Ten Little Fingers

A Short History of Helen Oxenbury by David Lloyd, Chairman of Walker Books


I love publishing the best books for children, and best of all I love publishing anything new by Helen Oxenbury, who long, long ago practically invented a certain kind of deeply amusing and loveable baby in her wonderful series of baby board books, and who returns now to this essential subject in Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, written by Mem Fox.


What is it that I like so much about the work of Helen Oxenbury? Partly, of course, it's how truly funny Helen is, watching the world so closely and quietly, then making pictures that tell the story exactly as it is. She certainly teaches all of us how to laugh at babies as we look after them. I'm tempted to think she's even showing babies how to laugh at themselves.


What great pleasure Helen gives, taking as she does such joy in absurdity. Have a look at her wonderful White Knight in Alice Through the Looking-Glass. Has anyone ever paid the master Lewis Carroll a more perfect compliment?


But it's more than just the comedy. Again and again Helen's pictures show how enormous and brave her spirit is. Look at that picture in Big Mama Makes the World, of Big Mama and the baby, so green, in a garden so deliciously full of fruit, on the fourth day? If ever I need courage I can get it from there. And love, and faith, and hope, and all the other little mystic bunny rabbits.


Sometimes, if a person is incredibly fortunate (as Helen makes me feel), some kinds of happiness just go on and on. I first came to edit Helen in 1981, ­ our first book together was The Dancing Class, in which a very hearty young ballerina takes a most undignified fall ­ and ever since then the pleasure has endured in me. ­ So what's that, Helen's consistency, her sostenuto, her personal melody that never fades? Helen has such strength and endurance and at the same time such delicacy and charm.


How could anyone ever make a better picture book than So Much? Trish Cooke's words, Helen's pictures, this book is pure heaven for me. It gives me the best, the innermost flood of warmth. Thank you, Helen, deeply, thank you.


For the best children's books, look for the bear ­ – yes, indeed! Helen created the Walker Bear. In our rough, tough, highly competitive commercial world, the Walker Bear always reminds me of what matters most. Is it something to do with the candle? – light? – truth? – imagination? – generosity? It's what I like best about the work of Helen Oxenbury, whatever it is.


We're Going on a Bear Hunt. Helen's books are bestsellers. They win prizes. We're going to catch a big one! Success. Of course I like that about Helen, too.


I could go on like this for ages and I'd be happy enough to do so. But I'm sure Helen would ask me to stop, so I will. Happy Birthday, Helen. From all of us. I'm sorry we forgot to say so earlier. You give so much to me and to so many people. You are a true artist. When I think about you, when I see you, when I look at your books, you always make me smile. Quite simply, YOU are what I like best about your work. 


And thank you for your wonderful new book.


David Lloyd, Chairman, Walker Books