Wednesday 20 February 2013

The marvellous Quentin Blake

I heard on the radio that Quentin Blake was receiving a knighthood today. I've checked this out and can only find 2 stories on the net (with minimal details) to back this up, but it's still worthwhile talking about him. After all, he did become Sir Quentin Blake in the 2013 New Year's Honours List, and I'd think a child deprived if they hadn't heard of him. (EDIT: It's true - check out Twitter! @ClarenceHouse, @QuentinBlakeHQ or just see the pic here.)

As a child, I saw a lot of Blake's work through his illustrations of Roald Dahl's books, a staple of the average English classroom. Having done a little research, I found out that he used to be Children's Laureate between 1999 and 2001, which is awesome. This blog post mentions more about some of his work, better than I could.

While I've decided to read some of his books as soon as I can - as I'm ashamed to say I haven't yet - today's review is going to be one of the books he illustrated for Roald Dahl.

George's Marvellous Medicine, by Roald Dahl
Published by Puffin

George's grandma has some pretty odd views. In fact, she's not a very nice person at all. She thinks caterpillars and slugs are delicious and likes to crunch on beetles best of all. 

George can do nothing right in Grandma's eyes, so when it's time for her medicine he decides to give her a dose of his own special brew.

This was always my favourite Roald Dahl book, and I've re-remembered why now! It's deliciously naughty, and everybody can imagine gleefully mixing up a concoction to make a disliked person yell "Oweeeee!"

A couple of years ago, I was an au pair in France for three children: a boy aged 9 and two girls, aged 5 years and 9 months old, respectively. I remember I had a little bit of trouble getting the children to settle down and listen to me reading a book, and alas, with the girls, I wasn't actually successful. They were really intelligent kids, speaking French and German, with English as their third language. With the boy though - I'll call him L, as I haven't asked permission to use his name - he ended up loving this book. While there were some words I thought it necessary to replace so that he'd understand, he got really into it, and every day was asking me to read him another chapter.

It's all slightly cheeky, and very funny. There have certainly been people over the years I'd love to make a magical medicine for, and I remember L getting more and more excited as he firstly wondered what was going to happen to Grandma, and then was fascinated by all the effects the medicine had.

gmm gramThere's a real childish logic to how George goes about concocting his marvellous medicine, which I know appeals to many kids. She's got rotten teeth, so he'll put toothpaste in, and if that doesn't work, he'll paint them red with nail varnish. Genius! Here's one of his ideas:
"The first one he took down was a large box of SUPERWHITE FOR AUTOMATIC WASHING-MACHINES. DIRT, it said, WILL DISAPPEAR LIKE MAGIC. George didn't know whether Grandma was automatic or not, but she was certainly a dirty old woman."

Quentin Blake's illustrations really add to the story, particularly in the second half of the book, when the child reading it can see just how big the characters are getting.
The imagination is powerful, but even more so when mixed with these visual aids - see the picture to the right. I think the great thing about the detail of these illustrations - particularly Grandma's face - is that you can project feelings onto them. In the context of the story it's really easy to see her as a disgusting "old bird", but if it was slightly different, judging from the front page you could see her as slightly mischievous too. Or is that just me?!

However, I'm digressing. For an adult reading the book, the words dance off the tongue just like George, imagining he's casting a spell over his cauldron. I found that L's attention was thoroughly captured and he loved hearing the 'special effects' of all the whooshes and woweeees. There's also the magical and triumphant aspects - he's somehow created this cool concoction that has meant he's got his own back on his grouchy old Grandma and helped out his dad by enlarging all the animals. I think kids love those feeling of pride and revenge they get on George's behalf, while at the same time getting vivid images in their head that they'll remember for a long time - I know I did!

PS. I've just seen this awesome fact from The Puffin Blog:

When Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake worked together on The Enormous Crocodile in 1978, it was the perfect match. Quentin never knew anything about a new story until the manuscript arrived. ‘You’ll have fun with this,’ Roald Dahl would say. He’d then make lots of illustrations and take them along to Gypsy House. Did you know the BFG’s shoes were inspired by Roald Dahl’s own sandals? He sent them to Quentin Blake in the post!


  1. I absolutely loved Roald Dahl books as a child and the illustrations by Quentin Blake really helped to set them apart.

  2. Agreed! While the stories were brilliant on their own, the illustrations made them unforgettable.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. I remember Grandma Ducks reading this and with her Australian twang a mouth "puckered up like a dog's bottom" became even more amusing! Freddy is getting into Roald Dahl at the moment, he loved The Twits and the poems in Dirty Beasts, probably because bums are mentioned a lot. Like mother like son.

  4. Pahahaha I wish I'd heard that, although I can imagine it! Good boy Freddy! Nothing like bums and farts to get them reading ;-)


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