Monday 15 June 2020

CHOCOLATE CAKE by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Kevin Waldron. Review by Penny Dolan.

Hello! Like many, many people, I was happy to hear the good news that MICHAEL ROSEN - poet, writer, educator, former Children's Laureate and general Treasure - has left the intense Coronovirus Unit and is recovering safely and slowly with those he loves.

Good wishes to Michael Rosen and his family from both Awfully Big Adventure Blogs.

Here, through an updated review, is a a reminder of the enjoyment he brings to so many people:

Michael Rosen’s picture book, which was sent to me, is based on one of his most popular spoken poems, available on YouTube.

The subject - chocolate cake! - is one which most children will have strong feelings about, while my viewing of social media suggests that it is probably a favourite daydream for many adults too, especially teachers in need of comfort in the classroom. 

 (Update: And especially right now, as teachers and support staff continue to cope with the current impact of the virus on schools and pupils, with the current state of goverment planning, and all the "media messages".)

The book is already on the way to being a winning idea. 

(Update: It was - and here is a fantastic video of Michael sharing the poem with children in Scotland - a reminder of the joy of school author visits and a hope that one day such events will be possible again!  )

The lively page spreads amplify the narrative structure of the poem. Told in his well-known first person “child” voice, Rosen retells a half-familiar family anecdote: the story of a young boy sneaking downstairs at night while his parents are asleep in bed. The boy knows there is a chocolate cake waiting in the fridge and just wants to look at it. Inevitably, bit by bit, the young narrator nibbles, eats and then gobbles up the entire delicious cake. 

I recall a Naughty Little Sister story where the greedy dish was a birthday tea-party trifle, and this half-familiarity of the incident Rosen uses that gives the story universal appeal. 
Of course, as he goes back to bed, the boy suddenly realises he will be in big trouble. . He decides that the only way to stop his Mum finding out is to remove all the evidence so he spends the rest of the night cleaning away every crumb and clue. Except, of course, he doesn't quite succeed, but you’ll have to read the book or view the poem to find out quite what he's forgotten.

Kevin Waldron, who has been named one of BookTrust’s best new illustrators, brings a welcome child’s-eye view to the pages. His spreads and page-turns dramatise the action, adding to the suspense of the slightly naughty deed done at night in a dark house. 

Waldron uses interesting text layouts and speech bubbles to accentuate the poem’s lively use of sounds - Heh- heh! Gobble-Gulp! -  and all the muttered worries and "instructions to self" – Good thinking! All right, yeah! – so that it’s easy to imagine any young reader being encouraged to join in with the friendly telling. Waldron’s artwork isn’t of the “beautiful” kind but I really liked the way he has captured the young child’s world and viewpoint. 

The picture book format makes the reader – young or old -  both an observer and a sympathetic third party, feeling the tension between the child’s longing, the delicious naughtiness of the greedy theft and the knowledge that he is bound to be found out.

I did not see Rosen’s CHOCOLATE CAKE video beforehand as I wanted this picture book to be a fresh experience. Would it have been different if I’d seen it? I can’t tell. However, as an ex-teacher, I’m sure that the younger readers may well appreciate having both versions of the poem, and that one can help the other along.

Besides, CHOCOLATE CAKE might make a useful book for Key Stage Two classes to borrow. The format, demonstrating the steps of the "plot", could encourage children and teachers to explore their own anecdotal storytelling s, and I’ve also found, on school visits, that Rosen's poems, based on everyday family life, make very good immediate ways in to creative personal writing for KS2 children.

Unfortunately, I suspect that reading CHOCOLATE CAKE might make the whole class and teaching staff long for break time treats! 

Good wishes to all of you who have been keeping children happy in one way or another over these last desperate weeks!

Penny Dolan.


1 comment:

Penny Dolan said...

Friday 19th June comment: Michael Rosen is still convalescing and recoverng physically from the shock to the body of this horrible disease, and the invasive treatment involved. Here's wishing him a steady but sound recovery and thanks to all the nursing & physio staff and more) involved.

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