Jan/Feb 2007  •   Reviews & Interviews

A Perfect Poetic Confection

Review by Ann Skea

Mustard, Custard, Grumble Belly and Gravy.
Michael Rosen.
Illustrated by Quentin Blake.
Bloomsbury. 2007. 100 pp.
ISBN 978-0-747-58738-5.

Fun, nonsense, the spooky and the scary, rhymes and zany, wonderful illustrations. What more could a 5-7-year-old want? Well, a CD to listen to in the car, perhaps—and all of this is here in one aptly named package. Michael Rosen knows just what appeals to a young child's imagination with Mustard, Custard, Grumble Belly and Gravy and Quentin Blake's illustrations are as quirky, simple and delightful as ever.

My six-year-old grandson dissolved in giggles on hearing the antics of an absent-minded small boy in the bathroom—"I suck the sponge. I suck the sponge"—appealed to him to no end. So, too, did the poem about Grumble Belly, who begins by looking like a normal grandfather in Blake's drawings but is taunted so that he gradually turns into a monster which chases and catches his small tormentor. The final illustration shows the small boy hugged in the arms of a huge, hairy beast, who is reading him a story.

Rosen's poems describe things and situations which are familiar to most families (a bossy big brother, scary dreams, mishaps, naughtiness, Mum's nicknames for dawdling offspring) and he uses language which is instantly recognizable to children who invent their own silly sentences, word-play and funny rhymes. This, combined with Blake's deceptively child-like drawings, is ideal. The humour of the poems is illustrated in the pictures, and sometimes the pictures add some enlightenment of their own. A companion piece for one simple poem about a boy watching a dog sniff around a seemingly unopenable dustbin is left until the end of the book. The dog, so it says, does not know the boy, but the accompanying illustration shows that there has clearly been some collaboration between them.

All through the book there are things with which children will identify, some serious, some funny. They may learn a few things, too: "Don't squash peas on your knees," for example, and "don't put mustard in the custard." There is plenty for parents to smile about, too, although they may wonder if they should edit out some very tempting ideas—such as the one about making glorious bubbly messes in the bathroom.


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