Mortimer's Picnic by Nick Ward, published by Troika Books
Several of our three year old daughter's favourite U certificate films state on the box that they contain 'mild peril'. Picturebooks can also provide a safe place for children to tentatively experience what it means to be a little bit frightened, to help them to ask questions about things that may concern them, and to support discussion about real life emotion and feelings.
Ancient myths and classic fairy tales remain adored across generations because they deliver mild peril so well. There are many excellent recent additions to this genre, including one of our daughter's favourite and most requested picturebooks 'Mortimer's Picnic'.
Mortimer mouse is preparing a hamper to take on a picnic with his best friend Oggy, when a letter from Oggy arrives. Sadly, he is not well and won't be able to make it. Undeterred, Mortimer makes a home made get well soon card and sets off to Oggy's house where he plans to nurse him back to good health.
As well as his basket of food Mortimer carries an anthology of adventure stories, which before the story proper has begun, Mortimer is seen reading intently on a page inside the front cover. This is certainly a clue to how the story is set to develop from here, as author/illustrator Nick Ward cleverly weaves together a host of classic fairy tales to create this innovative iteration.
Just as Mortimer sets off on his journey, ominous rain clouds form overhead. This is just the start - to reach his friend, Mortimer has to face many perils along the way, including a rushing river and a (really quite) scary forest, as well as using the contents of his hamper to save himself by placating a series of baddies that would otherwise gobble him up.
There are lots of enjoyable details, such as the touch of pantomime when a gnarling crocodile hot on Mortimer's heels breaks through the 'fourth wall' and turns to the reader, finger to its mouth to tell us to "shhhh", as it creeps up behind our furry protagonist.
The book gives a clear nod, we think, to classic tales of mild peril including Little Red Riding Hood, Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Gruffalo. Mortimer's Picnic certainly brings something new to the genre, not least through Nick Ward's distinctive Brothers' Grimm meets Punch-and-Judy style illustration (we were already fans of his work from reading his illustrated chapter-book, Superbot, reviewed earlier).
Just when all seems lost, as Mortimer's foes close in, a 'deus ex machina' intervenes to ensure an unexpectedly sweet and pleasantly surprising ending (not to be revealed here), which simultaneously reassures and delights.