In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Guest blogger: Rule Britannia

Dear Aunt Debbie,

It was lovely to see you!  The girls and I haven't stopped reading the books you brought, chief among them the two princess and the pea retellings you blogged about recently.  Good stuff.

Our guest blogger tonight is my cousin-in-law Fabienne, who has written for us before on the books of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.  Fabienne lives in London, and writes tonight's post with a British flair.  Here she is: 

Last weekend we Brits celebrated Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. 60 years in any job is worth some praise, right?

And feeling quite patriotic, as one does at such times, I thought I'd write today's guest post about some British talent. British vintage talent to be exact...

My son Sebastien is two and  a half tomorrow and L-O-V-E-S books. His insatiable appetite together with the dearness of new books has meant that 98% of those I've bought for him have all been from various good will stores in our local community. Averaging about 60p (95¢) a pop means I can pick up 3 or 4 in one go and pay for our loot with loose change from my purse. Sweet. You come across a lot of tat of course, but I have been fortunate enough to come upon some real gems that you may not know of over on your side of the pond.

Is everyone ready? Then I'll begin...

The doyenne of today's bunch is Judith Kerr. Born 1923, Kerr is most famous for writing the much  loved British classic "The Tiger Who Came to Tea" as well as 17 volumes in the "Mog" series.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea
is an enchanting book about Sophie and her mummy who have a tiger over for tea and how he ate everything he could find leaving nothing for their supper, not even a drop of water in the tap. The tale and its illustrations are very much of their era (1960's) and include the old social stereotypes of mummy at home with the children, with dinner ready for when daddy gets home from work. So if you're fiercely feminist, you may object to this one, but to be honest, what with the cost of childcare incessantly soaring a lot of families have had to revert back to this kind of model in the UK. Either way it doesn't bother me and most importantly, it doesn't bother Seb, who loves the cheek of this wild yet very polite beast who invites himself in and helps himself to... well everything, only to leave and never return.

"Sophie's mummy said, "Would you like a sandwich?"
But the Tiger didn't take just one sandwich.
He took all the sandwiches on the plate
and swallowed them in one big mouthful. Owp!

And he still looked hungry,
so Sophie passed him the buns."

Next up is Shirley Hughes [Annie's note: We love Shirley Hughes!  We've written about her books before here, here, here, and here]. Like Kerr she started out as an illustrator, but went on to write and illustrate 50 stories or her own. You're most likely to know of "Dogger" a book that won her many awards and the first to be published abroad. But two of my favourites are "Out and About" and"Let's join in". Not so much stories but a series of anecdotes following Katie and her baby brother Olly. They have a vivid, real quality about them and depict childhood as it is: not manicured, tidy and fairy-tale-like, but scruffy, dirty and most of all funny. All in all her work is very English and evocative of carefree, simpler times.

"A lot of things seem to hide-
the moon behind the clouds...
and the sun behind the trees.
Flowers need to hide in the ground in wintertime.
But they come peeping out again in the spring.
Buster always hides when 
it's time for his bath,
and so does Mum's purse when we're all ready to go out shopping."

And finally the wife and husband team, Janet & Allan Ahlberg. Janet passed away much too early some years ago now following a battle with cancer, but she was the illustrator to Allan's text, making them an amazing prolific partnership. I'm sure "Peepo" and "Each peach pear plum" are as well known and loved in the USA as they are over here in Blighty. But our favourite these days is "Cops and Robbers", a rip-roaring rollicking tale about a band of robbers stealing children's toys on Christmas night and how they were caught by "upstanding Officer Pugh". The rhyming verse is detailed and funny and and as a whole resembles the structure of a song with many verses. In fact, my father does not read this to Seb, but sings it to a simple little tune he made up especially!

"Here are the robbers of London town:
With crowbars and skeleton keys.
They prowl and creep
When you're asleep
And take... whatever they please.

Ho ho for the robbers
The cops and the robbers Ho Ho!"

Many wonderful children's books are written every year, but let us not forget those little gems that will never go out of fashion... Three cheers for Blighty: Hip hip horray!


And love from me, Annie

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