lmnop blog sign up
Benjamin’s Books: The Owl and The Pussycat by Edward Lear
Picture books, often in cloth and bath-book forms, are the very first type of books people encounter in their lives. We experience them long before we learn how to read, and for most people they have become an instrumental parenting tool used to further develop the bond between parent and child and to lay the groundwork for the awareness and future use of language. Indeed, it could be said that picture books are now used as a crucial device in establishing a basis for our earliest attempts at understanding the wider world. Repetition of sounds seems to not only generate delight in infants but also create an achievable framework and playful environment for their first attempts at using their own intelligible words, though initially devoid of intended meaning. It comes as no great surprise then, that in the majority of picture books, in the majority of our first encounters with the written word, these words are delivered to us in the form of a poem.
Since its initial publication in 1867, Edward Lear’s endearing nonsense poem, like all of the best poetry for children, has been celebrated in every manner imaginable, from plays, songs, cartoons, paintings, and cinema. Reference to it is made in countless books, and the poem gloriously boasts the first use of the word ‘runcible’, which despite sounding wonderful is actually a meaningless word invented by Lear during the creation of the poem which has subsequently entered the English language with a meaning shaped around it, the exact nature of which is still, hilariously, debated. It is safe to say that if you have not encountered this poem by the time you leave childhood then you have been unfortunately, and most sadly deprived.
But there’s still time! This most recent incarnation features gorgeous illustrations from Anne Mortimer, specifically noted for her mastery of the feline form. The preposterous tale, involving a cat and owl being wed by a turkey on a mysterious island using a ring gleaned from an escaped pig’s snout, is brought to vivid and colourful life with a delightful blend of realism for the animals and stylised recurrent backdrops befitting the whimsy of the ode. This is a thoroughly beautiful presentation of a beloved classic that can be appreciated on every level by people of any age.