July Book Pick

Zagazoo by Quentin Blake

 A picture book for mums and dads

In the best picture books, the authors skilfully maintain two interwoven conversations at once–one with the child, and a second with the adult, with different jokes and references embedded for each.

Then, there are a small stash of picture books that speak primarily to adults’ life experience.  Hands off, kids–these are for us!

Of these, my favourite has got to be Zagazoo, Quentin Blake’s unparalleled parenting parable.

Idyllic couple, George and Bella are delighted when an unexpected parcel arrives at their door –a small pink creature labelled “Zagazoo” with a smile as enchanting as only Quentin Blake can squiggle.  The couple plays happily with their new charge, and even change nappies with equinimity . . . Until the fateful day when they wake up to discover that Zagazoo has transformed into a baby vulture. . . and then an elephant, a warthog, bad tempered dragon, a bat and strange hairy creature.

Just as the chaos reaches its zenith –“What will become of us?” they cry — Zagazoo transforms one last time …

Into a handsome young man…

with perfect manners…

who is very surprised to discover, on a visit home with his fiancee,  that George and Bella have suddenly changed into…you’ll never guess.

The metaphor is so apt that ever since our friends gifted us with this treasure, we share our parenting travails in Zagazoo-code, and understand one another perfectly.

“We’re having a warthog week,” Kath e-mails (or e-wails), well after midnight.

“I’d love a warthog,” I reply.  “Baby elephants have ravaged our living room.”

And, at the end of a particularly challenging week, I pull Zagazoo off the shelf and reread the bit where the charming young man offers to make his M&D and assist with the house chores.

Zagazoo reminds grown ups that children find picture books reassuring precisely because the genre eschews the  sophistication and cynicism of “our” literature in favour of  simplicity, and optimism.

The hero’s motivations in picture books are clear and generally benign, whereas the protagonists in adult literature are fuelled by confused,  internally conflicted drives.

In picture book world, the mundane and the magical coexist, whereas
narratives for adults generally adhere to real world parameters–outside genres such as horror or fantasy.

In picture books, clear narratives generally come full circle, whereas stories for adults often follow a serpentine path to an ambiguous, unsettling non-resolution.

As adults, we look to books that delve into the darkness and complexity of life to help us understand the human condition.  But when we crave warmth and comfort, nothing beats a bedtime story just for us.

Thank you, Mr. Blake.

Here are some other picture books for adults so charming that they may inspire you to write one yourself — an exercise I look forward to test-driving in a forthcoming workshop:

    • A Lovely Love Story by Edward Monkton — Fierce dinosaur and lovely other dinosaur meet and woo. Then comes the challenge of adapting to the conflict and compromise of married life. Essential reading for anyone contemplating the conjugal state.


    • My Henry, by Judith Kerr — The author of the well-loved Mog series adjusts to the loss of her husband by visiting him in her dreams.  A rare picture book to be narrated from the point of view of an elderly protagonist–Who rides dinosaurs for fun.



    • My Mum Goes to Work by Kes Gray–Narrated and illustrated from the child’s point of view, this book gently reminds guilty working parents that our kids may benefit  from some time away from their turbo-charged mums.


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