After finishing Holly Black’s excellent White Cat, and writing about picture books all week, I decided to start reading The Iron Giant by Ted Hughes out of the library books I had chosen off the 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up list. It seemed fitting – it was placed in the ‘Children’s Early Reader’ section of the library, and therefore the type of book a child might read once progressing from picture books to ‘chapter books’.
However, this amazing books was unlike any early reader I had seen before.
We have a children’s early reader section at the bookshop – it is stuffed with ‘Aussie Nibbles’ – a series of books written specifically for children just starting to read, by Australian authors with Australian stories – and ‘Rainbow Magic’ books (there must be about a million of those darn fairy stories around now – there is even Kate the Wedding Fairy and Elizabeth the Diamond Fairy, designed after Kate Middleton and Queen Elizabeth respectively), and Horrid Henry books, and so on. While these stories are great for children learning to read, they tend to be quite formulaic (especially the Rainbow Magic Books), with simple story lines, simple language, and relatively simple characters. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not turning up my nose at them – they are a fantastic way to engage kids into reading, as they are approachable and friendly, the perfect bridge between picture books and children’s novels.
The Iron Giant did use relatively simple language, but Ted Hughes wrote it in such an amazing way that it was practically poetry. I started reading the part where the Iron Giant washes up on shore out loud, because the words almost demanded it of me. That, I think, is the best test as to whether a book is beautifully written – if you are drawn to read it out loud, it must be good. The story was peculiar, and and characters quirky and strange. It was like a fairytale for the modern world, full of tractors and iron and steel.
While Ted Hughes’ work was undoubtably a huge part of why I enjoyed the book so much, another part was the wonderful illustrations that the edition I was reading contained. Laura Carlin’s work was just perfect for the story – and the way the whole book was designed was amazing. Have a look:
I thoroughly encourage anyone of any age to read this book – it only took me about an hour and it is one of my favourites out of all the books I have read on the 1001 Children’s Books list so far.