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Friday, July 10, 2015

The Five of Us, written and illustrated by Quentin Blake. Tate Publishing. 2015. $21.95 ages 5 and up

"But when they had finished their sandwiches and were having a little rest, Big Eddie said, 'I think I feel a bit peculiar.' Then he went green. Then he went white. And then he fainted clean away - THUD. 'Perhaps it was the sandwiches,' said Mario. 'Poor Eddie,' said Simona. 'At least I can hear his heart beating,' said Ollie."

What an adventure for five friends! Off they go on a picnic, in a big yellow bus. Big Eddie is the driver and all are excited to head into the country for a lovely day together.

As luck would have it ... Big Eddie gets sick and cannot continue to drive. What can five children do? First of all, I should tell you that they are quite 'amazing', each in their own right. You know that if they have come from the imagination of the incomparable Quentin Blake, they will indeed be exceptional. They are Angie, Ollie, Simona, Mario and Eric.

"Angie could see a sparrow sitting
on top of a statue five miles away.
She was amazing.

Ollie could hear it sneeze.
He was amazing.

Simona and Mario were so strong
they could lift anything you could think of.
They were amazing.

Eric was just as amazing,
but you will find out how later on."

That is some foreshadowing for you! The five are wonderful friends; Mr. Blake makes that evident at every turn. As they travel along they take note of the fascinating country vistas, sharing their talents to ensure all are part of the discoveries. They are on the lookout for the perfect picnic spot. While the others have opinions and observations to share, Eric is almost speechless.

"Eric said, 'Erm ... erm."

When Eddie becomes ill, the five decide that they must get him some help. Off they trudge. Eric is in the rear, Angie and Ollie are holding hands and walking beside each other, Simona is pushing Mario's wheelchair while he hoists Big Eddie above his head.  When it looks like there is no help to be had, it is Eric to the rescue!

Quentin Blake is true to his long-held belief that children ought to be able to find themselves in the books that they read. It is that familiar mirror/window analogy. Through books, children see themselves (as in a mirror) or they see the lives of others (as through a window). He makes the point perfectly in this book, without banging us over the head with it. It is a quietly beautiful story of friendship ... and that is all!

Take careful note of the characters, of the disparity between the city and the country, and the way in which Mr. Blake so carefully chooses his watercolor palette to bring a sense of calm to the entire tale.


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