First Published in 2007 by Macmillan Children’s Books, ‘Wendel’s Workshop’, is both written and illustrated by Children’s Laureate (2015-17) Chris Riddell, making the Booktrust Early Years Award shortlist.
Riddell is a talented illustrator and writer winning numerous awards throughout his career. He was born in 1962 in Cape Town, South Africa, but his family moved to England when he was only one. Apparently, he was encouraged to draw by his mother to keep him quiet during his father’s sermons (his father was an Anglican Vicar).The book is dedicated ‘For my father’. His work includes political cartoons for the Observer newspaper.
Riddell is well known for the ‘Ottoline’ and ‘Edge Chronicles’ series.
I have been reading ‘Wendel’s Workshop’ to my son since he was three years old (he is now 8 as I write in January 2018). The target age group for the book is probably the same.
As with so many children’s picture books, the star is a talking animal, in this case, a mouse named Wendel. Wendel is a prolific, workaholic, inventor and his feverish creativity is like that of a manic depressive. Wendel is pictured creating a toaster that burns toast and a self-pouring tea-pot. The toaster is sent down a chute that leads to a rubbish dump. At the end of the book Wendel changes his ways and mends and adjusts things rather than throwing them away. Is this a process that the author himself can relate to?
Wendel’s workshop becomes very untidy due to his round-the-clock inventing and he decides to create a robot (the Wendelbot) to clear up for him. The robot malfunctions and begins to destroy everything, reducing teacups to a tidy pile of powder and shredding umbrellas in his dedication to the cause of tidiness. The theme of intelligent technology becoming threatening to its creators comes to mind but that may be taking the analysis of a children’s book too far. However, it is quite obvious that the author references the clichéd image of ‘Hamlet’ picking up the skull of Yorick at one point. I’m not sure how many children would get that one.
Wendel’s first robot was named Clunk and rejected for getting everything wrong. When Wendel is thrown down the chute by the Wendelbot Clunk encourages him to create an army of robots from pieces of scrap. The army then challenges the Wendelbot which has become more and more unhinged and intent on tidying the world.
When the robots are too quick for the Wendelbot its head explodes with an enormous bang. Wendel is pictured in his garden in his dressing gown being poured a cup of tea by Clunk into a boot beside him, having made use of the Wendelbot’s body to grow plants and flowers in.
My son memorised the entire book because he loved it so much. In fact, I memorised most of it because of having to read it so many times. He particularly enjoyed the moment the Wendelbot’s head explodes and insisted on taking over from me, shouting the word ‘bang’ at the top of his voice. He also enjoyed discussing the robots in the pictures and picking his favourite one, insisting that I do the same.
The moment the Wendelbot opens the door and Wendel and his army confront him is described using just the words ‘”Good morning,” said Wendel’. The words are written on a picture of the new robots spread over two pages which we copied it and hung in a frame in my son’s bedroom. I became quite sentimental about this image and the book because of the times that I shared with him reading it as he grew from being a toddler to a small boy. Hanging on the wall the picture is a piece of nostalgia. I would have loved a signed print!
Chris Riddell did a magnificent job with both the words and the illustrations and I heartily recommend the book if you can get hold of a copy. We will be keeping ours.