Macmillan Children’s Books. First published 1980.
Picture books come and go in the world of publishing but “Whatever Next!” deserves its place as a children’s classic.
It’s written and illustrated with such warmth that it stands repeated readings, unlike a plethora of less well-crafted picture books today.
There’s nothing worse for a parent than to inwardly groan about a picture book on its umpteenth reading.
But “Whatever Next” has such heart and tenderness, it’s hard to imagine any parent not enjoying this magical book which is perfectly pitched for three-year-olds.
It’s an ideal bedtime read since it ends with a tired Baby Bear ready for bed.
The illustrations are simple, bright and beautiful and complement the story about a young bear’s imaginative flight of fancy into space before bathtime.
When Baby Bear asks if he can go to the moon (peering out of the downstairs curtains with Mrs Bear), he is told he can’t.
“It’s bathtime. Anyway, you’d have to find a rocket first,” replies Mrs Bear.
“Baby Bear found a rocket in the cupboard under the stairs.” (cardboard box)
“He found a space helmet on the draining board in the kitchen, (colander) and a pair of space boots on the mat by the front door.” (wellies)
“He packed his teddy and some food for the journey and took off up the chimney…
…WHOOSH! out into the night.”
What Murphy has captured so well in this book is the ability of the text and pictures to say different things.
While parents read the text, children are busy scanning the pictures, which read differently.
What is uncommon these days is to find full colour illustrations sitting gloriously on right hand pages while text and black and white pictures sit on left hand pages.
Yet this device serves to strengthen the weight of the full colour images.
The book is a short read at 316 words but a sheer delight.
My own children particularly loved the picture where Baby Bear, who is on his skyward journey to the moon, waves to passengers in a plane.
The text reads: “Some of the passengers waved back.”
My boys pored over the plane picture working out which passengers were returning a wave or just reading a newspaper.
The book ends when Baby Bear feels some drizzle through his helmet (probably Mum standing over him with wet hands, though this is never shown or intimated) and returns home, down the chimney where Mrs Bear is waiting to give him a bath.
“Look at the state of you!” gasps Mrs Bear to a filthy, soot covered Baby Bear. “Why, you look as if you’ve been up the chimney.”
“As a matter of fact,” replies Baby Bear, “I have been up the chimney.
I found a rocket and went to the moon.”
Mrs Bear laughs. “You and your stories. Whatever next?”
An enchanting classic which deserves to remain in print.