“My dear, do you think you could give
me some of that cheese in your bag?”

h1 December 8th, 2009 by jules

A quick spotlight today on one of my favorite picture books from ’09 — and one of the funniest. Red Ted and the Lost Things (Candlewick, November 2009) comes to us from the wise and prolific and award-winning Michael Rosen, the former British Children’s Laureate, who wrapped up his term in June of this year. It’s illustrated by one Joel Stewart, who is, tragically, new to me. I instantly fell in love with his graphic picture-book style, his soft-focus velvety touch, and I MUST learn more about him and his previously-illustrated titles.

The book tells the story of a bear, named Ted, who is separated from the little girl who loves him, Stevie, and left on the seat of a train. As you can see here below, he ends up on a high shelf in the Place for Lost Things — or so the forsaken Crocodile, all too familiar with the Place for Lost Things, tells him. “I’ve been here a very long time, and no one has ever come to get me,” Crocodile tells him in one arrestingly lonely spread, depicting the many shelves in the crowded Place for Lost Things with Red Ted and Crocodile as the only flashes of color in the top right corner. In fact, Crocodile’s been there so long, he’s forgotten his name. {Note: To make it easier to see, I’ve separated the following spread into two details. Please click on each image to see the entire spread from which the details come.}

Red Ted bursts into tears when it dawns on him that the Place for Lost Things might become his permanent home, but the Crocodile ever-so pragmatically points out, “It’s no use crying. She can’t hear you.” It’s at that point that “Red Ted, who was a brave little bear, stopped crying.” After devising an escape, Red Ted is on the go — with Crocodile in tow, who has asked if he may join the bear. A cat appears: “You want to go home, but you don’t know the way. Ah, that’s how it is sometimes, my dears.” Turning to leave, she suddenly smells cheese (“Mmmmmm, lovely!”)—if you read the above spread, you know Stevie loves cheese and, therefore, Red Ted has a certain aroma about him—and steps back, singing “I’m a cat, and I do as a I please. I’m a cat, and I love cheese.” (This song has brought my own children into hysterics and has been sung repeatedly around our house for months.) Move over, Wallace.

I don’t want to give away the entire storyline, so suffice it to say that the cat leads the way (“I think I know where your home is”); they suffer a heavy rain; and they brave a ferocious dog, only to be saved by Crocodile’s moment of courage — all the way led on by the smell of that cheese. (Again, click each image to see the full spread.)

And, OF COURSE, I won’t spoil the ending.

Here’s what this book is: It’s warm and funny (maybe it takes a certain kind of reader, but the cat’s determination to get the cheese, once they find Stevie—oops, did I just say that?—is pretty entertaining) and quirky. Rosen and Stewart don’t spare readers either: There are moments of real despair, which make the triumphs even more moving. Kudos to Rosen and Stewart for not shying away from the inherent melancholy of the tale. Ultimately about the courage it takes to find your way and the friends needed on your journey, it’s got real heart and spunk and personality at its core. Publishers Weekly calls it “gentle,” “triumphant,” “especially charming,” adding “Stewart draws city streets, bridges, bus stops, and downpours as cloudy gray scenery, like remembered dreams.” School Library Journal writes, “{Stewart’s} use of panels, which effectively further the action, vary from one to six per page and provide a quiet but effective pace.” Kirkus, calling it a “sweet adventure,” writes:

Both text and illustrations evoke time-tested teddy-bear classics such as Corduroy, with its toy-comes-alive point of view, and Paddington and Winnie-the-Pooh, with delicately penciled characters clearly defined against subtly drawn backgrounds. Crocodile serves as Red Ted’s foil, much like Pooh’s Eeyore, highlighting the bear’s sweet temperament and determined attitude. Stewart’s dense environments, filled with texture and intricate details, create a rich world for Rosen’s heroes, and his use of graphic novel-type panels offers a good introduction to sequential-image storytelling.

At his site, Stewart writes, “I am trying to make the kinds of images and picture books I thought, or half remembered existed, but couldn’t quite find when I went and looked. Of course they come out some other way again than that, but maybe one day other people will half remember them.” Somehow, that sums up nicely the vibe I get from the art in Red Ted.

The book also provides a very true reflection of the type of bond young children can form with their stuffed animals, Stevie—in this case—being able to read their thoughts.

Not to be missed, highly recommended, all that. I’ve read a lot of picture books this year (which I haven’t posted about — can’t write about ’em all), many which have slipped from my memory altogether, but this is one title from ’09 I won’t forget. Captivating.

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BONUS: Also coming soon from Michael Rosen (to be released on 12/22, I believe, from Candlewick) is I’m Number One, illustrated by Bob Graham. I’ve got a copy, and I say: Next time you need a book for children about bullying that isn’t condescending in its heavy-handedness, this is the title for you. I adore Graham’s work somethin’ fierce. Some editor somewhere made a wise choice in choosing him to illustrate this one.

* * * * * * *

RED TED AND THE LOST THINGS. Text copyright © 2009 by Michael Rosen. Illustrations copyright © 2009 Joel Stewart. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press on behalf of Walker Books, London.

8 comments to ““My dear, do you think you could give
me some of that cheese in your bag?””

  1. In Sunday’s 7-Imp piece on Creepy Crawly Crime, the author said he’d been skeptical that a character (Joey Fly) could express a range of emotions with no pupils in his eyes; he was relieved to find how wrong he was about that — that a good enough illustrator can make simple lines and dots express all sorts of responses, even deep ones.

    Another reminder of that in the opening image here (in the full page which also appears later in the post). There’s Red Ted, feeling all sorts of reassure-himself-brave, certain that he won’t be there long. But Crocodile, inwardly, has already moved on to the next topic. The way the latter’s eyes are drawn — simple short lines, with a dot at each of the leftmost ends — speaks volumes. Like “Oooooh, now, cheese: THERE’s an interesting topic — but I think it best if I keep its interestingness to myself for now…”

    And in the sequence where Crocodile faces down the dog, unwittingly, I LOVE that in the panel where the dog runs away, the cat is posed in mid-bath, perfectly cat-like, with his back to the action. That is a cat who does as he pleases.

    Looks like a wonderful book!

  2. Can’t resist bear books, and this one looks sweet, with old fashioned charm. Kind of like Pooh and Corduroy rolled into one.

  3. John, WORD. UP. to what you said. Yes! I’m really going to have to find more of Stewart’s illustrated titles.

    The train employee featured in the first detailed image up there is very Raymond-Briggs-esque, too, isn’t he?

    Jama, you’d love this book.

  4. When I first read that, I thought Hmm, where do I know the name Raymond Briggs? So I followed the link you provided. OH. If for nothing else, I’d remember him for When the Wind Blows. And yes, that was a perfect analogy in terms of visual style.

  5. Ooh! I think that book looks ADORABLE! Must look for it!

  6. RED TED AND THE LOST THINGS looks like a wonderful picture book. I may have to get a copy for myself.

  7. I just put a hold on Red Ted, and I am really going to have to see I’m Number One. Rosen and Graham seems like a no-fail combination to me.

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