Easter Sunday Snapshot

Six book coversThere is plenty of variety in this snapshot of my reading over the past seven days.  I mentioned Minnow on the Say in an earlier blog.  It is a gentle mystery adventure story written in the 1950s, when it was not uncommon for children to be off exploring the countryside on their own at eleven years of age.  Although many of the problems of the modern era were featured (dementia, death, poverty, greed) I felt very comfortable when reading about them.  I can’t decide if this is because I was reading as a grown-up, because of the way it is written or if it’s something to do with the setting.  As someone who grew up with Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransome, Monica Edwards, Noel Streatfield and the Pullein-Thompson sisters, it felt like coming home to read this story.

The Fastest Boy in the World, The Butterfly Club, and Flora & Ulysses all had something in common – they were illustrated to varying degrees.  Flora & Ulysses was subtitled ‘The Illuminated Adventures’ and had as many pictures as it did words.  I do love to see pictures in children’s story books, even if they are just occasional pen sketches.  My childhood memories include many books where there were a large number of pen and ink drawings, especially at the beginning of a chapter, with half a dozen coloured plates inserted at strategic points.  The coloured pages were on a different sort of paper to the rest of the book so they were easy to find.  I would often flick through to those glowing illustrations before I started to read the story and try to work out what might be going to happen.

The illustrations for Revolver were all in my head, but no less vivid.  I listened to the story on spoken word CD and as the voice told the story my mind drew scenes in monochrome.  They were pencil sketches and watercolour washes, overlaid with occasional shocking flashes of colour.  At times it reminded me of the black and white westerns I watched with my family on Sunday afternoon television when I was young.

For Animal Farm, the illustrations came on two different channels.  Last Saturday I went to the Progress Theatre in Reading and saw the story performed by some very enthusiastic young people.  Their use of Lego in the production design was innovative.  The moving parts of the set, including the windmill, were all Lego and the human characters wore yellow Lego masks, complete with the stud on the top of their heads.  The animals were in rustic settings and wore masks that showed much more of their own features than the human masks.  I’d decided not to re-read the book until after I saw the performance so you might expect that the images in my head as I read were reflections of the stage performance.  Instead, I saw black sketches on cream paper, much like those in the stories of my youth.

Why EVERYONE should have a pair of welly boots.

Dog and wellie boot in puddle It’s definitely been wellie boot weather just recently. There’s something very satisfying about splashing through puddles, feet safely encased in their rubber shields.

Scout loves puddles, too. She sticks her snout into them, up to the eyebrows for preference, and roots out interesting things from the bottom. They get unceremoniously dragged to the surface and killed, terrier style, by a jolly good shaking.  If I kick at something floating on the surface or flick water at her she pounces and bounces, yipping and growling with happy excitement.  I feel sorry for the children being walked through the park by adults who carefully steer them around the puddles.  What fun they are missing!

Book coverI’ve been thinking about the story I’m going to write for my dissertation and reading other people’s stories on similar themes. As part of my story takes place on a river, I read Minnow on the Say by Philippa Pearce.  It was written in 1955 – 4 years before I was born – and feels like a different world.  Eleven year old children earning money from a paper round; travelling the countryside by bicycle and canoe without adult supervision, but not until after they’ve finished their household chores.  Taking packed lunches wrapped in sheets of paper and bringing home treasures in their handkerchiefs.

I’m not saying that was necessarily a better way of life, but sometimes I feel like modern children are missing something special.  I understand that parents feel protective, but are the pictures on television as thrilling as those we see for ourselves?  Can finding out about flora and fauna on the internet ever compare to finding a bird’s nest or watching a newt slip into a pond at first hand?  What about climbing trees, padding in streams, building dens. They miss so much … and then I saw this.

Temporary shelter made from roughly assembled sticksAfter the dogs had finished investigating the den, we left the park and headed home.  I had a huge grin on my face.  For all those parents steering their offspring around the ‘dangerous, dirty’ puddles, there are still children who are out exploring and creating their own adventures.  Am I foolish to find hope in this this small thing?