Alan Durant on a picture book that makes a virtue of simplicity…
I was lucky enough to work with Sue Heap on my first picture book – and hers, Mouse Party. In fact if you look at the final spread of Cowboy Baby you’ll see some of the characters from that earlier book in the picture on the wall above the sleeping baby. What I like about Sue’s artwork is its freshness, detail yet clarity, and dazzling colour. Her books catch and delight the eye; in Cowboy Baby, she reveals an ability to catch and delight the ear as well. The theme is familiar enough – a small child trying to delay the inevitable onset of bedtime – but what gives it renewed sparkle is the cowboy setting and idiom. The characters’ names themselves are inspired – Cowboy Baby, Sheriff Pa, Denver Dog, Texas Ted, Hank the Horse – and with phrases such as ‘the big wide desert’, the story demands to be read aloud in a John Wayne Western-style accent. And the great thing is, no matter how bad your accent, it’ll still sound fine to a listening three-year-old! Like all the best picture books for the very young, Cowboy Baby makes a virtue of simplicity. There’s no fat; but there is daring. When Sheriff Pa lassoes a twinkling star from the sky to reward Cowboy Baby for coming out of hiding the story moves in an instant from the ‘real’ to the magical. It’s a moment of genuine surprise and, when Sheriff Pa gives the star to his small son, profound tenderness too. ‘Now you’re my deputy,’ says Sheriff Pa. As a father, as well as a writer, that gets me every time. Yes, sirree!
Cowboy Baby by Sue Heap is published by Walker Books, 0 7445 5501 9, £9.99 hbk, 0 7445 6330 5, £4.99 pbk.
A follow-up title, Cowboy Kid, written by Max Eilenberg and illustrated by Sue Heap, was published by Walker Books in June, 0 7445 6735 1, £9.99 hbk.
Alan Durant’s latest picture book is Big Bad Bunny, published in September by Orchard Books, 1 84121 743 3, £9.99 hbk.
Mouse Party is being reissued by Walker Books in April 2001.