Six Degrees of Separation: from a Pink Rabbit to a Twenty Two Ton Whale

Books and reading

On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.

Six Degrees of Separation: Kate W

My last book from last month becomes my first this month.  It’s Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, and it was a story everyone in the family at some point read as it could appeal to anyone over the age of nine. It is a largely autobiographical account of the author’s journey during the Second World War, as a nine year old child, from Germany via Switzerland and Paris to London, where the family finally settles in pursuit of safety.

All my books this month link together.  They are books which my children, now in their 40s and 30s enjoyed, which have been saved through the years and been passed down.to be read to their own children.  Some books have reached their 8th custodian.  They’ve done so well because back in the day, I strengthened the covers of those Puffin Paperbacks – the only publisher then dipping its toe into this particular market – with cardboard from cereal packets, and covered them with tacky back.  Despite this care, a few books have disintegrated, and it’s a special pleasure when my now-adult-children scour the shops to come up with a new copy of their childhood favourite.

We’ll have to continue with Judith Kerr.  Is there a child in England who hasn’t enjoyed The Tiger who came to Tea?  A passing tiger drops in on a mother and daughter,  cheerfully eats them out of house and home before thanking them politely and wandering off. And they all – probably – live pretty much happily ever after.  The family’s on Copy Number Three of this book.

My children also enjoyed reading about Kerr’s Mog the Forgetful Cat series.  This daffy but much loved cat gets herself into all kinds of domestic scrapes, but of course it always turns out comfortingly well in the end.

Another animal adventure came with The Elephant and the Bad Baby, by Elfrida Vipont – and wittily illustrated by the just-deceased Raymond Briggs. An elephant meets a bad baby and offers him a ride.  They go ‘rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta down the road’ meeting one helpful person after another.  But do you know what?  The baby ‘never once said please.’ And that has consequences.  Lesson eventually learned, everyone in the story has tea together on the very last page.

My children of course joined in the chorus of the previous book.  And they joined in reciting The Quangle Wangle’s Hat, by Edward Lear, and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, even before they could talk fluently.  This book has been loved to death, and has eventually been replaced.

On the top of the Crumpetty Tree

The Quangle Wangle sat,

But his face you could not see,

On account of his Beaver Hat.

For his Hat was a hundred and two feet wide,

With ribbons and bibbons on every side

And bells, and buttons, and loops, and lace,

So that nobody ever could see the face

Of the Quangle Wangle Quee.

Who couldn’t love nonsense such as this?

Everyone in the family knows every word of Quentin Blake’s Mr. Magnolia, and will recite it still, at the least provocation.

Mr. Magnolia has only one boot

He has an old trumpet that goes rooty toot

And two lovely sisters who play on the flute.

But ..

Mr. Magnolia has only one boot…

It’s not the same though if we can’t at the same time enjoy the joyous abandon of the illustrations.

And as a right proper northern family, we all enjoy reading about Stanley Bagshaw, by Bob Wilson.

In Huddersgate, famed for its tramlines,

Up north, where it’s boring and slow,

Stanley Bagshaw resides with his Grandma,

At Number Four, Prince Albert Row.

Lovable-but-dim Stanley’s adventures are recorded in rhyme in strip cartoon fashion.  Any title tells you how improbable his adventures are:  Stanley and the Twenty Two Ton Whale, anybody?

Two generations enjoy Stanley Bagshaw’s adventures

Most of these titles are still in print, a tribute to their long-standing charm and ability to engage small children – and indeed their parents.

Next month’s starting book is Zoë Heller‘s Notes on a Scandal.

Six degrees of separation in December

Books and reading

It’s Six Degrees of Separation time again, and this month, we all begin with Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I read Daughter Number One’s copy of this thirty years ago, and then twenty years ago read it all over again when it was Daughter Number Two’s turn.  Judy Blume was every tweenage girl’s author of choice.  An issue-led author, talking about puberty, boys, periods, while at the same time telling an involving story – how could this ground-breaking author fail to be popular among young people – and their mothers?

It was so different from the books I enjoyed at roughly the same part of my childhood.  And yet one I remember was also ground-breaking, in a different way.   Eve Garnett’s The Family from One End Street told stories from the happy lives of the Ruggles children.  But this family was exceptional at the time – they were working class!  Their father was a dustman!  Yet this book was first published in 1938, and has rarely been out of print since then.

My children didn’t read about the Ruggles family.  But a book I, and each of them, loved for years was Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories.  Where would long car journeys have been without endless replayings of Johnny Morris reading The Elephant’s Child or How the Rhinoceros got his Skin?

What about more modern books we all shared together?  One that stands out is Quentin Blake’s Mr.  Magnolia. All of us know every word of it, and will still cheerfully chant …

Mr Magnolia has only one boot. 

He has an old trumpet that goes rooty-toot –

And two lovely sisters who play on the flute –

But Mr Magnolia has only one boot.

… at the least provocation, even though it’s maybe nearly thirty years ago that we last curled up in bed together to read it with my younger daughter. Well, it’s the grandchildren’s turn now.

And we depend upon the grandchildren to keep us up with newer children’s books.  Our lives would definitely be the poorer without Kes Gray and Jim Field’s Oi Frog! (and Oi Cat! Oi Dog! and all the rest …) From which we learn that …

Cats sit on mats, hares sit on chairs, mules sit on stools and gophers sit on sofas.

Tiny children, big children and adults alike can all indulge in a bit of silly word play from time to time.

Which leads me back to an old favourite, another one from my own childhood and which my children, and now five year old William is now enjoying in his turn: the Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster.  This adventure leads bored Milo to discover the power of words, and of numbers in the cities of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis as he meets characters such as King Azad the Unabridged, and Tock the Watchdog, while discovering that eating subtraction stew just makes you hungrier, and that while it’s very easy to jump to the island called Conclusions, it’s hard to escape.

And so to my final link, one that encompasses all these books and many more;  Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: a Memoir of Childhood Reading.  She’s younger than me, but she too was a bookish child.  Her reading choices were my reading choices, and this book brings back memories of much loved favourites, some of which I’d forgotten about.  All British bookworms should have this on their Christmas list.