Antonia Barber has had a second home in Mousehole since the 1980’s. There are few things Mousehole’s more famous for in Cornwall than Tom Bawcock’s Eve and so it should come as no surprise that an author residing there for any length of time should hear the tale. Here, Barber reworks the legend as a short story for reading with small children, beautifully illustrated by Nicola Bayley.
In Barber’s version, the story is told from the point of view of Mowzer, Tom’s Cat (or, as the story is told, Tom is Mowzer’s pet human). She opens the book by proclaiming a land between the seas at the end of England – a perception of Cornwall firmly rooted in her second-home owning experience. Such an image is also a powerful one though and fitting for introducing a legend and, indeed, any story to be read aloud: setting a dramatic scene and capturing the audience’s attention from the off. Here, the illustrations form a core part of the book rather than being simply supplementary to the imagery of the text: the book is clearly designed to be read with a child, being wide enough to spread across a lap and every page being illustrated to some degree or another – there is a double-spread without any text, but never the other way around. In fact, the text rarely takes up more than a quarter of the available page space (half of one side).
Mowzer is present throughout the book, even accompanying Tom to sea, where she fights and comforts the storm. Of course, no-one knows how Tom survived the storm (if the legend is true in any way), so why not allow the author some licence for an exciting, magical climax to the story? Beyond that point, the author’s version is pretty faithful to the traditional version. If you know any children around five years old, I’d strongly encourage you to buy this book for them and read it together.