Thursday, 17 September 2015

What's your favourite children's book? • Jonathan Allen

One of the things that authors get asked on a fairly regular basis, usually while taking questions at school or bookshop visits, is "What's your favourite children's book?". This is a tricky question for a lot of authors and/or illustrators, but I have always had a clear favourite. And the winner is. . . (Cue the traditional 'Great British Bake Off' ten second annoying pause. . .) The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay.

I was bought this book as a child, at the age where I was reading by myself, can't remember what age that was but I'm guessing 7-8 ish. . . Anyway, the copy I got was a paperback re-issue from the 1960's. Those of you anywhere near my age will no doubt remember the dubious quality of children's paperbacks of that era. The cheaper ones anyway. The pages would begin to fall out owing to the glue used in the binding being rubbish. Armada books were a prime culprit, Enid Blyton and Biggles books etc. But I digress. The copy I had suffered the same deterioration as the aforementioned paperbacks, with the addition of the pages going prematurely yellow. But despite this, The Magic Pudding enchanted me.

Now, a bit of history and biography etc. -

"The Magic Pudding is said to have been written to settle an argument: a friend of Lindsay's said that children like to read about fairies, while Lindsay asserted that they would rather read about food and fighting."

A wise man ;-)

And a significant artist of his time. Which was around 1900 onwards. At this point I would be expected to show examples of his work and wax lyrical about his artistic abilities, but as his subject matter was unashamedly and unremittingly erotic in nature, this isn't the place to do that. Google him when the kids are in bed or something.
He was a superb draughtsman. His line work was kind of Beardsley meets Vargas, with Beardsley being the line and Vargas the subject matter. His painting style was looser for the most part and his subject matter exotic in a sort of Theda Bara, Hollywood vamp, faux persian, fantasy style if that makes sense.

He was Australian, and lived in an interesting and scandalous domestic situation somewhere in the outback with several artist's models. See the film 'Sirens' for further information ;-) (and if you like Elle McPherson. . .)

Though his work was almost exclusively About the female form etc, he did do several recruitment posters in World War One. I can share a couple of those.

The bottom one is a good link to his illustrations for The Magic Pudding, featuring, as it does, various indigenous Australian wildlife.

So what's it about? - Briefly, in case any of you are unfortunate enough not to have come across this book and want a quick précis. Though, like most books, what it's about is so much more than the plot and characters doing this and that. . .
The Magic Pudding in the title is just that. A cut-and-come-again pudding that can take several pudding flavours and has the ability to reconstitute itself completely no matter how many slices are consumed. It's name is Albert, it can talk, and has serious attitude. A neatly attired koala, name of Bunyip Bluegum meets Albert and his co-owners Bill Barnacle - a bewhiskered sailor, and Sam Sawnoff - a penguin, on his travels in the bush and joins up with them. There are two rascally puddin' thieves lurking around, continually scheming to purloin the pudding. There is much singing, puddin' thief conflict and general rumbustuousness along the way. . .

There is also, social satire, acute observation and great dialogue. And best of all, wonderful drawings, done in that totally assured style that only someone absolutely at ease with figure drawing can achieve.

I'm going to cheat and paste my review from the Goodeads website, as it sums up what I love about this book, and it would be silly to just rephrase it to pretend I'd only just written it. And I'm lazy.

"I love this book. It was my favourite when I was a kid and it is still my favourite kid's book. I didn't know it was Australian when I was six or whenever it was I first read it, although the animals were all Australian and it was set in Australia. I didn't locate it anywhere geographically. It was book. The rules are different ;-) Books happen in 'Bookspace'. But now, I have to mentally transpose the dialogue into an Aussie accent, which is fun, and gives such bits of dialogue as "I'll take and bounce a gibber off yer crust!" a reason for being so exotic sounding. I find Bunyip Bluegum's restraint and verbose pomposity ( in a nice way ) so English that he has to have an English accent. Sorry. The drawings are superb. The malevolent pudding, the self important windbag of a rooster, the devious Puddin' Thieves, the bandicoot, ( "Take me melon, but spare me life!" ), Great Uncle Wattleberry bounding and plunging, ah. . . a brilliant artist enjoying himself! He dismissed his book as "Just a bit of piffle" which is disingenuous to put it mildly. Sorry mate, but it was the best thing you ever did. You disagree? Well be careful, don't speak too loud or I might just take and bounce a gibber off yer crust."

It is regarded as a classic in Australia, and I assume the rest of the English speaking World at least, though reviewers on Amazon tut-tut at the violence. . . But then they would, wouldn't they?

More recently -

"An animated feature-length film adaption was released in 2000, with John Cleese voicing the title role, Hugo Weaving as Bill, Geoffrey Rush as Bunyip, and Sam Neill as Sam. It deviated heavily from Lindsay's book, was critically derided, and was not a financial success."

I refuse to post a picture of the film poster or of any still from same as it is loathsome and just wrong. Though of course I haven't seen it. . . ;-)

Thanks for indulging me in this hastily written and not entirely picture book related digression.
What's your favourite children's book?


Jonathan Emmett said...

An intriguing post, Jonathan. Although I'd heard of The Magic Pudding, I knew nothing about it or Norman Lindsay. It sounds and looks brilliant. I will have to check it out.

Paeony Lewis said...

Interesting. What an unusual book, Jonathan! I'm intrigued how it's all right in cartoons and films to have the sort of 'Marx Brothers' violence depicted in the images you've shown, but when it appears in books it's perceived differently.
You mentioned ages 7-8 and I suspect Paddington Bear was my favourite then - lovable but always getting into trouble.
If my favourite ancient picture books are of interest then here are a few:

Jon Burgess Design said...

Thanks Paeony,
Paddington was a huge favourite of mine. Peggy Fortnum's drawings are lovely and defined him for me. I have zero desire to see the film, even after hearing people who purport to like the books saying it's great. I saw a clip of the bath incident, which is nothing like the book at all and that totally put me off. Though it's got to be better than the US cartoon version I got on video once for my kids. (complete with gratuitously added American child. . .)
I remember your post about old picture books ;-)

Moira Butterfield said...

Wow! I love the sound of this book! Thank you, Jonathan. I'm going to check it out further. I'm trying to write a novel for this age-group myself, and keep it as crazy as possible. I've even been doing improv classes to get that free thinking going on. This will be some further inspiration. I liked Babar books as a kid but I haven't read them in ages. I remember them being quite weird and occasionally dark, which was perfect. I wonder if I might be disappointed if I read them again though.

Nick Green said...

My all-time favourite picture book is Horton Hears A Who! by Dr Seuss. I only came across it as an adult so I don't know if the young me would have enjoyed it so much, but I think that one's as close to perfection as is possible to get. Every time I read it aloud I have to blink a lot.

Jon Burgess Design said...

Babar! I love how the old character, Cornelius (?) is sort of crinkly round the edges as shorthand for 'old'. I remember the book where Babar defeats the rhinos from when I was very small.

Jon Burgess Design said...

It's funny, Dr Suess wasn't part of my childhood, my Mum didn't like his books for some reason, so I was deprived! I have since caught up, and Green Eggs and Ham is my fave, because it's rigorous simplicity and it's imaginative variations on such a simple idea.

Pippa Goodhart said...

I've been saving reading this until the weekend so that I could read it at leisure. A treat! I do remember the pictures of that book, but don't remember it being either read to me, or me reading it (I was a poor reader so would have been put off by what is clearly wonderful strange dialogue). I'm going around to my mum's to see if I can find it now. Wonderful to learn a bit about its creator and the challenge to write a story about 'food and fighting'. What other alliterative combinations might appeal to children? Bears and bullying? Jellies and juggling? My favourite childhood picture book was The Cow That Fell in the Canal, so another one with a foreign setting, but that was exactly its appeal. Those clogs and windmills and rows of tulips, the cheeses being carried on great slings. And, again, really top rate artistic skill. I must go and look at that one again now too. Thanks, Jonathan.

Jon Burgess Design said...

Thanks Pippa, I hope you manage dig it out. I actually found a larger format Australian version of The Magic P in one of Royston's many charity shops, several years ago. Great quality reproductions of the drawings, which were charcoal originally I think. Amazing the diversity of stuff that turns up in this small town's charity shops. I could write an essay about it ;-)
That talk of clogs and windmills etc makes me think of 'Emil and The Detectives' by Eric Kastner which was a childhood fave. Partly for the dutch boys costume. Caps, clogs and sort of big Tintin trousers. . . Outlandish to me in my clarks sandals and grey school shorts etc ;-)

Taurean Watkins said...

I didn't have the "classic picture book experience" as many writers I know did, but I would've been addicted to the "Lyle the Crocodile" picture books by the late Bernard Waber
if they'd been read to me as a lit. rattling.

I know adaptions of books don't always impress (even when they don't take major departures from source material, as in the case with your favorite book, Jonathan, my condolences), but I have the animated musical special to thank for my discovering Lyle FAR later in life, and now I have and read nearly all the Lyle books, I'm taking my time reading "Lyle at the Office", the last book in the series, knowing it's the last one.

(I was the same way with the last Hermux book, though I didn't know it was the last book, which the author later revealed before taking the hermux site down, and to be fair, the blurb on the jacket didn't say "The thrilling conclusion.")

As a kid, or rather a teen, my favorite book was "A Rat's Tale" by Tor Seidler. It's the first book I ever bought with my own money and of my own conviction, I love how eloquent Seidler's prose is, and it has wonderfully expressive illustrations from the late and great Fred Marcelino. This book was also the spark for writing my forthcoming debut novel, "GABRIEL."

While it's still one of my favorite books (and I enjoyed it's follow-up companion book, "The Revenge of Randal Reese=Rat" FAR more than the harsh review from Publisher's Weekly) it's now tied with "Time Stops For No Mouse" the first book in the Hermux Tantamoq Adventure series by Michael Hoeye.

This book gave me hope during the dark days of drafting/rewriting GABRIEL (before it sold in 2012) that there are still great animal fantasy stories (OUTSIDE the medieval-esques battle tribes and over-the-top sexy paranormal fare) in THIS CENTURY!

Because much of what I'd read and/or was "suggested to me" by beta-readers in their critiques of my work, pre-dates both my birth and even my mother's, and when you're advised to ALWAYS real what's being published NOW (versus decades ago) that doesn't help your morale as an author who didn't live in the previous "Golden Age of Animal Fantasy."

Unlike teen romance, paranormal and/or dystopian fiction, finding middle grate book with non-naturalistic animal characters in this modern world is not easy, and apparently a "Hard Sell" as I'm often told.

On top of that, when the only modern examples (outside picture books or comics, as I'm primarily a novelist) are clan-based warfare in the vein of "Redwall" and "Warriors" and your books aren't in that mold, this is is why I HATE comparing books for marketing purposes....(Sigh, keep it together, Taurean)

Anyway, I loved the Hermux series so much, I made fan trailers for all four books in hopes they'll spread the good word.

While it's a little "long in the tooth" for the purposes of "market study for authors trying to sell their books" as a reader I feel it's timeless, but it's nice to read and love books that exist within my own lifespan, just saying.

To be continued...

Taurean Watkins said...

But to end on a positive note, here are some books I've read recently that I highly recommend-

"Jacob's New Dress" by Sarah and Ian Hoffman (illus. Chris Case) [See My Review On T.A.A.]
Love this book and it's non-preachy message, whether or not you (or someone you know) is like Jacob, for anyone's who buck trends and doea their own thing, this book celebrates you.
(Here a video I made celebrating it's 1st anniversary, not traditional book trailer, BTW)

"The Blues of Flats Brown" by the late Walter Dean Myers (illus. Nina Laden) [See My Review On T.A.A.]
A GREAT book for older readers and touches on animal abuse in a real way without traumatizing younger kids.

"Bad Dog" by Nina Laden (See My Review On T.A.A.)
Out of print, but worth hunting for and seeing if your library network has a copy.

"Ballerino Nate" by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (illus. R.W. Alley) [See My Review On T.A.A.]
Also out of print, but WORTH hunting down, ESP. if you've got ballet boys in your life!
(Made a fan trailer for this book)

"Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam" by Tracey Corderoy
(illus. Steven Lenton) [See My Review On T.A.A.]
Wonderfully charming, it's like an avant garde short film in book form, love the use of shadow and light.
(Check Out My Fan Trailer)

"Hector Fox and the Giant Quest" by Astrid Sheckels
Beatrix Potter for the "Modern Age" and it's just as awesome as it sounds. First in a series, I hope they announce book 2 soon!
(Check out the OFFICIAL Trailer, not made me, LOL)

Take care,
Taurean W.

Taurean Watkins said...

PS: Made an error, here's the fan trailer I made for "Ballerino Nate"

(Accidentally linked the Flats Brown trailer to Nate Blogger doesn't make this easy...)