On a Tall, Tall Cliff

Harper Collins Children’s Books. First published 2004

Andrew Murray and Alan Snow

ISBN-13: 978-0-00-780971-4

In 2009, I picked this book up in a downmarket bookshop selling titles at greatly reduced prices, but it has proved to be a winner I would happily have paid full price for.

Both my sons have adored the story, not to mention the wonderfully detailed and wiry illustrations by Alan Snow, perhaps better known for his book ‘Here Be Monsters’ which was made into the feature length animation ‘The Boxtrolls’.

It comes in at 591 words and is an endearing tale of friendship between two neighbours, Busby and Puffle, who live on the edge of a tall cliff.

It’s a simple narrative of one neighbour, Busby, asking to borrow more and more of the contents of his next door neighbour, Puffle’s house.

Puffle agrees, happily, at the start but becomes concerned Busby is making a fool of him when he requests not only the contents of the property, but the property itself.

“Busby is making a fool of me,” grumbled Puffle, as he trudged home. But he did everything that his friend had asked. He collected…his roof, his walls and the mice behind them, his rafters and the nails in them, his bricks and the mortar between them, his floorboards and the secrets beneath them. Then, huffing and puffing, sweating and straining, groaning and grumbling, he carried his WHOLE HOUSE to Busby.”

 When the cliff where Puffle’s house once stood suddenly crashes “down…down…down…down…to the deep, dark rocks far below,” it becomes evident Busby has been trying to save his friend’s home without worrying him.

“Puffle,” smiled Busby, “I have been studying our cliff. All these papers and charts told me that the ground where your house stood would crumble and fall. My dear friend, you’ve really, really helped me to help you!”

The text is delightfully repetitious throughout as the names of the objects Puffle has been asked to fetch are repeated as he is shown manoeuvring them next door.

The story is brought to a satisfying conclusion when the ending comes full circle and harks back to the beginning and the same use of language at the start.

The illustrations are quirky and detailed and children will love spending time studying the pictures which include mice helping with every aspect of removals, from transporting chandeliers and the kitchen sink, to seagulls lowering a lavatory into place.

The book is written with warmth and illustrated with humour. Its gentle simplicity and tale of friendship is timeless and will have children and parents dipping into it with regularity.

All in all, a smashing read for 3-5 year-olds.