cover image Timmy the Tug

Timmy the Tug

Jim Downer, illus. by Ted Hughes, Thames & Hudson, $19.95 (40p) ISBN 978-0-500-51496-2

Downer’s afterword to this story of an underdog tugboat recounts the remarkable story behind this collaboration. In 1950s London, Downer created the book, and poet Hughes, a friend, offered to contribute new verse. It wasn’t until Hughes’s second wife, Carol Hughes, returned the story to Downer in 2008 that Hughes’s verse came to light—ostensibly, his first picture book. Replicated from the original notebook on age-spotted paper, Hughes’s typewriter-printed text appears opposite Downer’s illustrations. Having been replaced by propeller boats, Timmy, whose curvy facial features and swooping belly give him a cetacean appearance, rusts in a harbor. Escaping to the high seas, he encounters vessels that begrudge his gentle tendencies (he frees fish in a net), but Timmy proves his fortitude by rescuing a sailing ship. Downer’s stylized watercolor and ink images have bold geometric patterns with shades of Art Deco, while Hughes’s mannered rhymes aggrandize a sweet and simple storyline: “The hail fell. There was no sun./ Like a hammer the wind beat./ But Timmy sang as he sailed on:/ ‘I’m more than a match for anyone/ Or anything I may meet.’ ” Hughes fans especially will value this rough-hewn gem. All ages. (May)