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[Monday Reading] Mervyn Peake’s “Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor” and Norman Messenger’s “Imagine”


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.


I thought of pairing these two picturebooks as they both celebrate the infinite capacity of the mind to imagine fantastical notions never before configured in exactly the same manner. Plus, there is a pirate who settled down after being enamoured with a yellow creature who lives in a purple island – only the maker of Gormenghast Trilogy could dream up something as beautifully strange as that.


Written and Illustrated byNorman Messenger
Published by: Candlewick Press, 2005 ISBN: 0763627577 (ISBN13: 9780763627577)
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me. 

Ever since I read and reviewed Messenger’s The Land of NeverbelieveI have been on the lookout for his picturebooks, and there aren’t too many of them, sadly.

This one, I thought celebrates the boundless nature of the imagination to conceive fantastical ideations. Over and above that, though, this book is more like a visual puzzle of sorts. As teachers, we often harp about visual literacy, but still continue to focus on text comprehension almost to the exclusion of everything else. Norman Messenger’s picturebooks make you rethink the value of art in picturebook making.


Each page prompts the reader to imagine something they may not have considered before, and there are visual codes and clues embedded that would make the young reader pay very close attention to the details of the art, lest they miss out on something valuable. An example would be the image below, inviting the reader to find as many giants as they can. Do you see any? Then focus your eye as well on the upper left and right hand corner of the page, which are little visual mathematical puzzles that require some serious mental exercises to solve accurately.


I also enjoy the book engineering feat that Messenger always seems to accomplish in his picturebooks – the interactive component that requires young readers to lift the flap or extend the page, revealing something hidden underneath:

It shows how the possibilities are endless with such a rich imagination. I also enjoyed the vibrant yet understated colours, giving the pages a vintage-y feel, rather than the glossy, glittering ones that distract the eye from the subtleties of the visual art.

My absolute favourite though is the one that transforms a sweet cuddly innocent-looking doll to an ogre – a feat to behold:

The ‘storyline’ or text narrative functions more like little captions – the book is really a visual feast for the eyes, prompting the reader to create their own narratives as inspired by such exquisite images that can only come from the mind of a brilliant artist.

Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchorimg_8335

Written and Illustrated byMervyn Peake
Published by: Walker Books, reprinted 2001 (first published 1939) ISBN: 0763616257 (ISBN13: 9780763616250)
Borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me. 

Mervyn Peake was celebrated and known for his Gormenghast Trilogy (a book I own, but haven’t had the time to read yet). I first learned about his picturebook when I was preparing my higher-degree course on multicultural children’s literature and studying the history of children’s literature. Apparently, this picturebook was deemed ‘inappropriate’ for young minds with pirates and weird creatures and the hints of violence thrown into the mix.


Then it has regained popularity when the picturebook came of age, and became perceived more as works of art rather than sources of didactic, preachy messages for children to learn ‘moral lessons’ and the prescribed ways of society.


There is unabashed joy in developing characters that are full-bodied in their portraiture of peculiarity as you can see above. I also found Peake’s art to be filled with dynamism and movement and such visual humour.


Things took a turn when the Pirate and his crew discovered a purple island where this yellow creature lived. Captain Slaughterboard has developed an atypical attraction towards the creature that even his crew could not fathom, especially given Slaughterboard’s cruelty, that it was totally out of character for him.


To a certain degree, Captain Slaughterboard became a ‘changed’ man after meeting the Yellow Creature or YC for short. It could be because he is also tired of “piracy and bloodshed” or quite possibly as Fabian Peake, son of Mervyn Peake, wrote in his Introduction to this 70th anniversary edition:

With his eccentric friend he rediscovers the pink island and they embark on a life of tranquillity. If only he knew it, the Captain has found Utopia.


This one is definitely a keeper. Find it!

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

11 comments on “[Monday Reading] Mervyn Peake’s “Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor” and Norman Messenger’s “Imagine”

  1. Wow…these are certainly some creative books, though I was a pretty imaginative kid, and some of those illustrations could very well have given me nightmares!


  2. I love the set up of Imagine, it is a book that would easily catch a young reader’s eye!


  3. The Messenger book looks very interesting. I can picture kids being very intrigued by the illustrations.


  4. Both books look very interesting. Thank you for sharing them.


  5. Billbrarian

    I’ll definitely have to add these to our library collection. I have two kids in mind already who would probably like these. Interesting post!


  6. Both books look fascinating, Myra. My youngest granddaughter is 5, and still not really reading, but says she can tell the story from the pictures, so why bother! She is her own person for sure! I hope I can find “Imagine” for her. She will adore it! Thanks for both!


  7. I didn’t even finish reading your post but went straight away to my library website and put a hold on Imagine. (there is a wait list for it!) Then after I came back to read the rest of this, I had to go and see if Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor was available. 😦 alas it is not.


  8. I read Messenger’s exquisite alphabet book this week. He’s a new-to-me illustrator, and now I must get my hands on his other books. The alphabet book was so gorgeous–one I’d like to buy and then cut up and frame. I also had no idea that Mervyn Peake wrote any picture books. I also have the Gormenghast trilogy but have never read it. Maybe some day? Maybe not. I think I bought it nearly 30 years ago, so chances are seeming slim that I’m ever going to crack it open! But the PB here looks fascinating!


  9. WHOA! Imagine looks like a book my son and I would love to look through together! The illustrations are so beautiful and strange.

    Happy reading this week 🙂


  10. crbrunelle

    Imagine looks like one I would enjoy. The second one looks like something Maurice Sendak would enjoy. 😉


  11. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] A Fantastical Alphabet by Norman Messenger – Gathering Books

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