Is there a single celebrity who hasn’t written a children’s book? Madonna alone has published a dozen. Unwholesome curmudgeons, venal narcissists, the 1% – the Queen of Jordan is in on the act – all believe they are entitled to cobble together a mothwing of a plot whose holes are magically filled in by fairy dust. Moral high-ground natives such as Keith Richards and smiley, personable types like Bob Dylan have picture books on shelves.
Paul McCartney got in early – Hey Grandude! is not the former Beatle’s first foray into young minds. A decade ago, alongside Philip Ardagh and Geoff Dunbar, he put out High in the Clouds. Although the title may have suggested a lysergic post-Dr Seuss romp, High… was an environmental parable starring Wirral the Squirrel. A film has recently been green-lit after a decade languishing in pre-production. Although Ardagh must have had some input, the book’s plucky orphaned protagonist and its anti-consumerist tilt felt very McCartney.
Hey Grandude! is aimed at a younger audience. Grandude’s hippy ponytail and purple jacket suggest an interesting youth. Whipping out some postcards of distant climes to entertain four bored grandchildren (“chillers”) on a rainy day, he neglects to explain that they are like Instagram posts that were once inexplicably sent to your house on a piece of paper. The small people “ooh”. Grandude whips out his magic compass (pace, Pullman) without explaining what this obscure shiny thing might be. All are swept off to the sandy beach in the picture. Fun times riding flying fish ensue, until a crab interrupts the carefree idyll with a toe-pinch.
Even though the title rhymes with “hey Jude”, and Grandude does pull out a guitar and serenade his charges, you struggle to detect the imprimatur of one of the 20th-century’s creative greats here, or in the subsequent vignettes: the wild west, an alpine meadow.
The best picture books do preposterous things with language and graphics. Canadian illustrator Kathryn Durst tries her best with this limited fare, but it’s a pretty vanilla visual offering. The famous seem to miss the fact that intelligence is not wasted on the young: the con trick that Julia Donaldson’s mouse plays on the Gruffalo is phenomenally sophisticated.
Hey Grandude! might be endearing in its mizzly Englishness, but there is an all-round risk-averseness here that’s puzzling. The book concludes with everyone safely tucked up in bed – tremendously comforting, aged four or 64. But every gleeful scenario ends badly, with Grandude and the chillers fleeing when some avalanche or stampede invariably kiboshes the thrills. Why didn’t an editor ask McCartney to take this sad song and make it better?
• Hey Grandude! by Paul McCartney and Kathryn Durst is published by Puffin (£12.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99