The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice

The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice
A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Mini Grey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

I was already chortling before I’d even finished reading the poet’s note to readers, let alone any of his advice in poetic form.

This book of awesome delight is the combined effort of two terrific talents, illustrator Mini Grey and A.F. Harrold, the writer and it’s patently obvious that they both relished working on its creation. Indeed, I’ve never seen the poet in better form than here.

The result is a collection of unmissable artistry – verbal and visual – advising on all manner of topics both ordinary and extraordinary from breakfast – both its perils and its lack of boredom inducing properties, to Blackbirds and Bananas, Bins even! As well as ‘… Wobble, wobble, wobble, / gobble, gobble, gulp. … ‘ For, Jelly Is Never Wrong’ (not even the cabbage flavoured variety or the marmite kind) I should hasten to say there’s an entire section of ‘Advice mainly relating to food …”.

When next I see her I’m going to share Useful with 7 year old Emmanuelle after her rather pathetic sausage-eating efforts when last she stayed with us. Having persuaded her dad she “really, really wanted” the sausage dish on offer at the restaurant, she refused to eat any of its main constituent. (they were organic and maybe that was the issue). Had I done so prior to the event I’m sure she would have tried this suggestion: ‘You can balance them on your lip / and pretend to have a moustache / in order to amuse your companions. ‘ I don’t’ think she’s ever been lost at sea, thus needing to ‘attract aeroplanes’ or sharks. But you never know …

Even this zany poet doesn’t advise eating that Bin he writes of; that’s to be found among the 4th and final section containing miscellaneous bits and bobs such as Crosses and Knot Knots – see how cleverly Mini has placed her knotty collection around those. Just one example of her wonderful integrating manipulation (often complete with her own witty asides).

I’ve just read Inside the Anthill to my partner as he’s given to lying flat out in fields to investigate these bumps and lumps, though even his ‘scientific zeal’ hasn’t led him to quite such lengths as trying a cake crumb imitation – at six foot I doubt he’d fool even a single ant.

Not all the poems are totally absurd though: there is a fair sprinkling of the quiet poignant and thoughtful too.

Take the unforgettable, Earthsong: that ends with ‘Some of it is poisoned/ and some of it is dying. / Some of it is silent / and some of it is crying. // Some of it is going / and some of it is gone. / Some of it… ‘

No matter where you open this corker of a book, there’ll be something to love and I can’t resist concluding with the revelatory and entirely apt final verse from Inside: ‘Where am I? / I’m inside, / I’m between the covers. / I’m in so deep. / I’m through the paper door. / I’m breathing the air of other worlds. / I’m exploring. / I’m reading // and I can’t hear you any more.’
Now that is what it’s all about …
Get this – it’s a must for home collections, classrooms, libraries – and I’m sure you’ll never look at anything in quite the same way again.

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