Isabel met an enormous bear…

A while ago, I managed to sniff out a copy of Ogden Nash’s Custard and Company, illustrated by Quentin Blake. This classic collection of Nash’s poems is very enjoyable – particularly if you know children who prefer more gruesome bedtime reading.

Inside, along with poems on animals, angels, knights, bad manners, monsters and beef-burgers, is my favourite childhood poem – The Adventures of Isabel.

The Adventures of Isabel is rich in rhythm and language, with gleefully nasty antagonists and a calm, thorough and self-possessed heroine. Here’s verse one:

Isabel met an enormous bear,
Isabel, Isabel didn’t care;
The bear was hungry, the bear was ravenous,
The bear’s big mouth was cruel and cavernous.
The bear said, Isabel, glad to meet you,
How do, Isabel, now I’ll eat you!
Isabel, Isabel didn’t worry,
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry,
She washed her hands and she straightened her hair up,
Then Isabel quietly ate the bear up.


Most kids love this poem. There are scary beasts alright, but really Isabel is about facing up to your fears, and banishing nightmares. And, like all good poems, the pace and rhythm engage the imagination, even if a child is too young to understand all the words. And (something I love) there are loads of opportunities for the reader to do frightful voices and act out all the nastiness.

The Adventures of Isabel is also only fairly short at only five easy-to-read verses; the rhythm repeats in each verse rather than using the same phrases over and over – so even if you get bored of reading this poem, it’s over fairly quickly.

Of course, Quentin Blake’s vigorous illustrations add that scratchy, toothy humour. Isabel meets a wicked witch:


And a hideous giant:


Sadly, Custard and Company is out of print, though there seem to be a few second hand copies on Amazon.

Small kids that get nervous before bedtime? This is the book for you!

Wolf-rating: Grrrruesomly great

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