Jo Field on Helen Clare’s Entomology
Oh the joy of the perfectly-formed picture book! Every copy of Where the Wild Things Are or The Gruffalo is like a fresh strawberry dropped into a crate of mysterious Ugli fruit; the Ugli being those books churned out for small children which seem to fall short of the mark; the Mystery being how some of them achieved publication at all. Although admittedly in the odd case (Budgie the Little Helicopter anyone?), the reason may be fairly clear.
Surely there can’t be many of us who are unfamiliar with Eric Carle’s masterpiece of simplicity The Very Hungry Caterpillar. And look! Here he is again, our hero, albeit updated with attendant complications, maybe even metamorphosed into a different gender. Cleverly, he/she has insinuated him/herself into the very heart of the eighteen other sonnets in Helen Clare’s pamphlet Entomology. How I love a good joke, and this is a good joke: Larvus megafamishus cocooned among such seriously adult insects as Stenolemus bituberus, Blattella germanica, Filodes mirificalis. Which is not to say the famished larva lacks weight, nor indeed that its fellows are without a degree of lightness.
This ‘velveteen’ People’s Princess, her vulnerability intact − ‘too delicious/to be inedible, too bright to be unseen’ − is carried along by basic rhythm and solid rhyme like antidotes to the ‘wheatgrass’ and ‘goji berries’ of today’s celebrity culture with its fixation on little else but style: ‘I’m something of a role model//so must sustain my image and the measure-/ments befitting a national treasure’.
Unlike the opening paragraph of this review, Helen’s ‘Very Hungry Caterpillar’ is firmly ‘on message’, with cameos from Martin Bashir, Twitter, the ubiquitous Five-a-Day, and more. Thank goodness, though, the fun is untainted by reference to any rumoured enthusiasm for Colonic Irrigation.