When I was about eight, I wrote a poem about Silly Billy, well more of a ditty really – but it has stayed with me. I therefore knew I had to read UK Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne’s picture book Silly Billy (Walker Books, 2006) as soon as I saw it… It is, as my children will tell you, so much better than my juvenile work; Little Brother and I have really enjoyed sharing it together.
Billy is a worrier – or, as it says at the beginning of the story, “Billy used to be a worrier.” The story takes us through some of the things Billy worried about, and his parents’ attempts to reassure him – but it is only when he goes to stay with his grandma that a solution is found. She presents him with a set of tiny Guatemalan worry dolls, who will “do all the worrying for you while you sleep.” And so all is well, until Billy starts to worry about the effect of all those worries (in extra large letters) on the poor dolls… but then he comes up with the perfect solution.
Anthony Browne’s story is narrated simply and eloquently, with words emphasised in larger font all the way through. This format calls out for the words to be shared and since this is one of those books that is likely to be in demand again and again, small people will love shouting out those larger words, which they will soon know by heart. Browne’s illustrations are as virtuoso as one would expect – from the (not too nightmarish) worries to the larger-than-life image of grandma’s hand holding out the brightly colored worry dolls. The reassuring past tense at the beginning means that young readers/listeners experience the story from a secure perspective – and any small worriers might be tempted to follow Billy’s idea for themselves too. There’s also a well-pitched description of worry dolls and their Guatemalan origins at the end of the book. Read what the judges of the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal had to say about Silly Billy here.