There’s a certain delight to be had when a book plays with language. It’s like an in-joke, playing with the very device that the author is using to tell the story. In picture books this is fun for both adult and child; some of the time we are laughing at the same thing, and other times at different things, but always together. Kes Gray and Jim Field played with this device in their first author partnership, Oi Frog, one of my top contemporary picture books. Their ingenious simplicity in playing with rhymes to describe which animal sits on what object never loses charm, and remains captivating – from apes that sit on grapes, to gophers on sofas, to my all-time favourite, pumas that sit on satsumas. I had great fun asking the author what kids sit on – lids of course.
Their latest book is destined for equal success – already, in the first week of publishing, a firm favourite in this household, and it had extended members of the family uproariously laughing at first glance.
Quick Quack Quentin plays with vowels, and the flexibility of phonics. Quentin is a duck who has a very quick quack. So quick, in fact, that it comes out “quck”. The reader first meets Quentin at the doctor, who although he can diagnose the duck as having lost his ‘a’, cannot provide him with a replacement because the doctor only has a d, o, c, t, o, and r. A bit of a quack doctor maybe?
Quentin visits various animals to see if he can have their ‘a’, with hilarious consequences. Of course, in the end there is one animal who has a spare ‘a’, but I shan’t be giving that away!
The brilliant text is hilarious to read out loud – try reading ‘frmer’ from the ‘frm’ and dogs and hens without their vowels and you’ll soon have yourself and your audience in peals of laughter.
But, the book would be only half as good without the illustrations. From the signposts indicating how many waddles to the next place on the adventure, to the expressiveness of the different animals, there are few illustrated picture books that show comedic faces and stances quite so brilliantly.
There are so many pages of brilliance that attention could be drawn to any – the doctor’s positioning of his pointed finger, his stethoscope, his glasses and pens – the animals at the farm when Quentin first arrives – children react with tumultuous giggles at the pig and bull.
Watch the hen peck the A from the sign. Jim Field manages to portray the dog as pretty dumb and gives each of the numerous tiny chicks a funny face. Supercilious snakes, disinterested apes, even the eyelashes of the camel are spot on. Quentin’s final despair with the panda is shown by the duck removing his hat – it’s genius.
This is an incredible author/illustrator pairing; who depict animals in picture books beautifully – they are also the authors of How Many Legs?, and they imbue their books with an abundance of humour. Notice how all three of their titles have stark primary colour covers – this one red, with clear graphics and title. It is immediately appealing and stands out on the bookshelf, as it should. There are a few current masters of the picture book out there – this pairing is up there with the very best. Bravo for Quentin, or should I say Brvo. You can buy it here, and you know you really really wnt to!