Newest Review: ... stage to really appreciate this book. It is about an old lady who keeps moaning her house is too small. A wise man advises her to tak... more
The Gruffalo Was Born With A Squash & A Squeeze
A Squash and a Squeeze - Julia Donaldson
Member Name: Hishyeness
A Squash and a Squeeze - Julia Donaldson
Advantages: Amusing story, beautifully illustrated and full of learning potential.
Disadvantages: None to speak of.
In the well-populated market of children's books, perhaps one of the most instantly recognisable styles of illustration belongs to Axel Scheffler, who, in conjunction with Julia Donaldson penned the magnificent "The Gruffalo", now considered by many to be a modern classic.
German-born Scheffler has illustrated books for several other writers, but none of his work has been quite as popular as his many collaborations with Donaldson. The pair have produced a number of books which continue to grace the shelves of children's reading libraries, not just in the UK, but around the world.
Although "The Gruffalo" (1999) and "The Gruffalo's Child" (2004) remain their most famous joint efforts, they also worked together on (amongst many others) "Room on the Broom" (2002); "The Smartest Giant In Town" (2002); "The Snail & The Whale" (2003) and more recently "Tiddler" (2007); "Stick Man (2008)" and her latest "Taby McTat" (2009) - each of which have proved very popular in their own right.
However, it all started in 1993, when Donaldson was writing songs for children's TV programmes, and one of them - "A Squash and a Squeeze" - was published as a children's book. It would be a long six year gap before she hit the big time with "The Gruffalo", but the foundations of the fruitful Donaldson/Scheffler partnership had its genesis in this unassuming book.
Given the popularity of the team behind it, unsurprisingly, "A Squash and A Squeeze" is available in a wide variety of formats - including softcover, hardcover, board book and as an audio download. All of these are widely available from the usual e-tailers and bookshops. I would recommend the board book for younger readers, as it is the most robust.
Our softcover copy - the subject of this review - was bought on-line from Amazon, where at the time of writing (02/2010) it was available for £2.98 (less than half the £5.99 RRP) - along with several other of Donaldson's classics. It is published by Macmillan Children's Books (ISBN 1-405-00477-0) and runs to around 25 pages, measuring slightly shorter than a page of A4 paper.
A little old lady is living by herself in a sparsely furnished house, yet she grumbles and grouses that she doesn't have enough room. A wise old man hears her complaining and moaning and, when she asks him for advice, he devises a novel way to teach the old woman the value of what she has.
He encourages her to bring her livestock into the house, one by one - first her hen, then her goat, followed by the pig and then finally, her cow - and merry mayhem ensues. When she reaches the end of her tether, the wise old man tells her to turf all the animals out. Once they have all left, she realises her house is not quite so small as she thought it was.
The story is told in the form of an imaginative and amusing rhyme, making it easy to see how this book began life as a children's song. It has a wonderful cadence to it which makes reading it such a pleasure for kids and adults (reading to kids) alike. After each animal is introduced, and the house gets more and more crowded, the old lady repeats the refrain "Wise old man won't you help me please - my house is squash and a squeeze!". Kids soon catch on to this, and I find my daughter jumping in to say the phrase before I have a chance to.
The story is superbly illustrated by the cartoon-like characters brilliantly brought to life by Axel Scheffler in bold, bright colours. He has a penchant for drawing amusing scenes, and despite the simplicity of his illustrations, he manages to convey emotion through facial expressions quite well. The animals are given human characteristics (ex. the goat crossing his arms, or the pig on its hindquarters rifling through the larder) which give them a real depth of character.
The most obvious learning point is the moral of the story - that we often take what we have for granted. That's a valuable lesson for any child, especially in a materialistic world where they are bombarded by advertising left right and centre, and can be convinced that life will be a misery without the latest Moxie Doll, Ben 10 accessory or football shirt. The story provides a very good framework for introducing the concept of appreciating what you have in a fun and imaginative way.
The book is written in simple language (although one or two words may initially sound alien or be hard to read for young children, such as "implore", "grouse", and "gigantic") and in an easy to read font, with the illustrations often playing out the scene described. This makes it an ideal resource for stretching vocabulary and reading skills. Throw in the ascending number of animals which also provide an opportunity for developing counting skills, and you have a great all-rounder.
Ever since we started reading this to our daughter two years ago (she's now five) it has been a firm favourite. Despite the rigours of sharing a room with a pre-schooler, our copy has survived remarkably intact - the covers are a bit creased and dog-eared, but otherwise in pretty good nick. As such, it's a well put-together book in more ways than one - and a fine addition to any kid's library - especially given the exceptional value it offers.
© Hishyeness 2010
Summary: The birth of the hugely successful Donaldson/Scheffler partnership.