Format: Picture book
Author: Julia Copus
Illustrator: Eunyoung Seo
Publisher: Faber Children’s Books (March 2012)
This is a long review. Sorry. Feel free to skip to the end to watch a YouTube video of a fat British psychic reading this story to you.
When an award-winning poet writes a children’s book, I’m interested.
Julia Copus’s poetry collections have won the Eric Gregory Award for young poets and been shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot prize. I didn’t know that when Little E happened to pick up her first children’s book, Hog in the Fog, at the library the other day, but I like to Google kids’ book authors and it’s right there on her Wikipedia page. “A poet!” I thought. “Perhaps she can rhyme!”
As I’ve complained about before (and likely will again), most rhyming kids’ books have weak metre, where syllables are shoehorned into lines to squeeze the words in, piles of near-rhymes (“sing” and “thin” do not rhyme), and little of the lively, dancing poetry that marks a beautiful rhyming children’s book. These are the books that teach children what rhyme is; these are their first examples of the musicality of rhythmic language. Children deserve better. So when the mouse on the cover caught Little E’s eye and she asked me to read her this poet-penned book, I was in, despite my fear of tusked pigs*.
I was not disappointed. Hog in the Fog features two unlikely friends, Candystripe Lil (a charming wee mouse in a red coat and candy-striped bonnet) and Harry (the eponymous hog, whose diminutive tusks are relatively unthreatening). Lil prepares a tea-time feast for her friend Harry — older children especially will be tickled by the gross-out spread that includes “southern-fried lizard / and earwig fudge, / a very large bowl of barnacle sludge” — and when he doesn’t show, sets out to find him in the fog. She is joined by three new friends, each of whom has glimpsed a clue and joins the hunt for Harry. Eunyoung Seo’s enchanting illustrations accompany the musical rhymes, with each character strikingly captured (Little E loves the sheep with his blue bandana and my favourite is the deer, whose antlers are decorated with vines, leaves, flowers, and butterflies). Little E also loves the onomatopoeic sounds of the animals walking together in the growing fog: pittery pattery / tippety tappety / munch crunch / tac tac tac / qwaa-aark as Lil, the sheep, the deer, and the crow look for Harry. Together, they find a surprise: the THING they found in the fog, stuck in a bog, and worked together to pull free, is none other than the lost hog himself, tiny tusks and all. “Is there still time for tea?” Harry wonders, and they all head over to Lil’s house to enjoy the feast together.
Hog in the Fog, published this year, is clearly intended as the first in a series (at least “A Harry and Lil story” implies that there will be more), which is good because little E, who has already learned to look at the back of a book to see if there are covers of other similar books we could get, was disappointed to see no further Harry and Lil adventures currently available. So she (okay, we) wrote a letter to Ms. Julia Copus asking if there would be more, and Little E asked if the sheep, deer, and crow could please be featured in future books. So, really, you’ll have Little E to thank for future Harry and Lil stories.
And now, for your viewing pleasure, please enjoy this video to British psychic Russell Grant reading Hog in the Fog by Julia Copus and Eunyoung Seo.
*Having been tusked in the thigh by a warthog in Zimbabwe, I am wary of tusked pigs, even friendly talking British ones on their way to enjoy tea with a mouse.