Monday, June 8, 2009


Finding out that Quentin Blake has books of his own was a little like winning a contest. I stood at the library terminal glancing through the hundreds of books that he's illustrated for others until I came upon Clown. And I literally jumped for joy. Then I checked to make sure it was in and then rushed to pick it up before anyone else could find it. I drove home and then sat down on the couch and started my afternoon reading with it. I didn't even wait for my coffee to finish brewing. And that should tell you a lot.

Some of the first chapter books that I loved were all by Roald Dahl. The BFG was a particular favorite. And of course all of those were illustrated, at one time or another, by Quentin Blake. He has illustrated for Roald, Dahl, John Yoeman, Dr. Seuss, Russell Hoban, and Michael Rosen just to name a few. At least 360 books bear his very recognizable style. His collaboration with Daniel Pennac on The Rights of a Reader is next on my list of books to buy. But I had no idea that he'd done books of his own. Apparently I've been living in some kind of cave.

Clown has to be one of the cutest stories you will ever see. This wordless book follows the adventures of a toy clown who is tossed out, along with some other stuffed creatures, at the beginning of the book. He escapes from the trash can and set out (with some new sneakers) to get help for his stuffed friends. He encounters all types of kids but they aren't able to help him for various reasons. Some are pulled away by parents, others think he is too dirty and old for their children. He is finally flung way high into the window of a single mother and her two children. The mother is at work and the children want to help the clown. But first they must help take care of their mother. The clown helps the children clean, cook, and make the dingy little apartment brighter. Then they rush down and save the toys. Everyone, even hard working mom, ends up happy at the end.

Blake is a master at taking just a couple lines, a bit of color, and creating some deep emotions. The triumph on the little clowns face when he finds his "new" shoes is enough to make you want to buy the book. The illustrations are alive with so much emotion and mood that no words are really needed to make this story complete. I'm sure children will enjoy adding words and dialogue to the book but I found the wordlessness made the message that much stronger. Blake inadvertantly tackles the subjects of poverty and altruism in this little book. The clown is constantly tossed out by well-to-do parents and ends up bringing immense joy to a family who is poor. We feel for the clown because of his constant concern for the other toys. He is a hero, saving the unfortunate and by doing something nice for others finds a home. The moral is there although a bit more subtle than that.

The book is done in Blake's regular ink and watercolor style. His line work is interesting because he uses what seem like fast haphazard strokes but they always come out perfectly. The clown itself is a model of this. He seems to be quickly drawn but Blake creates such deep emotions on such a small character. The reader knows what the toy is feeling through a simple raised eyebrow or body posture. This is an adorable book, filled with emotion and excitement. Even without words Blake is a master of storytelling.

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