The story of the weakling Hargreaves’ family and their new baby who is a fussy eater was first published 40 years ago in 1982. Nowadays, with smashed avocado on toast on every menu, the story of Avocado Baby doesn’t seem so far-fetched, but when it first came out in 1982, avocados were a slightly exotic fruit for dinner parties, often paired with prawn cocktail.
When the Hargreaves’ new baby doesn’t want to eat anything the other children suggest giving it the avocado that miraculously appears in the bowl on the table. This has the magical effect of making the baby grow enormously big and strong. In fact, so big and strong that it can do extraordinary and actually quite helpful things, pulling other children uphill in a cart, chasing off terrified burglars with a broom, carrying shopping and moving furniture, and throwing bullies into the pond.
I’ve almost force fed my children avocados just so I can have them in the house with me. Shame they’re so expensive. My youngest isn’t into them yet but she’s definitely the strongest out of all of my children so the burglars won’t be coming soon!
Burningham, true to form, has concocted a perfect plot. Babies are often fussy eaters and mealtimes are often anxious. Just the idea of an intruder to the home is terrifying …and bullies in the park – outrageous!
Our baby is a hero. From those first spoonfuls of avocado he begins to grow very strong and the scene is set. He takes part in the family activities, proving himself useful and admired. His actions solve problems and life is good …then things start to get interesting. A night time intruder to the house doesn’t find him hiding under the covers, instead he confronts the burglar with a broom and see’s him flee. He has defended the home, but it doesn’t stop there. Walking in the park, the children are bothered by bullies and Avocado Baby is incensed. Leaping from his buggy he grabs the bullies and raising them above his head … throws them into the pond.
This is mature John Burningham. Avocado Baby sits with Mr Gumpy, employing the same progressive storyboarding. Building interest and familiarity through establishing images, then anticipation with a series of increasingly exciting tableaux to the final, climactic, triumphant, inevitable, SPLASH!
So will this send a small child off to sleep? Just maybe – because Avocado Baby has confronted all that bothers small children and emerged triumphant. Possible intruders in the night aren’t going to worry this one