Judith Kerr’s New Book, Usurping Tigers, and a Few Random ’09 Picture Book Reprints That Interest Me

h1 February 17th, 2010 by jules


“Four bears cooked a squid and squidgeberry stew…”

I’m doing another quickie In-Appreciation post today. Okay, well: Doing an In-Appreciation post about British writer (though German-born) Judith Kerr after having only read two of her books kinda makes me a poseur. But I very much love the two books, and I’d like to explore her work further. As you can read here, she’s also known for her Mog series, as well as the children’s novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. She’s also well-known for this title…

…which was re-released last year by Candlewick. This classic picture book was first published in 1968 and is beloved enough to have its own Facebook page (with significantly more members than my Harvey Slumfenburger page…oh well, I try). I was so happy to see it re-released, this oddball tale of a voracious, yet dignified tiger, who empties a smitten little girl’s home of food and drink (ah, courtesy and hospitality, even in the face of a tiger) — and which the BBC calls “one of the best-selling children’s books of all time.”

So, it was with pleasure that I saw that Kerr has written and illustrated a new book, a counting book which hardly makes the counting feel like a chore to a child. A spread from this tale opens this post. The cover is pictured here:

Published by Kane Miller last month (though originally published in England last year by HarperCollins), it’s both a counting book and a zoo book, two things which glut the children’s market, to be sure. But it stands out: Kerr’s subdued, soft-focus pastel illustrations depict a night of wild antics at the local zoo, and—best of all—the child reader gets in on the secret:


“Six rabbits climbed a giraffe for the view. / But nobody knew.”

There aren’t just four bears having squidgeberry stew, giraffe-climbing rabbits, and—as you can see on the cover—a flying elephant. Nope. There are also five flamingos who go from pink to blue, thanks to that squidgeberry stew, eight monkeys who glue the feathers back on the poor cockatoo…


“Seven tigers sneezed: Atchoo! Atchoo! / Atchoo! Atchoo! Atchoo! Atchoo! / ATCHOO! And their seven sneezes blew / The feathers off a cockatoo.”

…and much more. The repeated refrain? “But nobody knew.” What with everyone snoozing, who can be hip to the animals’ shenanigans?


“The keeper and his trusty crew / Found all the animals back on view / (excepting only one or two). / ‘They look so tired,’ he said. ‘All through / That moonlit night what did they do?’ / But nobody knew…”

But, as pointed out on the final page, the reader knows:

Wink, wink. Our little secret, Kerr is saying, and that right there is something children delight in. They will also enjoy the undercurrent of magic and fantasy, the magician-lions, the astonished gnu, and the crocodile’s and kangaroo’s bicycle made for two; I’d bet money on it.

Check out these final endpages to wrap it all up:

And, quickly, while we’re on the subject of Reprints From Last Year That I Loved (since we were talking about that with regard to The Tiger Who Came to Tea), check these out. Then, if you’re so inclined, come back and talk to me about them. I love, for many different reasons, these funky, funky books. God bless the cockeyed picture books of the world:

Another counting book, Peter Pavey’s One Dragon’s Dream, originally published (and to wide acclaim, evidently) in Australia in 1978. Re-released by Candlewick last year. (Pavey has retired and now works on a walnut farm.) This is my next nomination for MotherReader’s Weird-Ass Picture Book Awards. Extremely detailed, elaborate illustrations. Surreal. Definite late ’70s/early ’80s vibe. One to pore over — in the same manner in which you’d pore in wonder and possible confusion over, say, a Graeme Base or Kit Williams title.

Hans Wilhelm’s Mother Goose on the Loose, originally published in the late ’80s and re-released by Sterling last year. It’s the seasonal Mother Goose, Mother Goose through the course of a year. Exuberant, colorful cartoon illustrations for toddlers. Plus, it includes the world “gillyflower,” which is—come on—just really fun to say.

Gordon Snell’s The King of Quizzical Island, illustrated by David McKee, originally published in 1978 and re-released last year by Candlewick. Oh how I love the King of Quizzical Island, who “had a most inquisitive mind.” Wanting to know what he’ll find if he sails to the edge of the world, he asks “his wily old Wizard / And the Whispering Witches, too — / The Llama, the Leopard, the Lizard, / And the Owl — but none of them knew.” He builds himself a “singular ship” made of wood from “the Tea-Bag Tree” (with a bumblebee for a rudder and a spider’s web for the rigging) and sets sail. And then…well, if you read it, as I said, come back and chat. Love the writing and Snell’s refusal to talk down to children; the verse actually works (this is a great read-aloud); and McKee’s pen-and-ink illustrations delight. (Only the king is in watercolor, as he should be, what with his unrelenting thirst for knowledge.)

And finally…

One of the funniest and most charming (ever-so quietly charming) books I read all last year. Oh! How I was remiss in not posting about it, but better late than never. Nine short stories by Toon Tellegen, published last year by Sterling — but originally published in 1995. This edition features delicate illustrations by Jessica Ahlberg. I shall send you to Betsy Bird’s review of the title from September of last year, in which she called it “one of the strangest and most delightful children’s imports I’ve seen in a long long time,” as well as “a book that feels like an old friend the first time you turn one of its pages. Like coming home again.” Nine animal tales, involving cake for everyone. And this (HOW can you resist this?) from the story, “The Whale and the Seagull”:

Dear Whale,

I’m not sure if you exist, but I’m inviting you to my party anyway. Tomorrow on the beach. If you exist, will you come?

The seagull

Bonus: David Elzey’s 2007 post on Toon Tellegen, as well as one of Toon’s poems.

Until later . . .

* * * * * * *

ONE NIGHT AT THE ZOO. Copyright © 2010 by Judith Kerr. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Kane Miller, a Division of EDC Publishing, Tulsa, OK.





7 comments to “Judith Kerr’s New Book, Usurping Tigers, and a Few Random ’09 Picture Book Reprints That Interest Me”

  1. One Night in the Zoo looks like a fun read-aloud for the 2-3 set. How cool. And the artwork is gorgeous as always.


  2. there is, at least in spanish, a book by Toon illustrated by Rotraut Susanne Berner, which, by the way i would SOO much to see in your fabolous table!


  3. Ooh! Bears cooking squidgeberry stew! The squirrel’s birthday cake! Yum. One Night in the Zoo looks so wonderfully magical.


  4. Hi, Tanita. It is! Thanks for the tip, Marc! Jama, I can relate to Squirrel: He sends invitations to EVERYONE he can think of, busts his ass to make a cake for every single invited guest, and then frets about whether or not they’ll show. Such good stories those Toon stories.


  5. http://www.smallfeetgofar.com/pdf/Asa-lind.pdf
    oops, that was me trying to put in a link. I just happened to have read the Squirrel’s Birthday and reading what you wrote, it reminds me of something else wonderful with its delicate philosophy: Asa Lind’s Zackarina and the Sandwolf. Have you heard of it? I know a seven year old girl who carries a tattered, battered, much loved copy of it wherever she goes.Highly recommended!:)


  6. Thanks, Lisa! Looks good…will explore.


  7. I am starting to realize it doesn’t look like it’s been translated into English yet!


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