Axel Scheffler was third choice illustrator for his initial debut collaboration with Julia Donaldson, back in 1993. Twenty years on it has proved a successful creative partnership that has resulted in such classics as The Gruffalo, and its sequel (both successfully animated for the small screen, by Magic Light Pictures), Stick Man, Room On The Broom (the animation of which was shown on BBC1 on Christmas Day 2012), The Highway Rat, Zog, and numerous other hits. It began life as a song originally, and was suggested as a book by an editor at Macmillan who had played the song to her children, and recognised its potential for a book.
A Squash and a Squeeze has lost none of its impact twenty years on, and is cunning in its simplicity, with a moral message carefully layered into its humorous tale of a cantankerous old woman, moaning about her lot in life; “a grumble and grouse” and she isn’t shy of spelling it out to the wise old man nearby “there’s not enough room in my house!” The grass is greener, as it goes. A Squash… feels fresh and has a great pace to its story, one that plays with the reader and audience, teasing them to keep up with the wise old man’s “curious plan” – he knows what he is up to, oh yes. And by the end, the old woman is, of course, aware that she doesn’t have it too bad after all.
It is an enjoyable book to read aloud to children, as are most of Julia Donaldson’s better works (there are some that don’t trip off the tongue; The Rhyming Rabbit comes to mind), and there is much comedic potential to be had, for example, in dad performing the old woman’s voice (Editor’s note: I channelled my best Terry Jones-as-a-woman in such readings to my daughter, to varying success).
A book that should be on every young child’s shelf. A staple of bedtime storytelling.
A Squash and a Squeeze is available from all good bookshops, published by Macmillan Children’s Books, price £6.99. A Special Edition 20th Anniversary release is available too.
Andy Jamieson, Editor-in-Chief, Geekzine UK