A prolific writer and illustrator of children’s books, Hilda Offen won the Smarties Prize in 1992 and was shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Book Prize in 2009. Blue Balloons and Rabbit Ears
is her first poetry collection.
There is a comforting familiarity to Offen’s illustrations, as she has brought to life dozens of well-known and well-loved works for children. The black and white drawings in the collection under review are witty and lively depictions of balloons, aeroplanes, people rushing about and things flying through the air. Those in the first section, notably for ‘When Lenny was a Lion’, pay homage to Maurice Sendak’s Max.
Blue Balloons and Rabbit Ears is divided into four: ‘Wild Things’, ‘That’s Ridiculous’, ‘Out and About’, and ‘Home Again’, thematic divisions broadly corresponding to plants and animals; nonsense and fantasy; the outdoors; and urban and family life. Offen spent her early life on a self-sufficient smallholding, and her engagement with the natural world provides a unifying thread through the sections.
There is wide stylistic variation in the collection: poems such as ‘Dinosaur’ and ‘Crocodile in the Cupboard’ are in the nonsense tradition and are laugh-out-loud poems perfect for bedtime reading; others, like the mirror poem ‘Sisters’ and the sophisticated ‘Nasturtiums’ and ‘Underside’, are more technically complex and philosophical in subject matter. Because of the mixture of themes, styles and subjects, the collection will appeal to children across a range of age groups, and also give adults pause for thought.