Did you know that it’s perhaps all down to Pliny the Elder that there’s a widely held (Western) folk belief that Elephants are afraid of mice? (I learn all sorts of things researching blog posts!)
Well now we can turn to the very lovely and brand new Bubble and Squeak by James Mayhew and Clara Vulliamy to be reminded that friendship can spring up anywhere if we don’t let our prejudices get in the way, and have just enough courage to act on our hopes, whether we’re elephants or not.
Mr Magnifico’s Circus has just rolled in to town. The star of the show is Bubble, a cuddly looking, rather glamorous elephant who performs dazzling, indeed mind boggling balancing acts. Fame, however, has not brought Bubble friendship and behind the glamour and glitz, she is rather lonely.
One night, simply looking for somewhere warm and dry to spend the night, a mouse creeps into the circus tent. He is bowled over by Bubble’s performance and sets his heart on introducing himself to the elephant. But the circus master spots the mouse and is having none of it! After all, elephants don’t like mice, and he can’t allow anything to unsettle the star of his show.
Will the mouse have to leave his hopes of friendship behind? Will Bubble be able to continue to perform, despite the sadness in her heart? Will the show simply have to go on?
Human canonballs and flying trapezes ensure this is a story of high drama, but it also has all the romance and inevitability of star crossed lovers (although the story is actually about the love that exists in a solid friendship, not that of romance). As well as moments where your heart’s in your mouth (“The Pyramid of Peril!“), there are lots of occasions for laughter and giggling, for example, the “Mummy” tattoo on the arm of the strongman, the slapstick humour when the circus performers look for the mouse.
Whilst Mayhew has written a story full of optimism and with a rather satisfying kernel of truth – about friendship across the divide, and the impact of bravery – much of the book’s charm and humour come from the illustrations by Vulliamy.
Vulliamy is an illustrator whose work, for me, is synonymous with “reassuring”, “endearing” and “adorable” (think The Bear with the Sticky Paws, Martha, Lucky Wish Mouse*…the list goes on) and here she’s done it again. Bubble’s chubbiness is no barrier to grace, strength and elegance (though my girls did wonder if there was some magic in her name given the way she is able to balance in the most unlikely of ways!).
In the light of the recent discussion about the use of pink on books (see here and here), the palette used by Vulliamy deserves special mention. The colours are intense (the full bleed pages reminded me of Meg and Mog, and also of Tim Hopgood’s books), and although there is pink, the overall design is striking, and will hopefully catch the eye of parents to both girls and boys.
Perhaps not surprisingly, my girls preferred choice of activity having read this book was to run away and join the circus.
I’m afraid I would miss them too much (phew!), so instead I offered to turn our garden into a circus and decorate our garden swing to resemble the trapeze in Bubble and Squeak.
We chose a selection of imitation flowers, pulled the heads off their stems and then threaded them on string which we entwined around the ropes on the swing. The girls changed into their tutus, I settled down in the deck chair, and the circus performance involving lots of crazy moves, precarious balancing, and are-we-going-to-end-up-in-A&E-moments began.
NO broken bones later, and exhausted after a thrilling (and to be honest, ultimately hugely enjoyable) performance we decide we all needed CAKE! We think Bubble would have heartily approved…
Inspired by the delicate beauty Bubble balances on top off on the front cover of Bubble and Squeak, our cake was clearly a kindred spirit of the leaning tower of pisa. But vertically challenged or not, it was delicious and just the sustenance needed by intrepid circus perfomers and their mother.
Some fun music to have on whilst playing circus includes:
Other activities which would go well with reading Bubble and Squeak include:
Have you ever taken your kids to a circus? I’ve not, but it is now on our list for the summer holidays. What other circus themed books should we look for before we go? Whilst not a book, everyone here at Playing by the book can recommend the Hayao Miyazaki film Panda Go Panda, a sort of precursor to wonderful Studio Ghibli film My Neighbour Totoro.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher. I was under no obligation to review the book and received no payment for this post.
*Do see if you can spot nods to any of these characters in Bubble and Squeak. We’re pretty certain Martha and her brothers are in the circus audience, and Lucky Wish Mouse’s hot air balloon makes an appearance too.