Pens Ink & Places by Quentin Blake (Tate, 2018) A big, beautiful book, astutely laid out with plenty of white space to accentuate the visual content. This is first and foremost a compendium of Blake’s recent works, with background notes as to their commissioning or his experiences creating them. Eminently collectable.
The Incredible Kidnapping by Willis Hall; ill. Quentin Blake (William Heinemann, 1975) A middle-grade comedy of incompetence, given to much running about and characters conversing in blissfully ignorant, wilful suspension of disbelief. The story is based on Hall’s play Kidnapped at Christmas and is easy to imagine playing out in that context. Gently amusing.
One Hundred and One Black Cats by Stephen Mooser; ill. Quentin Blake (Scholastic, 1975) It’s hard to believe Mooser was paid for this early middle-grade reworking of the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Adventure of the Six Napoleons’. It’s fun enough but overly simplified, blandly written and drained of mystery. Wholly unoriginal, save for Quentin Blake’s illustrations.
Cyril of the Apes by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy; ill. Quentin Blake (Jonathan Cape, 1987) A middling middle-grade adventure in which the protagonist—a crotchety writer with no redeeming features—embroils himself in various perils and through happenstance alone escapes them. The illustrations and tone of writing suggest this is supposed to be funny, but it isn’t.
Agaton Sax and the Colossus of Rhodes by Nils-Olof Franzén; ill. Quentin Blake (André Deutsch, 1972) [From the Swedish Agaton Sax och den bortkomne mr Lispington, 1966] There’s plenty of fun to be had following Swedish super sleuth Agaton Sax in his masterly pursuit of the world’s most dastardly criminals. The focus on bureaucratic filibuster and a sequence of muddles…
Rhyme Stew by Roald Dahl; ill. Quentin Blake (Jonathan Cape, 1989) Lame poetry that, otherwise treated, could have become classic illustrated short stories. Dahl’s rhymes are too simplistic for grown-ups, yet too adult for young readers (the cover explicitly says so, though everything else about the book’s presentation screams ‘children’). A perplexing offering.
Quentin Blake: In the Theatre of the Imagination – An Artist at Work by Ghislaine Kenyon (Bloomsbury, 2016) Quentin Blake’s art is distinctive and greatly beloved. Kenyon’s analysis-cum-tribute focusses on how Blake’s personality—his Francophilia and appreciation of literature; his positive outlook and playful, empathic eye for other people’s experiences; his quiet attentiveness and generous spirit—manifests in his work.
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl; ill. Quentin Blake (Jonathan Cape, 1985) Roald Dahl is always imaginative but this must be his most delightful story, free from the dark themes so characteristic elsewhere. There is nothing here but crazy, cute, happy fun… and as ever the writing is perfectly paired with Quentin Blake’s illustrations.
A Moose that says Moooooooooo by Jennifer Hamburg; ill. Sue Truesdell (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013) The moose barely features but it does start the fun, Hamburg letting her hair down in a freewheeling animals-gone-wild story (spoilt only by occasional stumbles in her Dr Seuss-like amphibrachic tetrameter). Truesdell captures the chaos with vibrant illustrations à la Quentin Blake.
The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl (Jonathan Cape, 1978); audiobook read by Stephen Fry (Puffin, 2013) A classic safe scare for young middle grade readers, the audiobook stripped of Quentin Blake’s illustrations but enhanced in compensation by Stephen Fry’s delivery (albeit that the background soundscape becomes tiresome, especially when signifying the crocodile’s trademark ‘secret plans and clever tricks’).