FABULOUS FIVE: Dave Shelton presents Five Fabulous Funny Picture Books
Today I am really chuffed to present Dave Shelton’s Fabulous Five. If you read my review of his début novel, A Boy and a Bear in a Boat (see here), you will know how much I have enjoyed it. But it is the DFC that first introduced us to Dave Shelton’s work, with his comic Good Dog, Bad Dog, which was later made into a volume of The DFC Library. A second volume of the comic is due to be published and will be appearing in the Phoenix Comic in March (see here).
You can visit Dave’s website here and his blog here.
by Dave Shelton
There Are Cats In This Book
This book is outrageous. There’s virtually nothing in it. The illustrations are minimalist and the words are simple and few. And it’s quite, quite wonderful. Viv Schwarz’s genius, here, is her brilliant understanding of how a picture book works – not only in terms of the interaction between text and image but also in the interaction between the child reading it (or having it read to them) and the book, and the characters in the book. It’s complex stuff for an author/illustrator to pull off but it’s invisible to the eye for the reader. From their point of view it’s just funny and fun. Not that they get away scot free: this is a book requiring audience participation, not only through the lifting of flaps and so on but also through doing as your told by cats. And the charm of this joyful book is such that even someone as immune to the appeal of the wretched creatures as myself submits willingly. An utter joy.
This is the witty, simple, clever and beautifully executed story of a dog called No (or so he thinks, as that’s what everyone seems to call him). This probably appeals to me as it’s essentially a story about a character wallowing in blissful ignorance (a condition that I inhabit myself on a regular basis). Rather hard to believe that this is a debut picture book from Ms Altes as it’s just so breezily assured. Pretty much note perfect at the first attempt. Sickening really.
The Hair Scare
Jeff Fisher is better known for his illustrations and designs for adult fiction (most famously, perhaps, the cover of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) but this venture into the world of the picture book is a treat and a longstanding favourite in our household, not least because it provided us with the oft recurring catchphrase of threatening “trouble throughout the land!”. Radbert is a gifted young haircutter but The King is blind to his talents and, in a rage, bans all hairdressing. This leads to “nasty hair accidents, hair sadness and hair riots” (as you might very well expect). But Radbert’s scissory skills eventually ensure a happy ending (for almost everyone). The endpapers alone are worth your money.
I Want My Hat Back
This book is a joke. Luckily, it’s a very good joke. A very good, clever, slightly dark joke, brilliantly told, with perfect comic timing. The animal characters all play their parts to perfection, trusting their material and underacting appropriately. The illustrations are clean and attractive and warm and funny. It’s an exquisite deadpan masterpiece, with just the right hint of darkness. And Klassen paints a very fine bear.
Little Boy With a Big Horn
Jack Bechdolt, illustrated by Aurelius Battaglia
Setting aside any Carry On-style innuendo that you might wish to apply to the title (I, of course, am above such things), this is a very funny book in its own right. There’s a newer version illustrated by someone else which may or may not be, in its own way, perfectly adequate. I feel no need to find out as this version, originally published in 1950, suits me perfectly. I’m a sucker for a lot of illustration from this era, from the backgrounds in Warner Bros Looney Tune cartoons to other Golden Book illustrators such as Mary Blair and J P Miller, but there’s not much that beats Battaglia’s charming, funny and characterful work here. It’s wonderful stuff, clean, bright and lively and perfectly serving the amusing story of Ollie, the titular hero, who is banished from the town to practise playing his bass horn out at sea. It’s wonderful stuff all round and gains bonus points from me for featuring a seal on the cover and thus allowing me to demonstrate when reading it my widely revered seal impression (sadly difficult to emulate in print – you’ll just have to trust me).
Thank you very much to Dave for taking the time to share with us his five favourite funny picture books. It is another great selection, I am sure you will all agree.