The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Peter Bently and Steven Lenton
When a book is already a classic and there's a popular animated film and a live-action adaptation, it can be difficult for another version to make an impression. Yet Peter Bently and Steven Lenton’s retelling of The Hundred and One Dalmatians certainly stands out.
This is both a remarkable tribute to Dodie Smith’s masterpiece as well as a wonderful picture book in its own right. A huge fan of the original, I was delighted to discover it existed in a format that younger children (like mine!) could enjoy. I was also thrilled that this author and illustrator team were behind it.
Peter Bently and Steven Lenton collaborated on Octopus Shocktopus which is one of the best picture books I've ever read. I was excited about seeing their take on the dalmatians, and as suspected, it didn't disappoint. My kids love it so much, they have even taken it with them when visiting family for a few hours!
We've only had this for a few weeks but have been reading it almost every evening since it arrived. The five-year-old told me last night that it was their favourite story. That's actually a massive endorsement, as we have lots of books that both kids love.
I asked the five-year-old to elaborate on what was so special about this particular one and their response was simply; "because there's two dogs that go for a walk looking for their puppies and the puppies are so cute." The three-year-old has asked if we can get dogs like the ones in the story but, "not all of them, just two or three." Let's just hope they'll get along with the bandersnatch!
If you're not familiar with this wonderful story, it's about two dalmatians whose fifteen puppies are stolen by a wicked woman who wants to turn them into a fur coat. The dalmatian parents (Pongo and Missis) go in search of their offspring and find them, thanks to a network of helpful hounds. The fifteen puppies are rescued along with many, many more. When Pongo and Missis return home with all the youngsters, their owners, The Dearlys, now have one hundred and one dalmatians (and Cruella's runaway cat)!
This picture book is full of life, with so much happening on every page and so many amusing details - we notice something new every time we read it. The source material was published in 1956 and the illustrations reflect this and are a treat, especially for admirers of 1950s fashion, architecture and interiors. Incredibly atmospheric and charming, the world evoked is delightfully quaint, cosy and old-fashioned.
I love the dalmatian mantelpiece and piano ornaments, the canine topiary, and the spotty bathroom accessories in the Dearlys' home. Mrs Dearly's paw-print apron, Mr Dearly's dog-themed festive knitwear, the newspaper they read (The Lamp Post), and the number of their house (101) are brilliant touches too.
The puppies are energetic, entertaining and utterly adorable; it's hilarious to watch them as they explore and play. We see them climbing, hiding in boxes and Christmas stockings, meeting their doppelgangers, swinging from pendulums and piddling on the ankles of their captors. Often, the only part of a puppy that's visible is their head or tail as it peeps out from somewhere. My kids always laugh at Patches' and Roly Poly's body language as the former pulls the latter in a wagon.
As funny as the illustrations are, they're also full of emotion and sometimes quite moving. The panic and terror of the dogs as they flee from Cruella is palpable. Almost every time we see Patch, the largest puppy, he is affectionately taking care of Cadpig, the smallest one. The reactions of Pongo and Missis, their expressions and how they pursue and paw at their humans, when their children go missing are heartbreaking.
Cruella de Vil, the story's villain, is suitably sinister. Her peacock dress is exquisite, but you can easily imagine that one or more birds suffered in its creation. The cover design, with puppies crawling all over her coat, and her claw-like hands emerging from it, is genius .
London looks lovely and magical and even in the backgrounds of the images, there is lots of activity. A tiny man flies an even smaller kite in the park next to the Dearlys' home. Later, when all the dogs are barking loudly, a miniature woman peers out of a window to investigate. In the same scene, a dog we haven't yet met, the Colonel, howls on top of a moonlit hill in the distance.
One of my new year's resolutions is to seek out more books by both Peter Bently and Steven Lenton as everything I've seen so far has been marvellous. They were awarded the Picture Book Category of the 2020 Teach Early Years Awards for Octopus Shocktopus and individually have won lots more prizes.
Peter has written approximately 70 children's books (wow!) and many have been translated into several languages. He won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize for Cats Ahoy! and King Jack and the Dragon was an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. Where the Sky Meets the Sea won the Carmelite Picture Book Prize and looks stunning.
Steven illustrated The Nothing to see Here Hotel which won the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award and was shortlisted for a Lollie's Laugh Out Loud Award. Head Kid, featuring Steven's artwork, won the WHSmith’s Children’s Book of the Year and was shortlisted for the National Book Awards. Look out for Genie and Teeny, a new series Steven has written as well as illustrated, which launches in spring 2021.
The One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Peter Bently and Steven Lenton is absolutely extraordinary and would make a fabulous gift, as well as a book to be cherished by your own family. A fantastic story for the festive season, as there are snowy scenes and one featuring all the dalmatians (101 of them!) around a Christmas tree. It can also be enjoyed at any time, and I expect we'll be reading it all year round for the forseeable future!
Publication date: September 20
Publication date: September 2017