Mr Benn 123456789 by David McKee
Mr Benn 123456789 by David McKee
April’s Book of the Month is..Mr Benn 123456789 by David McKee (1970)
It isn’t often that I allow myself the time to really appreciate the children’s books that arrive at Gobbledy HQ these days. But when I spotted a batch of Mr Benn books in one of the newly arrived deliveries, I had no choice but to sit down with a nice cuppa..and stir up a few happy childhood memories.
The first thing to say about these handsome commemorative editions from the Anderson Press is that they ooze proper quality, from the thick card covers to the rich glossy pages. The Mr Benn books were originally reissued by The Tate Gallery a few years ago and these editions feel just as nice and premium, perfect for showcasing McKee’s brilliant artwork and designs.
The thing I most love about Mr Benn though, is the sense of childhood innocence they portray through their eponymous hero. When challenged by the multiple ills of the world, Mr Benn unfussily goes about righting the wrongs he comes across in his adventures - whether it is brightening up a grey prison to cheer up the inmates (Mr Benn 123456789 - 1970), helping a circus reach its next audience (Mr Benn Big Top - 1980) or persuading some misguided animal hunters to swap their guns for cameras (Mr Benn’s Big Game - 1979). When you consider some of the dodgy attitudes that were prevalent when most of these stories were written, I think it remarkable to think that McKee managed to write books for children that have dated so well. Unlike certain other famous authors of the period, there is no need to edit or redact these tales for the modern audience!
But then there is also the wonderful artwork and page designs. So many of the full page spreads in these books are worthy of hanging in an art gallery and the playful, retro visuals guide you through each story with a variety of cool graphic styles on display. I particularly loved the way in which he shifts between his trademark, intricately detailed black ink drawings to a big colour splash page, often using large blocks of white space for extra emphasis and occasionally dropping in some bizarre 360 degree layouts as the cherry on top.
Last year, when we lost David McKee, I was inspired dig out my Mr Benn DVD in honour of his legacy and I was surprised and amazed at how well it stood up. Now, almost a year to the day later (6th April is the anniversary of his passing) having read all of the original books, I feel even more justified in claiming that he was one of the true greats of children’s literature.
I think my favourite of the four is the one I have made our Book of the Month, featuring the hilariously named Smasher Lagru (who has a cameo in one of the later books as well). Ironically, this was one of the stories that wasn’t used for the TV Series, as it deemed too ‘grown up’ to be suitable to children. Don’t believe it, though. Seen through today’s eyes, it is a very mild affair and this or any of the other Mr Benn stories would make a worthy addition to any child’s bookshelf.
At the time of writing we have all four titles in the reissued series in stock at Gobbledybooks.co.uk all at the criminal price of just £2.50 each (RRP £7.99).