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Amelia Jane is a doll who lives in the nursery with the other toys - golliwog, clockwork mouse, teddy bear, pink rabbit and clown, amongst others. They come alive when their children and other household members have gone to bed. However, they do not always live in harmony, simply because Amelia Jane is just so naughty! She likes nothing better than to make mischief, snipping pink rabbit's tail off, playing with matches, splashing water everywhere, dressing the kitten up and sticking pins in the other toys. Can the other toys get her under control or will she go too far one day and end up in serious trouble?
As a child, a key part of my book collection was made up of Enid Blyton books, and the Amelia Jane series was one of my favourites. Unfortunately, my collection has been lost over the years, so I was delighted to pick up a copy at a book sale - to read to my friend's daughter of course! can't remember quite how old I was when I started enjoying these books, but would suggest that they are ideal for children of four years old upwards. They are perhaps most likely to appeal to little girls, just because the main character is a girl, but really, there is nothing to prevent them being appealing to little boys as well.
It is really quite hard to like Amelia Jane. She is incredibly mischievous and, most of the time, thinks that she can do what she likes - even to the extent of harming other toys. Of course, the idea is to teach young readers that this behaviour is completely unacceptable - but in a way, the mere suggestion of such behaviour is perhaps not ideal. Then there is the fact that the reason given for her behaviour is that she is a home-made doll - shop-bought dolls are apparently much better behaved because they have been taught better. I don't particularly like the idea that home-made is bad, it is certainly very different from today's ideas. Then again, small children won't understand this and an explanation on the part of a parent that the book was written in a different time will almost certainly suffice in case of questions.
One of the more common criticisms of this book (and other Enid Blyton books) is the inclusion of a 'golliwog'. It is considered so un-PC these days that the golliwog, who is Amelia Jane's nemesis, has been written out in more recent re-prints and has been replaced by Tom the soldier. My version still has the golliwog and I don't have a problem with it - I think it is easy to explain to children that society was once very different and that golliwogs aren't usually written into today's books. In any case, I didn't associate a golliwog with anything but a toy when I was growing up. However, if you want to be PC, or are offended by the suggestion of a golliwog, then make sure you are buying the right version.
On a more positive note, the writing is very simple and the typeset in my version is large, ideal for young readers. There are occasional words that may need to be explained - the concept of a nursery nurse, for example, the brownies (as in magical creatures, not cookies!) and a soda-water syphon, but because the language is so simple, very little has dated. There are eleven chapters, eleven separate stories about Amelia Jane and her behaviour, and each one is just the right length to read as a bedtime story. There is, perhaps, a lack of illustrations - there are a few, but they are in black and white, which a young child may find boring. However, it is a stepping-stone to a 'proper' book and is easily explained away. And there are enough illustrations to give a child an idea of what all the main characters look like.
Some of Amelia Jane's worst behaviour aside, there are a number of morals that are ideal for young children. The most obvious one is that if you don't treat other people in the right way, you will hurt their feelings, and eventually you will lose their friendship. And if you don't treat them properly, you don't deserve proper treatment in return. There are also a couple of other morals, such as avoiding the use of matches and not teasing helpless creatures. Best of all, at the end of every story, Amelia Jane comes to her senses and realises that she needs to behave better...until the next story of course!
I really enjoyed re-reading this book - it brought back many memories from my childhood and, bearing in mind that the book was first published in 1939, there are probably many other people who will feel the same. However, with all books, parents will want to have a quick look through it before reading to their child (or giving it to them to read) - if there is anything that you think is inappropriate or out-of-date, then you might want to avoid it. I would be happy to read it to any of the young children I know though, golliwog included or not. Recommended.
The book is available from Amazon for £3.47. Re-printed by Egmont Books in 2001, it has 176 pages. ISBN-10: 074974667X
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