If I knew how to do those meme things there would be a picture here of a world-weary chap and the text saying ‘I don’t always act like a completist…but when I do it will involve Alice in Wonderland’. Feel free to do the technical stuff for me – or just imagine the image like I do – but be assured the words would be approximately 99.9% true. I do have a pretty extensive ‘Alice’ collection: different editions of the books (I’m especially interested in how illustrators interpret the story), biographies, critical works, foreign language editions and books written in an ‘Alice’ style. So far I’ve found lots of sci-fi versions, racy short stories and even an explanation of quantum physics – politics was only a matter of time…
Alice in Brexitland is a really good pastiche of Lewis Carroll’s writing style – both in the humour, the political commentary (check out Martin Gardiner’s Annotated Alice if you don’t think Carroll did politics) and in its poetry. Most of today’s best known (if not loved) political figures are featured and the Brexit plot is slotted ingeniously into the original. There are slightly more bottom-based gags than Carroll used but, to be fair, he didn’t have a politician with a name for passing wind to contend with… I’m not usually a fan of topical humour books – I like my funnies to have some staying power – but this one tickled me and has earned its place on my bookshelves for more than just its Alice credentials.
Talking of Alice credentials the beautiful new edition of Alice in Penguin’s new V&A Collector’s Edition is almost perfect. The cover design is based on a William Morris print and has a rather fetching White Rabbit (and Dormouse) illustration by Liz Catchpole. I stroked it for quite a while (humming happily) too, because the cloth cover feels great too, before opening it up to have little read. And that was my only problem – the illustrations available to Penguin are not from the original plates (many of which are still owned by Macmillan, Carroll’s original publisher) so they are a little less crisp and detailed. This is a lovely little book but to make it even better maybe Penguin could let Liz Catchpole do all the illustrations in the text as well as on the cover?
We do like to appoint people as the King or Queen of whatever. In baking Mary Berry is our reigning monarch, Kylie is the Princess of Pop (with Michael Jackson still the prince) and Elvis is, and possibly always will be, the King of Rock and Roll. In books for very young children Julia Donaldson has established herself as a very longstanding ruler. A Squash and Squeeze was published in 1993 and, in 1999, she cemented her place in the heart of every 5 year-old ever since, by creating the Gruffalo. Both of these books, like many of her best beloved stories, were produced in collaboration with illustrator Axel Scheffler but she has also worked with many others. Nick Sharratt, Lydia Monks and David Roberts have worked with Donaldson on a number of titles but The Giant Jumperee is the first book done with the equally wonderful Helen Oxenbury. Oxenbury’s illustrations are adorable whether they are for her own books or for classics like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt or Alice – obviously the latter is a favourite of mine, her Alice is such a wonderfully real child, more of a real likeness than just an illustration.
I think I would recommend the Giant Jumperee to younger children, mainly under fives, because it is rather gentler and more old-fashioned than much of Donaldson’s other work. I adore the Gruffalo but it is possibly a bit too exciting and scary for some toddlers. I’ve learnt, from experience, that it is not an ideal book to read at bedtime (especially not with the voices and everything) as it isn’t particularly soothing. This book has a similar storyline to the Gruffalo – many large animals are scared by the words of a much smaller one – and, to the possible relief of storytellers everywhere, it is a much shorter story. Ever with all the voices and the obligatory six repetitions, you should be able to get away with about a 15 minute bedtime routine with this one.*
*Unless the child involved wants a second story/a glass of water/needs to know where the moon comes from/to hear what that word was that Daddy said when he dropped that cake on the floor/to have a baby brother and/or puppy, now. You know the drill…
These two little books arrived today and I have to say they have been the highlight of my week so far. I had seen them offered by the publisher, the rather splendid V&A Publishing, and I am sure they described the illustrator (and author) Jack Townend as being from the Bradford area. However, I have been Googling him ever since and can find very few details (not even from arty friends who are proper Bradfordians rather than southern incomers like me….) beyond those given in the book blurb. Mind you being elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and tutoring Shirley Hughes are obviously not trifling details!
A Story about Ducks is the tale of some rather adventurous waterfowl who find that the world beyond their river has both pleasures (raspberry buns and roller-coasters) and perils (the threat of being eaten for Christmas dinner). Luckily, spoiler alert, they manage to escape and, I feel, they return home with a much greater appreciation of their peaceful river home. The illustrations are absolutely charming lithographs which manage to convey huge amounts of duckish personality with a minimal amount of detail. The Railway ABC is even lovelier to my mind (possibly because it is pure charm without the threat of wholesale duck slaughter) with a fairly simple rhyming story – ending up at the zoo, of course – and more gorgeous illustrations. The high point of the pictures for me are the Viaduct (which is quite reminiscent of Thornton Viaduct) and the crossing which looks like it could be almost anywhere in the Dales.
Both books are wonderfully old-fashioned – they make Thomas the Tank Engine look quite new-fangled – and should go down well with small children, their parents and grandparents. I shall be passing these on to young Sophie – I think she will enjoy the ducks and her Daddy will appreciate the trains….