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Artwork © Helen Cooper
A Pipkin of Pepper

Background Information

When my daughter was three years old I urgently needed a picture book dealing with the issue of being lost. I couldn’t find one. It seemed a good time to cook up a sequel to “Pumpkin Soup’. Consequently, ‘A Pipkin of Pepper’, the further adventures of Duck, Cat, and Squirrel, has a ‘Lost in the city’ theme”.

Leaving the domestic drama of the old white cabin, the three friends journey to the city in pursuit of salt for their pumpkin soup. Once there, Duck, swayed by the sight of pepper in a shop window, neglects to hold on tight, and is lost. In his panic he rashly forgets his instructions to stay in one place and flaps away in pursuit of the others. The resulting fiasco is told as much in the pictures as the text. I wanted children to see for themselves the ensuing chaos as Duck, Cat, and Squirrel, blunder back and forth before being reunited.

Other bits of advice are slipped in. The bewildered Duck eventually has the sense to ask a mother with small children for help, and subsequently a shopkeeper and the emergency services are involved. The idea of being alone in a city is frightening enough for most small children. I didn’t want to dwell on the scary issue of undesirable characters, although there are a couple of foxes who lurk in the background of some of the illustrations should some parents wish to pursue this point. For the rest they’re in amongst the mêlée of the crowds.

The pepper pot metropolis derived from some sketches made in a coffee shop boasting an incredible collection of coffee pots and pepper grinders. Lined up on shelves they suggested the outline of a cityscape. Back at my desk I tried to build a certain rush hour energy into the pepper city, using bewildering perspective, electric colour, and a small measure of collage for a flatter graphic appearance, As always the illustrations are also infused with some of the visual flotsam and jetsam, which washed by as I worked on them. The shop frontage of the Modern Pastry Shop in Boston. The paintings of Paul Klee, and. The colours of a fresh rainbow trout which sat in a bowl on my desk as I painted it and lent an unwanted fishy aroma to that piece of artwork .

Yet although a major part of ‘A Pippin of Pepper’ journeys far from the woodland scenes of ‘Pumpkin Soup’, for those who were hoping for more of the same, the book begins and ends with cosy mayhem in the old white cabin. Will there be pepper in the pumpkin soup? You’ll have to read the book and see.