“The children were having breakfast. This was not a pleasant sight.”
So begins Jill Murphy’s Five Minutes’ Peace. She needs no more words; it is a picture instantly familiar to anyone who has done battle with a brood of hungry, inexplicably bouncy young ‘uns first thing in the morning. Mrs Large, like many a parent would like just five minutes to herself – space to breathe, space, for just a few moments, to be a person and not a parent.
It should be a dull story. Mum runs a bath, gets in, gets out. That’s the extent of the plot. But it’s not. In Murphy’s hands the chaos of domesticity is engrossing. It’s impossible not to sympathise with Mrs Large as she seeks respite from her brood. It’s impossible too not sympathise with the children who Just Don’t Get It.
One of the great joys – and there are many – of Five Minutes’ Peace is the relatability. Acutely observed, Five Minutes’ Peace seems to relish in the knowing detail it can deliver despite its brevity: Lester plays Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star three and a half times on his recorder; the little one flings his toys into Mum’s bathwater, unable to comprehend a bathtime that isn’t also playtime.
Moments like this are universally recognisable.
Murphy’s illustrations are thick with detail. Her faces are expressive and warm, her backgrounds homely. They are the kind of illustrations that beg games of I-spy. Each double page spread is set out with a large illustration sitting opposite a page of text. The text page invariably contains a detail illustration that links each full page of art so that the story can be understood without recourse to the words at all, but to do this would be foolish. As wonderful as Murphy’s pastel illustrations are, her words are equally lovely.
In came Laura. “Can I read you a page from my reading book?” she asked.
“No, Laura,” said Mrs Large. “Go on, all of you, off downstairs.”
“You let Lester play his tune,” said, Laura. “I heard. You like him better than me It’s not fair.”
“Oh, don’t be silly Laura,” said Mrs Large. “Go on then. Just one page.”
So Laura read. She read four and half pages of “Little Red Riding Hood”.
Is there a lesson in here? Yes, but not for children. Instead the didacticism of Five Minutes’ Peace is aimed at parents. You will not get your five minutes’ peace.