Who’s Afraid of The Big Bad Book?
A picture book by Lauren Child
There are lots of things which author and illustrator Lauren Child does (not just in Who’s Afraid of The Big Bad Book? but in her numerous other stories too) which goes against the general advice from children’s publishers. She uses words and old style phrases unfamiliar to contemporary children like ‘bedraggled’ and ‘dressed up to the nines’ and she places text
However, it doesn’t seem to make a difference to her book sales and there’s a reason for that: she writes witty, playful tales illustrated in a humorous and distinctive style. You can see the illustrations and text are equally important to her and she loves to capture the imagination of all. This is why she’s become a huge name in children’s fiction and why she can get away with such brazen individuality in her illustrations and text placement.
Who’s Afraid of The Big Bad Book? is a story about Herb, “he wasn’t a very good reader, it didn’t matter because he could tell a lot from the pictures.” He read everywhere but the consequence of that was his books were messy. Lauren not only comments that it’s okay not to be the best reader to enjoy books but she makes a reference to the importance of the pictures right from the outset. Setting out right from the beginning that Herb is ‘normal’ and it’s all about the enjoyment the child receives.
One night Herb reads a fairy tale book and falls asleep with his head in the page. When he ‘wakes’ he’s inside the book being shouted at by an angry Goldilocks. Lauren accompanies Herb falling asleep with some tumbling text to mirror his actions. She also uses different fonts and sizes to highlight words like “Whoops” and “Seize him!” Creating emphasis and an interest in words and language.
Herb jumps from story to story. In the middle of the book he approaches a door which was, “difficult to open because the illustrator had drawn the handle much too high up”. Herb jumps for the handle and enters into a ball on a four page, fold-out spread. He finds a palace with the queen sporting a biro moustache looking for her throne and a king searching for Prince Charming. We discover Herb was the graffiti artist and not only that, he’d cut out Prince Charming and the throne and had placed them somewhere else. Lauren has welcomed the child reader into, not just the book, but the imaginative world as she shows them how their actions might change the world for the characters in the story. By referencing the illustrator and Herb doodling on the characters she mixes reality with imagination: blurring the boundaries between the two.
Herb tries to draw a throne for the demanding queen but it’s not to her exacting standards – he uses green crayon instead of gold as he hasn’t got gold and, “the queen did not look impressed.” Herb escapes the raging queen by snipping a hole in the floor which creates a hole in the page for the child reader to see through.
When Herb is transported home he finds Prince Charming and places him back in the ballroom. However, “His dancing would never quite be the same again due to severe leg creasing.” Herb fixes everything, and even includes a couple of humorous additions for grumpy Goldilocks.
The story is fun with illustrations to match, but you get the feeling Lauren has a more serious message underlying the humour. I think she wants young readers to love books and reading but at the same time to respect the creations of both the text and pictures without being precious. She even attacks the text, her own writing, when she uses it as a means of escape for Herb, “Herb grabbed hold of the letters and scrabbled up the sentences. Some of the words were a bit weak and the whole lot started to wobble.” Her statement shows how important each chosen word is to the reader and how one ‘weak’ word can ruin the story.
Her love of writing and illustrating for children is abundantly clear and you really get can see she takes it seriously. Never read a Lauren Child book? Not sure where you’ve been but take your pick, there’s no shortage, and enjoy the love of childhood innocence and creativity.