In Praise of Mr Benn

So, Andersen Press have started to reissue the back catalogue of the prolific picture-book maker, David McKee. You may know him best as the creator of Elmer, the colourful elephant, who enlivens a dismal world with his patchwork pizzazz. They are classic first books for children, but my kids didn’t care for him or his various jungle friends.

One day, however, the four year-old picked up a book called Melric and the Dragon at the local library, and we realised there was a whole other side to McKee: one fuelled by adventure and sorcery, with dragons and bad wizards, and pink poodly pets called Troons. A few of the characters looked familiar to my eye, and, all of a sudden, I could see my own childhood favourites, King Rollo and Mr Benn, peering out from the busy illustrations at me.

Luckily, supplying our fetish is easy. Many of the titles from both series of books are available in these snazzy new editions. And on a rainy day, we stick on YouTube and watch Mr Benn, McKee’s most imaginative adventure transform himself into a gladiator, an astronaut, a caveman, an acrobat, and I transform into a better, six year-old version of myself.