Monday, 6 February 2012

Out and About

Ah nothing like sledging down the hill post school drop off to set you up for a blog post.

We've had our annual day of snow this weekend and I spent a couple of my 28 (actually 26 and a half in the end but I won't quibble) child free hours fighting past everyone else's children to secure a spot with my toboggan on our slightly over crowded London slope. Brilliant- because normally my job would be pulling the boys back up the hill like a carthorse and watching demurely at the top as they hurtle down without me. I then passed our sledge on to our 60+ neighbour who fearlessly launched herself down, scattering the climbers yelling; 'OUTTA MY WAY CHILDREN! MAD GRANDMA IS COMING!'. We may both sneak back there this morning now the kids are safely in school although it's melting fast.

It prompted a rifle through the bookshelf for good seasonal fare, which proved a little disappointing; I think most of our best 'snow' books have come through the library. But. No matter. Because I did lay my hands on another favourite Shirley Hughes book, which is both seasonal and great for the littlest ones. It's been four weeks, that's not too soon to re-review an author as good as her is it?

'Out and About' features Katy and Olly, a brother and sister slightly younger than the perhaps better known Alfie and Annie Rose. It's a trip through the seasons in the form of loosely written poems accompanied by Shirley Hughes' usual, delightful, love-filled illustrations. Particularly fine are the four full double spread pictures for each season, packed with detail for parent and child to explore together.

This was one of Bill's favourite books when he was two and a half or so. I imagine that Katy in the pictures is about three and her baby brother Olly just turned one, so it was aspirational stuff for Bill and then baby Eddie. There's nothing children like more than looking at and reading about children just a tiny bit older than them doing the same sort of stuff as they'd like to and that instinct seems to be there from birth. I liked reading 'Just Seventeen' magazine when I was thirteen; same principle.

The book has a dreamy, thoughtful quality: The poems are written from the point of view of Katie and her appreciation of  and interaction with the natural world around her. At the same time  as being simply written they introduce some nice alliterative vocabulary which reads out loud well:


I like the wind.
The soft, summery, gentle kind,
The gusty, blustery, fierce kind.
ballooning out the curtains,
Blowing things about,
Wild and wilful everywhere.
do like the wind.'

I think one of Shirley Hughes' great skills as an illustrator in this book (other than an intimate understanding of  the body language of very small children) is a perfect capture of seasonal light: The particular quality of  4pm dusk in November or the rolling skies of a briefly sunny June day both timelessly transposed and recognised by child and parent alike. She makes me remember my own childhood in a way no other author manages I think, whilst still remaining relevant to my own children. A shared experience that is the essence of  the best picture books, but very rarely achieved so well.

'Out and About', Shirley Hughes, pub. Walker, isbn 1-84428-473-5

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