Rob Biddulph set up quite a career challenge for himself when he won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for his first picture book, Blown Away. So expectations were high for his second picture book, Grrrrr! which was published last week. Grrrrr! is another rhyming story about animals. Fred the Bear is a champion animal in the woods, winning the fish-catching, scaring humans, and hula hooping trophies year on year, although it is his great growling for which is he famous. When, on the day of the competition, he loses his Grrrrr! the consequences make him realise what’s really important. This is a story about the importance of friendship, and the correct way to approach competitions (hint: no cheating!)
The rhyming works quite well, although I would quibble that it contains extraordinarily difficult names for children to read and pronounce, (Fred being the exception) but Rob Biddulph’s strength in his artistry pulsates through the warm and vibrant illustrations. Not only are the animals portrayed with character and depth, but they are humorous, bold and colourful. Slightly reminiscent of the simplicity of Oliver Jeffers’ creations, the animals’ eyes, eyebrows and mouths manage to convey emotional depth. As well as warming to Fred the Bear, the reader can spot all the various backstories in the illustrations, from the growing love affair of the rabbits, and their sensitivity to noise, to the deer’s underpants, owls with mobile phones, and pirate bears. There’s even an appearance by Penguin Blue from Blown Away. Numerous cultural references abound too – from the growl-o-meter harking back to old TV game shows to the scoreboards that are reminiscent of retro computer games. The blending of the bears’ bodies to the trees in the wood is also clever and effective.
By appealing to both grown-ups and children, and by using humour, morality and a good story, as well as conveying greater depth in his illustrations, Biddulph appears to have cracked it again. This author/illustrator certainly hasn’t lost his Grrrrr!
To buy a copy of this title you can click here or see the Amazon sidebar. Please note this review was from a mock-up of printed pages rather than the finished publication.