Bubbles, Bees and Blake

Written by Stephen Barnaby

Quentin Blake is, of course, a hard act to follow, so no grown adult would bother trying. Here’s where the idea of getting children to illustrate the 26 Twits stories is a stroke of genius. Children aren’t bothered by reputations. No self-respecting child would have any problem with stomping up to Turner, Picasso or Titian and telling them they were rubbish.

Which partially explains why, excited though I was by the idea of a child illustrating my piece, there was no way I was going to entertain the accompanying suggestion: getting involved in some kind of school project. The very words fill me with horror. I just about know how to talk to my own children, but I haven’t the first idea what to say to anyone else’s. That’s the kind of thing best left to people with baffling qualities such as boundless enthusiasm, perpetual energy and basic communicative abilities. Which may not necessarily describe the primary school teachers of my childhood but, by and large, seems to now.

So, I thought I’d stick with what I know, safely within my comfort zone. Not terribly heroic, but history is full of battered heroes.

Consequently, I turned to my younger daughter Polly, who can usually be trusted to rustle up something artistic and a tad off the beaten track. This is generally while turning the house into a complete bomb site and getting twice as many artistic materials on herself as on the paper..

What’s more, the theme of flatulence, I thought, would be right up her street: it’s one in which she takes an intense and, erm, personal interest.

So Polly went off to her room and all fell silent. This is when my partner and I start to worry.  It usually means the house is undergoing a spot of unscheduled redecoration, if not structural alteration.

It transpired, though, she actually had been hard at work – well, she’s always hard at work, just not necessarily at the things we had in mind. The resulting opus was inimitably Polly. Or perhaps not. Maybe everyone imagines the world like this: why wouldn’t a gathering of contemporary world leaders feature Winston Churchill, David Cameron holding a balloon emblazoned with the legend ‘DC PM’ and bees randomly flying about (including one in the BFG’s ear)?

All in all, I think Polly’s picture does this lovely project justice. It admirably captures her own effervescence and that of Dahl’s legendary beverage, not to mention, in a very literal sense, that of those who imbibe it.

I think Quentin Blake would approve, although whether he’d tell Polly I’m not sure: I once saw a film of him talking to a small girl about illustration and was amazed that someone with such an incredible ability to depict life from a child’s perspective, with all of its gleefully exuberant naivety, appeared to have no actual natural rapport with children whatsoever. Indeed, when the doyen of children’s illustration was confronted with an actual child, he seemed intensely uncomfortable.

Which I find oddly heartwarming.

Perhaps there’s hope for me yet.

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