blew the house down,
Then with jaggedy teeth he tore into poor Ada,
‘Til nothing remained but her leopard-skin gown.

Pigs17

19
It was one hour later, the stranger was sighted,
His wire-wool whiskers all covered in blood.
He was holding a chainsaw and looking excited,
Approaching a house made of logs, sticks and mud.

20
With a roar of his saw, the gent carved up the place,
And his starry-scarred eye gave a look of surprise,
Because inside sat Bessy, still stuffing her face,
She looked just like her sister, but three times the size.

Pigs20

21
“You’re the Wolf,” Bessy cried, “With the twisted, white tail!”
“Go away! Can’t you see that I’m eating my brunch?”
“Look at you!” laughed the Wolf, “You’re the size of a whale,
“You will do for my supper, my tea AND my lunch!”

22
Bessy tried to escape, but stuck fast in her chair,
And the Wolf thought out loud: “This is sure to get messy!”
Then, fixing the pig with a terrible stare,
Made a horrible mess… and that mess was poor Bessy.

Pigs22

23
At just past nine-thirty, the following morning,
A postman reported that he’d seen the stranger
Emerge from a hedgerow while stretching and yawning,
Down by the sharp bend where the road sign reads: ‘Danger!’

24
His neck was wrapped up in a leopard-skin scarf,
And his whiskers were stained with a blueberry stain.
Of the postman, he asked, with a whiskey-fumed laugh,
“Can you point me to Higgledy-Piggledy Lane?”

Pigs24

25
Meanwhile, Hilda was home in her new house of bricks,
With brick walls, a brick roof and a bright-red brick hearth,
She was thinking: “I’m safe from that Wolf’s dirty tricks,”
When she heard the soft pad of large paws on her path.

26
“Let me in!” growled a voice through the sturdy brick walls,
“Go away!” Hilda squealed, when she heard three soft knocks,
And she loaded a pistol with powder and balls,
Before locking her door’s seven shiny, new locks.

Pigs26

27
Filled with fear, Hilda peered through her spy-hole to see
The Wolf’s paw lift a sharp, silver pin from his pocket,
And use it to pick the door’s locks like a key –
But as quick as he picked, Hilda rushed to relock it!

28
The Wolf took a sledgehammer out of his case,
Which he swung at the house like a furry fanatic,
He hammered the bricks until red in the face,
And he huffed and he puffed (for the Wolf was asthmatic!).

Pigs28

29
“Damned bricks!” wheezed the Wolf, with a baffling look,
Then his whisky-stained teeth formed the thinnest of smiles,
As he took out a rope and a grappling hook,
Which he whirled and he hurled so it gripped the roof’s tiles.

Pigs29

30
With the rope round his waist, the Wolf muttered and cursed,
And he climbed to the roof, which he crossed at a canter.
On reaching the chimney, he dived in head first…
And burst out of the hearth like a fur-coated Santa.

Pigs30

31
“Don’t shoot!” cried the Wolf, as he looked up to see
A small pig’s silver pistol aimed straight at his chest.
“I have three things to ask you!” he begged on one knee,
“One last meal, one last whisky, and one last request!”

Pigs32

32
“Last request?” Hilda squealed. “Yes, I wish to confess!”
Growled the Wolf, seeing Hilda look suddenly shaken,
“A secret accomplice gave me your address,
It was Great-Aunt McPig, just to save her own bacon!”

33
On hearing the news, Hilda felt her heart break,
And she shot at the Wolf with her eyes full of tears.
Hilda aimed at his head, but instead, by mistake,
She succeeded in shooting off one of his ears.

34
Now the Wolf poured a whisky and toasted poor Hilda,
“To one last request, one last drink, one last meal!”
After drinking his whisky, dear reader, he killed her,
And, lighting the grill, toasted Hilda for real.

Pigs34

35
With a wailing of sirens, and blue lights all blazing,
The stranger was seen being led by a chain,
From the pretty brick house where they said he’d been lazing,
At Number 3 Higgledy-Piggledy Lane.

Pigs36

36
When they dug up the garden, they found what – when tested –
Turned out to be piggy belongings and bones,
Mr Wolf and Great-Auntie McPig were arrested,
For trial in the courtroom of Judge Piggy Jones.

37
When the trial was over, the judge bashed his hammer,
The courtroom fell silent, the Wolf stood on view.
And pronouncing his sentence with barely a stammer,
The judge cried: “Not guilty! It’s just what wolves do.”

38
When Great-Auntie McPig was brought forward for sentence,
The judge sighed: “Ten years for such beastly betrayal!
And always remember, while seeking repentance,
Beware of a Wolf with a twist in the tail.”

Pigs38

THE END

Text © copyright Jason Hook 2019
Illustration © copyright Christa Hook 2019

 

Sheep & Wolf

ornate_s_24362_md

 

carlet shivers beneath her summer shawl,
As she strolls to granny’s under sinking sunset skies.

 

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erds of woolly creatures turn to stare at her,
With hooded, heavy-lidded, what big eyes.

 

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ach beast emits an eerie ‘Baa!’, all baaaa one,
A lone and darker one, who, much to her surprise,

 

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dges nearer, growls a little louder,
And appears an exceptional size.

 

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erhaps, she thinks, that is no sheep I see, but a
Bigger, badder sort of beast, in a sheepskin coat disguise.

 

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ho’s that?

 

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h, good!

 

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ittle Red Riding…

 

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ood!

 

 

Copyright © Jason Hook 2019

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…?

Chameleon2

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

Chameleon3

 

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

 

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?