Voices In The Park ISBN: 9780552545648
Published by Picture Corgi, 1999
The cover of this unusual picture book shows a scene redolent of loneliness - tall, perfectly aligned trees, with two very small children below. Told in four different voices, we see why loneliness can be a problem, even in families where the children are loved. The first voice is the mother of the little boy, Charles, who is dictatorial and a real snob. She takes Charles and their 'pedigree labrador' to the park. Charles does as he's told, but when Victoria (the dog) is let off the lead and starts a chase with a mongrel, he is interested and wants to investigate. Mum is distressed when he disappears, but finds him with a 'rough-looking child' and demands that he come home with her. The second voice is that of a working man who is without a job. He takes his daughter Smudge and their dog to the park where he sits on a bench and looks for jobs in the newspaper. His mood is depressive, and it is only Smudge who is able to cheer him up. The third voice is that of Charles, who is bored and lonely at home on his own and is pleased when mum says it is time for their walk. In the park he wanders off to see the dogs playing and meets a girl - Smudge. They play very happily together on the slide, on the climbing frame and watching the two dogs having fun. She is good on the slide, and he teaches her how to climb trees. Then mum intervenes, and haughtily insists they must go home. The fourth voice is that of Smudge. She talks about her dad being really 'fed up' and is happy when he suggests the park. She witnesses Charles' mum being angry about her dog Albert ('the silly twit'), and when she finds Charles having wandered off, suggests a go on the see-saw. She finds him quiet at first, but later he is 'a bit more friendly'. The two children and their dogs play on the bandstand and she feels 'really, really happy'. She realises that Charles looks sad when he has to leave. Then she and dad go home where she makes him a cup of tea. Starring Browne's signature gorillas, this picture book has all the elements we expect of Browne - his surrealist approach with odd things happening in the background, his brilliantly colourful style and his high imagination. The text is printed in different types for each of the voices, a standard one for the bossy mum, a very black one for the out-of-work dad, a rather faint one for Charles, and a rather messy, child-like, black one for Smudge. Two different families, then, both with single parents but in very different situations. Charles will always be lonely in his big fancy house unless he can manage to find friends like Smudge who accept him as he is, while Smudge will always feel responsible for her dad and have to look after him. The story is affecting in so many ways and gives us a real sense of how different lives can be - a bit sad, a bit strange, but altogether real. Four very different voices with four very different outlooks. Outstanding!