We love Gaiman and McKean’s picture books in our house; from the very earliest age my daughter Molly has been transfixed with the incredible tales of Dads getting swapped for a pair of goldfish and wolves living in the wall of houses. They’ve been bedtime stories since she was born, never getting tired, never getting old and they all sit on her shelf even now, regularly re-read, slightly battered and with the occasional tooth mark on the spine, but they’re loved, well loved.
And even though she’s reached the grand old age of 9, it was still an exciting day when Crazy Hair arrived, a beautiful hardback, slightly oversized thing with that chaotic, colourful and downright hairy cover. We settled down, we snuggled in, we read on and …… well, to be honest we felt a little let down on our first read.
Whether we’ve been spoilt by the warmth, quirkiness and invention of the first books or whether this just isn’t as good I wasn’t sure. But both of us felt it was lacking something, that spark of genius that ran through the others. It’s not that it isn’t good. It is. It’s not that it isn’t fun. Or funny. Or warm. Or quirky. Or inventive. Or playful. Or all manner of lovely things. Just that it’s not as much of all those things as the previous books have been. That’s the problem with setting the bar so high I suppose.
But then we read it again a few days later. And again, and again. And it grows on you. It really does. The rhythm, the comedy, the flights of fantasy become familiar and more and more fun as you re-read. It’s simpler than previous Gaiman books, and would make a perfect first book for children, as I’m certain now that it’s delightfully repetitive words will have any young child giggling and laughing along.
The tale of young Bonnie trying to tame her dad’s crazy hair has all the hallmark’s of Gaiman’s previous books. She sets about his hair and gets to know all of the weird and wonderful things he’s lost in there; explorers, tigers, bears, hot air balloons and ships are just the start of it. The idea’s simple and fun, the story just plays on the simple concept over and over which means its great to read aloud, putting on the voices and doing the rhymes, wondering just what new and bizarre thing will come out of dad’s hair next.
Dave McKean’s artwork, beautiful and inventive in previous books is utterly amazing here. He’s switched styles again, as he often does. This time it’s sumptuous colours and computer generated hair that looks so real you can almost feel it. In fact, there are a couple of close ups that almost make you uncomfortable. Each page is a visual delight as we get further and further into the crazy hair and meet all the weird things lurking inside. The detail’s amazing, the flights of fancy leap out from the page in an absolute visual explosion.
So this might not be our favourite Gaiman & McKean picture book, but I think that has more to do with the age that Molly is than a problem with the book. I actually envy you if you have a really young child. I can see them now, squirming and giggling and laughing with joy as you make the voices come alive, as each colourful new surprise appears. It’s a great first picture book and as an introduction to the rest it’s heartily recommend. It joins the rest of Neil Gaiman’s children’s library as books that you’ll want to read time and time again, never getting bored with them. And in time they’ll become the books your child will end up reading to their own children, there can be not higher praise than that.
(Neil Gaiman reads Crazy Hair at a convention in Israel, 2006)
The Neil Gaiman Children’s Library:
So far Neil’s made four picture books with Dave McKean: The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish, The Wolves In The Walls, Mirrormask and Crazy Hair.
McKean also provides illustrations for two of his books of prose for children: Coraline and The Graveyard Book.
And most recently Gaiman’s prayer for daughters was released with art from Charles Vess: Blueberry Girl.