Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Guest Post: Meal One

Another fab guest post to keep the trend going, soooo who's next? I have a long, short list of favorite people on the internet that goes on and on and starts in no particular order with Ward Jenkins, Zack Rock, Dave Cuzner and so on and ends with Michael Dumontier. In internet friendships, often times you never really know people. You just get short little bursts of who they are, but for me it is the inspiration I get from them all that is tantamount to friendship. And Michael has oodles of it. On his blog stopping off place, he shares images from books and ideas that ignite him. An esoteric collection of odds and ends that always delight and surprise.

On personal message, he shares the artwork he creates with Neil Farber. The collaboration produces funny and thought-provoking painted-snapshots of life, that always leaving me either laughing or wondering. So without over-gushing, please welcome Michael. An artist, book lover/trader and, most importantly, one magical dad...

Meal One
Ivor Cutler - Helen Oxenbury
Heinemann, 1971

Ivor Cutler was a Scottish poet, humorist, painter, recording artist, performer, and teacher. Over five decades, he released more than a dozen albums, recorded countless sessions for the BBC, published more than fourteen books of poetry and prose, and wrote ten books for children. He even played a role in The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour. Yet despite all this, tragically, he is almost completely unknown in North America.

Being a fan of his records and books of poetry, I'm not sure why it took me so long to search out his children's books. Thankfully, they are now slowly trickling into my mailbox, and so far Meal One, his first picture book, is our favorite. The story documents the morning activites of a mother and son, from waking until meal one (breakfast). Helbert MacHerbert and his mother are "great pals" who, we are told, usually enjoy spending their time playing football, fighting (see cover!), eating fish and chips and pickled onions with their fingers, and digging holes. And so the story begins:

One morning, Helbert woke with a plum in his mouth. He pulled it out and held it between his fingers for a good look: it was purple and juicy. "Who put a plum in my mouth while I was asleep?" he wondered. "Me!" shouted his mum, stretching her head out from under the bed with a great grin on her lips. "Hello, Mum!" he smiled.

After consuming the plum, Helbert suggests that they plant the stone, and his mother obliges without hesitation. They plant it under the bed by gouging a hole in the floorboards with a breadknife. To speed the growth of their newly planted seed, they ask it to hurry with a recitation:

O Stone! O Mighty Plum! Send forth roots and shoots. Grow with our love into a plum tree, with lots of plums!

This works very well, and soon the bedroom is overtaken by a large plum tree. But when they finally go down to the kitchen for breakfast, tree roots have entered the kitchen from above, severely threatening "meal one". Luckily, however, Mrs. MacHerbert finds a quick and surprising solution and the two get a second chance to enjoy breakfast.

Mrs. MacHerbert is a mother that any little boy would want for his own. Mr. Cutler conjures a particular magical domestic landscape where no one else exists but a parent and child. This is a real place. As Mr. Cutler would say “never knowingly understood”. When I first read this to my three-year-old son, he freaked out in delight and astonishment. Amazing.

The book is illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, who has a lengthy bibliography of her own. The two worked together twice more after this. If you're interested in learning more, try watching Looking For Truth With a Pin, a documentary made about him shortly before his death. Sadly, Ivor Cutler “folk surrealist” passed away in 2006. None of his children's books are currently in print.


Read along on Facebook, tumblr, Twitter and Etsy!


  1. What a surprise to see Zack's name here! I met him on the train from Paris to Bologna just last week, we were in the same compartment and chatted for hours and ended up hanging out at the Piazza Maggiore. Nice guy!!

  2. zack is super talented.... just waiting for the day when I can announce his first book on here!

  3. Wow! What a book!!! I desperately need it!!! Thanks for showing it.

  4. Ha! I promise, Burgin, when/if I get a book deal, you'll be amongst the first to hear of it. Also, enjoying the guest posts, great idea!

    And hey Maral! You wouldn't believe how long the train back was without you around to chat with. Good times!

  5. Meal One was one of my favourite books as a child. I am currently reading my battered copy to my 2 and a half year old... again and again.
    She loves it too.

    Ps I only ticked anonymous because I can't remember any useful passwords.