I have to admit, I’m pretty choosy when it comes to children’s picture books. Both the text and the pictures have to feel right. I don’t willinglyI have to admit, I’m pretty choosy when it comes to children’s picture books. Both the text and the pictures have to feel right. I don’t willingly accept the formulaic or the mundane; if I am not satisfied with such books myself, why should I expect that a child will be?
So even though the shop had a “two for the price of one” offer on picture books, there I was, queueing at the till with my sole purchase … only to find that Chris had nonchalantly slipped another book on the counter, saying, “That one’s for me!”
Well OK … it wasn’t his usual reading fare, but who am I to query his selection?
Later that evening, I heard him chortling over some book and looked up, only to discover it was this one: Dr Xargle’s Book of Earthlets, subtitled An alien’s view of earth babies.
The author, Jeanne Willis, has evidently taken time out from her interplanetary space hops, and spared a thought for the tiny tots back at home, who know nothing of how they are viewed by your average bug-eyed monster.
She has painstakingly reproduced a sort of traditional lesson, with a teacher (of nonspecific gender) at the front of the class, all four eyes carefully pointing forwards to the pupils, and two tentacles held aloft, bearing a pointing stick aimed towards the stars:
“Good morning class. Today we are going to learn about Earthlets.”
A pudgy, thumb-sucking, red-faced, human moppet is pictured above the heavens.
The goofy green alien faces the class, now revealing five eyes, not four, and explaining:
“They come in four colours. Pink, brown, black or yellow … but not green”. (We forgive the oversimplification here. This is a textbook, and has of necessity to be simplified.)
The description continues, about the human young’s: “two short tentacles with pheelers on the end and two long tentacles called leggies”. The Earthlet burbles happily.
A page-turn reveals the Earthlet happily using its tentacles to hang on to the tails of two cats, who for some reason seem extremely keen to get away …
“They have square claws which they use to frighten off wild beasts known as Tibbles and Marmaduke.”
Opposite this is a picture of a nappy-clad, red-nosed Earthlet, out in the snow pushing a pram, with said wild-eyed beastie inside, and a statement about the inadequacy of the “fur on their heads”.
Turning the page, we see that Earthlets:
“must be wrapped in the hairdo of a sheep”. This is clearly true as we see the Earthlet peeping out from a voluminous mound of hairy garments, and opposite:
“Very old Earthlings (or “Grannies”) unravel the sheep and with two pointed sticks they make Earthlet wrappers in blue and white and pink.”
The teacher helpfully goes on to explain about the restricted diet Earthlets must have, which they take in through a “hole in the face”, and how they must then be “patted and squeezed to stop them exploding.”
“When they grow a fang”, of course the eating ritual has changed, and the teacher carefully describes the “prong” used to “mangle” the egg of a hen, followed by a rather messy event involving the “eggmangle and a small spade”, being placed in the Earthlet’s mouth, nose and ears. The Earthlet gets into other messy adventures during the day, but before that:
“To stop them leaking, Earthlets must be pulled up by the back tentacles and folded in half. Then they must be wrapped quickly in a fluffy triangle, or sealed with paper and glue.”
Bathtime is described in similar hilarious fashion, before a description of the Earthlets’ instantly recognisable fierce cry: “WAAAAA”, which can only be prevented by the Earthling daddy picking them up and flinging them into the atmosphere, or by the Earthling mummy “pulling their pheelers one by one” and talking about a little piggy going to market. At the end of the day the Earthlet becomes sleepy and goes to a place called “beddybyes”, and we meet the Earthlet’s toys.
At the end of “today’s lesson”, we see the teacher departing, amid a flurry of soft green heads and the odd tentacle.
But we are to meet the diminutive aliens again, as this teacher is not just a chalk and talk specimen, but one who employs dynamic progressive methods of inculcating knowledge in their charges by direct experience. Provided the alien youngsters are very good and quiet, they are promised a field trip (view spoiler)[ to Planet Earth, to see some real Earthlets. They all don their cunning disguises: the boys in identical school uniforms, with coverings for their feet and hands, and identical smug expressions on their faces; the girls minus school caps, but each with their hair styled in two neat plaits.
I’m not altogether sure how well camouflaged they would be in the rough and tumble of a state school playground, but in my opinion they they could certainly pass muster in the rank and file of a privileged private school. (Also, I must confess that I am not sure of today’s lesson here. Beware of private school children, as they may be aliens, perhaps? (hide spoiler)]
“The spaceship leaves in five minutes.”
I am exceedingly pleased that Jeanne Willis had the inspiration to translate this useful textbook for alien children into human (she is credited as the translator on the cover) and also that she was accompanied by the brilliant illustrator Tony Ross on her interplanetary travels. Tony Ross is a popular cartoonist and graphic designer, who is most famous for his illustrations to the “Horrid Henry” series of books, and also those by David Walliams. Imagine line and bright gouache works, with adults pictured in the style of Quentin Blake (famous for his illustrations to Roald Dahl book), plus pudgy wide-eyed babies and hilarious bug-eyed monsters, all his own.
It is a perfect duo, producing a superb picture book, suitable for the very young, (although many older Earthlings would doubtless enjoy the humour too). When it was first published in 1988, it was voted by “The Observer” newspaper as: The book children of all ages found the most amusing of the year.”
I doubt whether anything has changed there. Now to persuade my other half that my four year old cousin has more need of this than he has …...more
For some reason, (perhaps since it is extremely short, and I noted the author) I assumed Annie’s Day would be a sort of prequel to “The Martian”. YouFor some reason, (perhaps since it is extremely short, and I noted the author) I assumed Annie’s Day would be a sort of prequel to “The Martian”. You know the sort of thing … a taster, so that people can see if they like the writing, and then go on to read the entire book.
Well it isn’t. It isn’t remotely like it! I spent most of the five minutes it takes to read this story feeling judgmental and slightly disgusted. (Not to mention rather bored at the huge set of characters for such a flat, thinly written and flimsy piece.)
The ending rescued the story up to a point. It was clever. Very clever. But surely there should be more to a short story than the twist at the end? I feel I’m being generous here, rating this at two stars. If I’d guessed the ending, I may well have felt irritated enough to remove the second one....more
Pookie at the Seaside is part of the Pookie series of books about a little white rabbit with wings, to share with very young children. It is a lovelyPookie at the Seaside is part of the Pookie series of books about a little white rabbit with wings, to share with very young children. It is a lovely book, enhanced greatly by the watercolour illustrations which the author herself, Ivy L. Wallace, painted. This is from inside the back and front covers:
Pookie lived in the woods with his mistress Belinda, a woodcutter’s daughter, and had many friends among the woodland creatures, as well as the elves and goblins. But one day he was puzzled to find that everyone was rather cross, and nobody had any time for him What’s more, they were quarrelling with each other, which was very unusual. They said they were doing something called “spring-cleaning”. Pookie decided to go and consult Wise Elf.
Sure enough Wise Elf smiled with pleasure to see his little friend, and invited Pookie in for some tea.
“‘Oh Wise Elf how lovely it is to find you just the same as you always are’, cried Pookie gratefully. ‘Everyone else is so cross-patchy and tired with their horrid old spring cleaning!’”
‘I know! I know!’ Wise Elf nodded his green cap sadly. ‘They are all too busy to see the bluebells at their loveliest! Too busy to listen for the cuckoo’s first call! Too busy to watch the larch trees turning pale green in a morning! What a pity it all is!’“
As the two friends shared their tea and tasty biscuits, Wise Elf explained that the sunshine had lit up all the dirty corners and cobwebs, so the woodland folk thought they must clean everything thoroughly, and: “do their Spring cleaning”. But he had wisely done it at another time, and washed his clothes when there was enough wind to dry them.
Pookie saw how sensible this was, and asked how he could make everybody happy again. ’The Woodland folk need a holiday, that’s the cure!’ said Wise Elf.
He told Pookie how to discover where the seaside was, by flying up and sniffing the breezes until he could smell the sea. Excitedly, Pookie found he could do this, and flew away over Far-Away hill to make sure. At last he saw the sea. It was so big! Nobody from the woods had ever been to the seaside, so did not know what to expect.
“He flew down on to a rock and stared and stared. In the bright sunshine the blue sea glimmered with silver and gold. The sands were golden, too, and the sky above was as blue as Bluebell Glade. Seagulls called to the little rabbit, ‘Welcome! Welcome!’ as they wheeled and whirled through the air on their strong white wings.”
When Pookie got home again, he called a meeting of all the woodland folk:
Once they learned Pookie was going to take them on a holiday, everyone wanted to go. Wise Elf said they were in for a heatwave, so they rushed off and set about packing
Several funny episodes happened on their way to the seaside. The owl, who was usually awake at nighttime, fell asleep and had to be carried in a wheelbarrow. And the taller woodland creatures, elves and goblins had to carry the smaller ones such as mice, squirrels, thrushes and robins on a raft along the river. But happily they all got there, and were just as amazed as Pookie to see the bright golden beach and the wide expanse of deep blue sea. Quite a few of them also got very thirsty, as they had not come across sand before and did not know that you should not wash it off your fur or feathers with your tongue.
The picnics they had brought had mostly been eaten on the way, and Pookie was very worried - not to mention a little cross - as he didn’t think he should have to be responsible for everything. However, a feast of food mysteriously appeared for them, and they all settled down to sleep overnight. Then the same happened again. And all their sand castles were lit with tiny lanterns. It must be magic!
What had happened was that the (view spoiler)[ sand elves had been watching them, and they were so grateful at all the sandcastles and so on which the woodland folk had made for them to play in, that they provided the spread. (hide spoiler)]
Another time, a bad storm sprang up out of nowhere, and all the woodland folk got dripping wet and cold, and there was no shelter on the beach. But this time (view spoiler)[ the seagulls came to their rescue. They picked each creature up in their beaks, and took them to the safe warm caves where the sand elves lived. The sand elves looked after them, until they were warm and dry again, and gave them plenty of food too (hide spoiler)].
After the lovely holiday, all the woodland creatures, elves and goblins went home happily. And when he was there, and had made up with Belinda, Pookie himself fell fast asleep in his basket, thinking ‘It’s nice to go away, but much the nicest part of a holiday is coming home again.’
This is a lovely attractive book, which has not really dated, even though it was originally published in 1956, remaining popular and being reprinted many times. Perhaps it does not feel particularly old-fashioned, except for having a folk-tale element, partly because it is an animal fantasy story.
I do remember asking my mum about Spring cleaning, when I was very young, to be told firmly that she never did it: “The house should be reasonably clean anyway”. None of my family were particularly keen on anything other than the basic cleaning, preferring to read, do their hobbies or go out. If a “day out” was on offer, my Mum would definitely be the first to drop everything! And I was made fun of by them all, for always packing my (tiny) suitcase with my favourite toys, months before the annual fortnight at the seaside; I looked forward to it so much. Clearly I learned this lesson well!
Good lessons here, to do with friendship, sharing, working hard but knowing when to enjoy yourself, making the most of simple pleasures, appreciating Nature, and having fun. A great story tiny ones can enjoy, with gentle humour, a touch of magic and beautiful illustrations. What else could one want from such a book?
The Golden Geography : A Child’s Introduction to the World is a huge book! It is probably half as much again as an oversize book. Talk about a coffeeThe Golden Geography : A Child’s Introduction to the World is a huge book! It is probably half as much again as an oversize book. Talk about a coffee table book … well this could substitute for the table itself.
This edition was published in 1953, and I remember the entire family poring over the beautiful illustrations, as it predates the routine inclusion of colour photographs in an encyclopaedic information book. The information is comprehensive, and several editions were produced, presumably to keep this up to date. The sections are as follows:
Contents: Our Earth Telling Directions Land and Water The Continents Islands and Seas Rivers Mountains Climate
The Sunshine Book for Girls is a British children’s annual from 1962, published by “Woman’s Weekly”. It contains the usual mix for annuals at theThe Sunshine Book for Girls is a British children’s annual from 1962, published by “Woman’s Weekly”. It contains the usual mix for annuals at the time: stories, features, puzzles, quizzes, games, and things to make and do. What surprises me now is that it was an annual for children, particularly girls, apparently produced by a women’s magazine, rather than a children’s comic.
The features inside are more accented towards what was deemed appropriate and of interest to girls, so we have ballet:
And Princess Anne, who was the only princess around in Great Britain at the time, (except for her aunt, the very stylish Princess Margaret):
I had a copy of this book as a child, but my mother did not take the magazine. So was it my Grandma, my Auntie Flossie, Auntie Madge or Great Aunt Doris who bought the book for me one Christmas? They all took this magazine, or more probably handed it on to each other. Sadly, I cannot remember.
I do remember the “Woman’s Weekly” magazines of those days though; lots of them piled high on the end of my Grandma’s couch (it was a chaise longue, I now realise). They were all printed in black and white on newspaper, with a slightly better quality paper cover. The banner with the title was always pink, and the rest of the cover was mostly blue. The “Woman’s Weekly” of the late 50s and early 60s was thought of as a knitting paper. It was a weekly magazine full of knitting patterns, and instructions for embroidery projects, with the odd love story thrown in.
And the interest for me was that there was always a quarter of a page just for me, with a strip story for young children about woodland animals. Whoever had the magazine would carefully cut it out for me to read, when the adults were having their (boring) chats. So I’m still none the wiser really, as to how the concession to the tots around the knitting women were given a whole annual, developed from just a few pieces here and there in the magazine.
Apparently the magazine is still going, aged 107 this year! Doubtless it has seen many changes, and its catchphrase now is “the grown-up woman’s guide to modern living”. “Woman’s Weekly” aims to inspire readers to be creative with cookery, home, gardening and craft ideas. It still appears to focus heavily on the home and family, and now includes health advice and hints on how to feel good “at any age” featuring beauty and fashion advice, geared to give women confidence. The love story is still there, but is now called a fiction story, and the magazine includes generally upbeat real-life stories. It also seems to have a fair share of features about so-called “celebrities”.
It is not my cup of tea at all, and seems geared towards reaffirming the idea of a second, subject sex, with its advice on how to become confident through looking good. I’d probably prefer the knitting patterns (though I’m not a knitter). But what do I know?
I did like the children's annual, at the time....more