Monday, 9 January 2012


There's going to be a bit of Shirley Hughes featuring here. She writes beautifully! She draws beautifully! I am in awe of her multi-tasking. I was recently recommending her work to a friend with a two year old son in Singapore. She was moved to invest heavily in a big UK Amazon order but I'm still waiting to hear what she thinks. The thing about all her books is they are so visually, seasonally and culturally rooted in Britain that I'm not sure what happens to them when read in the steam and colour of an equatorial upbringing. Maybe they'll feel pleasingly exotic and other worldly to Ingo, or maybe just  irrelevant; I hope not.

I can think of few other authors who can connect into the consciousness and concerns of a three or four year old better than Shirley Hughes. Her stories are domestic in scope and tone but they have a warmth and reality that appeals to me far more than some anthropomorphised tale of stoats going to space say. They also have a seriousness in considering those childish concerns which makes them feel important to my kids and my kids/any kids themselves therefore get to be important.

One of my favourite of her stories features in 'The Big Alfie Out of Doors storybook' and is called 'Bonting'.
Alfie finds a stone in the garden which feels comforting in his pocket and 'by the end of the day, Alfie had decided that the stone had become a real friend and he called it Bonting.' Alfie's mum tells him that Bonting is thousands and thousands of years old which makes him even more special to Alfie and he is made his own bed from a box and his own hat and scarf and bathing suit from a scrap of left over material.
Then Alfie and his family go to the seaside for the day with Bonting. (One of the ways in which Shirley Hughes is brilliant is that she applies equal weight to describing the preparations and tedious hot car journey to get there as she does the loveliness of the arrival- She understands that children don't differentiate their experiences in the way adults do and there is interest in everything)
The family have a lovely day at the beach...but at packing up time...DISASTER...Bonting is lost. The whole family search and search with proper seriousness. 'there were stones everywhere, hundreds and hundreds of them, but not one was wearing a green and black striped bathing suit.' Eventually they are forced to give up and head home.

'"But we can't leave Bonting behind!" wailed Alfie. "He'll be all lonely on the beach at night!"
Dad put his arm around Alfie and explained that Bonting wouldn't be lonely because he would have so many other stones to keep him company. So he wouldn't mind at all.'

I know you're worrying...but it all ends up okay...Bonting is discovered the next morning at the bottom of  Alfie's little sister Annie Rose's bucket when the seaside treasure of the day before is being sorted through. AND mum promises to make him a new red bathing suit to make him easier to spot on future outings. phew.

There can be few of us that haven't had a 'Bonting moment' when some precious item of our childrens was lost or worse discarded. Eddie decided to bring much of his substantial 'stone museum' back from the beach on holiday this summer and they surround him in bed. (Just as well we weren't flying Ryanair) I am not as good as Alfie's mother though as they still swim and sleep naked...

I apologise for the condition of these photos...(not my strong suit to start with) Our much loved copy of this book met an accident with an open water bottle in the back of the car and despite a long stay in first the oven and then the airing cupboard, never really recovered. I really should buy a new copy!

'The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook' Shirley Hughes, pub.The Bodley Head, isbn 0-370-31516-2

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