Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Revisiting "The Tunnel" by Anthony Browne (Walker Books)

The Tunnel

Written and Illustrated by

Anthony Browne

Published by Walker Books

Back in 2012 we ummed and ahhed lots over Anthony Browne's "The Tunnel" before giving it a 5 out of 5 star rating, and a book of the week award.

It's a book that has often ended up in our library pile, Charlotte cannot resist its lure though it's probably one of the darkest (and scariest) books for under 7s. Please bear in mind that I use the age guidance loosely there, as we always do on the blog when it comes to age ratings. So why is it scary? Or more to the point, why do children like books that purposely set out to give them a fright? Let's delve in and investigate...

"The Tunnel" starts out fairly harmlessly describing a typical sibling relationship between brother and sister. The older brother is boisterous, probably quite naughty, likes to play out and fight and misbehave. The younger sister is quiet, thoughtful, bookish and indulges in flights of fancy thanks to her love of fairy stories.

The two rarely see eye to eye and constantly squabble, so one day their exasperated mum sends them out to play - together!

The draw for Charlotte is what happens when the pair discover a mysterious tunnel while out playing. The brother decides to investigate, and crawls through the tunnel without so much as a second's thought. The sister worries, it looks spooky, it smells and no good ever came of crawling through a dark spooky smelly tunnel.

When her brother doesn't come back, the sister has no choice but to follow him to find out what's happened. Shocked to discover a strange wood on the other side, she summons all her courage and tries to find her errant brother.

At this point in the book, Charlotte usually cuddles a little closer - as Anthony Browne's vivid and mischievous imagination conjures up the most darkly delicious images, hiding faces and shapes amongst the trees, playing with the mind as his descriptive text ramps up the tension. When we discover the brother's fate, the story really does take an even darker turn - but there is hope...

In time honoured fashion we won't ruin the story too much, suffice to say that I distinctly remember the first time we encountered this book and the effect it had on Charlotte back then. Two years on, it's still immensely powerful and though Charlotte swaggers with mock bravado that it's not nearly as scary as all that, she still cuddles tightly as the story tightens the thumbscrews of fear, and taps into a child's deepest darkest fears expertly.

Charlotte's best bit: Spotting the hidden menaces in the woods.

Daddy's Favourite bit: Like Anthony Browne's other work, this is a dark and delicious treat - probably a little too scary for the very young but destined to be a book they can't get enough of once they're older.