I think I must be on a Quentin Blake roll at the moment because in my last blog I talked about an activity I did with my creative writing club based on Angelica Sprocket’s Pockets. Blake’s first published drawing was for Satirical magazine Punch at the tender age of 16 and since then he has gone on to illustrate over three hundred books. Amongst his numerous activities, he is patron of the Nightingale Project whose mission is to put art into hospitals and fervent supporter of Survival International, indigenous rights NGO.
Today I’d like to talk a little about Patrick, Blake’s first colour illustrated book for children, published originally in 1968. We have a number of Quentin Blake books on our shelves but, to my mind, this is one of the most special.
Let me try and explain why.
There are a number of ways, equally valid, in which you can try to imbue a love of music to a child and what it has to offer the human spirit: You can play music, discover favourite songs and musicians together; you can encourage the learning of a musical instrument and watch and listen as your child improves with practice, little by little; you can take your children to the opera and the ballet and musical theatre and concerts of all genres, point them in the direction of a choir or a musical ensemble; you can buy books about classical music, about jazz, about different musical traditions from around the world and learn about Prokofiev and Miles Davis and Ali Farka Toure.
You know another thing you can do? You can read your children Patrick by Quentin Blake.
What’s so special about Patrick, you may well ask. Ok, let me tell you. It is the simple story of a young man who sets out one day from home to buy a violin. He reaches the second-hand market stall kept by Mr Onions which has ‘…a broken jug, an old lamp, a mouse-trap and all sorts of things that people did not want any more.’ It also has an old violin which Patrick promptly buys.
He couldn’t be any happier. When he sits down beside a pond he starts to play, but ‘…the most extraordinary thing happened. One by one the fish in the pond began to jump out and fly about in the air. And what is more, the were all different colours and they were singing to the music.’
Patrick discovers that all kinds of amazing things happen when he plays music: the clothes of young children burst into riotous colour; instead of trees growing apples in an orchard, they sprout ‘…cakes and ice-creams and slices of hot buttered toast’; the feathers of birds are transformed and a whiskery old tramp blows out sparks of fireworks from his pipe.
But we have to wait until the end of the story for the pièce de résistance. For the travelling group of colourful merrymakers, led by Patrick, soon come across a tinker and his wife travelling on a horse and cart. The tinker is thin and drawn and clearly, not very well or cheerful.
‘Let me play my violin and see what happens,’ says Patrick.
So he does just this and the tinker grows fatter and healthier by the second, until he is utterly unrecognisable, as is his newly multi-coloured horse and cart. ‘The tinker and his wife climbed on, and so did Patrick and Kath and Mick and the whiskery tramp. The fish and the birds flew above them and the cows galloped along behind.’
Of course we shall not transform outwardly with such rapidity from hearing music that speaks to us, but Blake’s unmistakable message is that music can and does have the power to transform our lives, to heal and bind us to one another if we allow it to. And how do we do this? We simply open our ears to the world and find the right music.
Patrick is a gem that draws together art, prose and the reclaiming of our innate joie de vivre through the metamorphic gift of music.