There is a picture book I've read so many times now at my son's insistence between the ages of two and four that I have a photographic memory of every page. That book is Axel Scheffler's Pip and Posy: The Super Scooter. And happily, the Pip and Posy books are of such quality that adults can read them over and over without becoming bored. Perhaps that is part of what makes a children's book a classic – it's loved not just by little ones, but older people too.
There are six books in the already classic series, and all are wonderful, but my son's very favourite is The Super Scooter and I think it's because it distils to a fine essence all the ingredients a small child likes in a story.
Axel Scheffler is one of the most brilliant children's illustrators of our time - you will know his work from The Gruffalo most famously. In The Super Scooter he takes a simple situation (in adult eyes) but one which a pre-school child probably experiences most days and which is really quite upsetting for them.
A favourite toy - Pip's scooter, the ultimate toddler possession - is picked up by another child in the playground. The culprit, Posy, trips over and goes flying onto the ground – brilliantly, a sequence of a few seconds which lasts for three full spreads, from the 'Careful, Posy!' warning to 'Oh dear!' and then 'Poor Posy'. It's hard to convey how enjoyable this part of the story is for a small child.
The central part of the enjoyment seems to be seeing Posy sobbing hysterically – I suppose because this is what small children do daily. And then the resolution is satisfying: Pip and Posy have a 'big hug', play together in the sandpit and then go home for tea: 'Hooray!'
I call them children, but of course Pip and Posy are bunnies. Obviously. Apart from the illustrations depicting toddlers as animals, everything is super-real. Pip and Posy's world is exactly the world of little children – the books cover familiar daily crises like weeing on the floor, popping a balloon, being afraid of a monster and having to share a favourite toy. Punctuated by playing with blocks and train sets, baking biscuits, dressing up, getting on the bus, going to the shops, and of course the sweet friendship of two toddlers...just like real life (except, interestingly, there are no parents visible – this is a completely toddler world).
Even in the 'happy ending' there are sad things in the pictures too – if you look closely you see a glass bottle littering the sandpit; a little girl dropping her ice cream. These are such subtle pictures - young readers learn that life has many perspectives and layers.
Crucial also is the fact that the text is trimmed down to essentials, in simple language just the way children understand and with not a single unnecessary word. You can read it aloud in a few moments, or you can read slowly, lingering over what is happening in each picture.
Any Pip and Posy book makes an ideal present for a child turning two or three. Or even one, with new board book versions coming out this March. Camilla Reid, editorial director of the books' publisher Nosy Crow, has explained that the series came about in 2010 when she and Axel Scheffler, both parents of toddlers, realised there was a gap in the market for books for 'this very particular phase of a child's life...things from potty training, to learning to share and be kind.' Books which weren't too intricate, were funny, and had a strong emotional journey.
The series is deservedly successful, having been translated into 11 languages and sold over half a million copies. Will there ever be another Pip and Posy story? There's no comment on that from Nosy Crow, but we do hope so.
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