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What a great category! I’ve just read Torr and Schmutzie’ s ops, and it set me thinking about the books I loved as a child.
I was a voracious reader as a kid - note the past tense, it seems as though I only read when I’m on holiday these days! My gran used to take me to the library twice a week. I was a member of both Gloucestershire and Avon libraries and we’d often take trips to other libraries in the area to peruse their shelves when we were done with the books in our small local library. Thornbury library was a particular favourite – it has its own separate room for all the children’s books, and it was HUGE as far as I was concerned!
We weren’t well off, but I did have an impressive number of books all the same, the best of which are now stored in my parents’ loft until our house is a bit more sorted. So forgive me if I make mistakes – I’ve had to write all this from memory! Anyway, enough of the preamble, let’s bring on the players…
The old woman who swallowed a fly.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with this classic:
“There was an old woman who swallowed a fly. I don’t know why she swallowed a fly. Perhaps she’ll die.”
The woman then goes on to eat a spider, which wriggles and wriggles and jiggles inside her. She swallows the spider to catch the fly. And so the tragic stage is set. She swallows a bird to catch the spider, a cat to catch the bird, a dog to catch the cat, a pig, a goat, a cow, a horse. She dies, of course.
I loved this book. It was a big square thing, paperback, and although it was thin, it stood proudly on my shelf, easily identifiable amongst its peers, jutting out above and around them. The best thing about it, apart from the story, was the illustration. The text was on the left hand page, and the right hand page was devoted entirely to the picture of the old woman. As the story progressed, she would be there with all these animals inside one another, inside her, like a cross-section of a Russian matroushka doll. Fab.
The story itself was more of a litany than a story really. For each successive “meal”, it recounts all the previous animals eaten, ending with “I don’t know why she swallowed a fly. Perhaps she’ll die.” every time (except at the end). I can still go through the whole thing. Who knows if it’s still printed, but I wouldn’t hesitate to give it to a small child as a gift, I loved it.
As for the old lady? Well, she had a twisted sense of logic, but she is definitely a favourite character of mine. Did I question how she could eat a cow or a horse whole? Yes, of course I did, but I was prepared to ignore the practicalities of that and I still am!
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone else who has ever read these books. Jupiter Jones was the central character in the “Three Investigators” series written by Alfred Hitchcock. I’ve no idea where mine came from; they were certainly a lot older than me, so perhaps they were a hand-me-down from my uncle.
Basically Jupiter was the smart but fat leader of the Three Investigators; a trio of boys, I forget the names of the other two, who would solve crimes in a fairly Nancy Drewish way (but they were so much better than her). Their nerve centre was an old caravan amongst the piles of rubbish in Jupiter’s aunt and uncle’s junkyard. There were all manner of secret entrances and exits into the caravan the boys had built, and they would go there to ponder about and solve their mysteries. Jupiter did most of the solving, but if there was any running away from people to be done, he would be the one who got caught, being slower than the other two. I always sympathised with that!
For anyone who is unfamiliar, Miffy is a little rabbit, featuring in simple stories with simple illustrations (similar to “hello kitty” which I think Miffy probably pre-dates, but I could be wrong). Dick Bruna’s illustrations were prevalent in the 80’s and I think I remember my pre-school having a Dick Bruna alphabet frieze around the top of the classroom. My parents even made some screen printed Miffy posters for me!
I loved Miffy with her enigmatic little cross for a mouth and cute little flowery dresses. She was an adventurous little bunny, and was all up for flying in her uncle’s plane and similar activities. There seems to have been a little Miffy revival recently, with toys and birthday cards popping up here and there, so hurrah! A great character for small kids, in stories they can read for themselves.
Edmund (from the Narnia stories)
Another favourite series of mine, read and re-read almost to destruction, and in fact, The Magician’s Nephew was the first “proper book” (novel length, no pictures) I read by myself. Not the best book of the series, perhaps, but I was hooked. Edmund first appears in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and he is essentially a flawed character. He is fallible, unlike his almost-perfect brother and sisters, and falls under the attentions of the evil witch-queen with her sweet drinks and Turkish delight. He isn’t a particularly likable character. He is greedy, selfish, jealous and whiny, but his flaws add dimension to his character the others lack, and he provides interest for the story. And, of course, he comes good in the end.
The Borrowers was another series of books I was very fond of. Arrietty is a “Borrower”, a person just couple of inches high, named because they “borrow” things from the humans they live with, in order to survive. She lives with her parents, Pod and Homily, behind the grandfather clock in a large, old house.
The house used to support many borrowing families, but as the house fell into decline, the other families left, and so it is just the Clocks who live there now; Pod still going out at night “borrowing” in order to support his family.
Arrietty is a bit of a tomboy, curious and eager to learn her father’s profession, but she is “seen” by the boy who is staying in the house, which leads to all sorts of repercussions. She trusts the boy, and her trust is not unfounded, or betrayed, but they end up having to escape the house (and on to further adventures in “The Borrowers Afield” “The Borrowers Aloft” and “The Borrowers Afloat”). This has been turned into films and TV programmes several times, but I’ve never been able to stand them, they’ve always been such poor adaptations of the book.
Danny Champion of the World’s Dad.
Yup, Roald Dahl had to be here somewhere, and I would have liked to choose three other of his characters too, but I am sticking with Danny’s dad. My three runners-up are Willy Wonka, the BFG, and the grandmother in The Witches, but they all get much more limelight and I always liked Danny Champion of the World. Danny’s dad was a great character. Single parent, poacher, and mastermind of the greatest plan to catch pheasants ever conceived…
“Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers, won’t drown.”
Leader of the Amazons in “Swallows and Amazons”, another hand-me-down book I adored (and got all its sequels out from the library many times). Ruth had to change her name to Nancy on her uncle’s insistence that the Amazons were “ruthless”, and there you have the essence of her character. She was the instigator of the best plots, including attacking her uncle’s houseboat and making him walk the plank!
Yes, I am a sap, and another rabbit makes the list. I adore “The Rabbits Wedding”, and black rabbit was so cute. He keeps looking sad because he’s worried he and white rabbit won’t be together forever, and they have this fantastic wedding with daisy-chain decorations. Not a particularly famous book, but a personal favourite all the same.
Someone from the Harry Potter books had to make this list. Although I am undeniably too old to have read them as a child, they are captivating to adults and children alike and I can’t wait for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” to come out. There are many good characters, but Hagrid is supreme; a kindly half-giant with a mild obsession for unique and dangerous animals, and an inability to keep his mouth shut. Robbie Coltrane does a great job in the films, too.
“Good morning. If it *is* a good morning, which I doubt.”
Well, Torr chose Wol. I choose Eeyore, although it was a hard decision; Pooh’s poetry and curious logic nearly swung it. Some books are written to be read aloud, and Winnie the Pooh is most certainly one of them. My mum used to read this to me and my dad (doing all the voices) and I passed this tradition on to children I babysat for – I never used to go babysitting without a copy of WTP or The House at Pooh Corner – it’s shocking how some households have so few books, and kids are usually eager for new stories (especially ones with voices)!
Anyway, Eeyore and his droll, melancholy wit always had the best voice, and always had the best lines. He was the Jack Dee of the Hundred Acre Wood. And who else would be delighted with a burst balloon and an empty pot to put it in for his birthday? Only Eeyore. Oh, and the comedy of the missing tail which ended up as a bell-pull! The hurt, the guilt, the misery of Eeyore’s gloomy place (rather boggy and sad), and the fact that he liked eating thistles of all things, add up to a classic character like no other.
So there’s my top ten. Undoubtedly I have forgotten a few I shouldn’t have, but on this sunny day, I don’t care. If the omission is that fundamental, I can always come back and make amendments!