You’re never too old for a story book

You’re never too old for a story book

I’ve been reading a lot of children’s books lately. I love the simplicity of the writing and the funny and quirky stories, but mostly I love the illustrations. I am in awe of the work that illustrators do to bring story books to life.

I’m currently enjoying reading Two Bad Teddies by Kilmeny and Deborah Niland, and it struck me that Niland is a very familiar name, but I couldn’t think why.

I thought they might be related to Carmel Niland, former Director-General of the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Community Services, former President of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, and founding co-ordinator of the NSW Women’s Co-ordination Unit, but it turns out that Kilmeny and Deborah are (or were) the twin daughters of Ruth Park (author of Poor Man’s Orange) and D’Arcy Niland (author of The Shiralee, a very famous Australian book about a shearer and his four-year-old daughter). What a pedigree!

Sadly, Kilmeny passed away in 2009, shortly after Two Bad Teddies was published. She was a prolific illustrator and artist and published over thirty books. She also painted a portrait of her mother, which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. You can see it here.

Two Bad Teddies features Tilly and Gruff, a pair of naughty teddies who are jealous of a new soft toy named Bendy Bill. You can just see the displeasure on their faces as their new rival steals away the affections of Mollie-Sue.

Two teddy bears looking grumpy

Like most picture books, the story has a happy ending which I won’t spoil here. I like to read children’s books when I’m feeling down because they make me feel everything will be alright, even if things aren’t great at the moment. They’re a way to escape from reality that doesn’t involve over-eating or drinking too much wine.

So if your life is going a bit pear-shaped, I strongly recommend that you visit your local library or bookshop, and pick up some new books or some old favourites.

In the meantime, look after yourself!

I want to be like Ramona Quimby

I want to be like Ramona Quimby

I love children’s books, so I was sad to see the passing of the children’s author Beverly Cleary (aged 104) on March 26, 2021. She was one of America’s most successful writers, selling over 91 million books during her lifetime. Her books have been translated into 12 languages and are loved by readers all over the world.

If you aren’t familiar with her work, Cleary was the author of the Ramona books (amongst others), a series of eight humorous children’s novels that center on Ramona Quimby, her family and friends. Her first book, Beezus and Ramona, appeared in 1955 and the final book, Ramona’s World, was published in 1999.

Cleary described Ramona as a feisty girl with no desire to conform, even when pressured by those around her. In Ramona the Pest, when her sister Beezus (real name Beatrice) asks her to stop being a pest, she says…

“I’m not acting like a pest. I’m singing and skipping,” said Ramona, who had only recently learned to skip with both feet. No matter what others said, she never thought she was a pest. The people who called her a pest were always bigger and so they could be unfair.

Ramona went on with her singing and skipping.

From Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary

Cleary (whose maiden name was Beverly Bunn), was born in Oregon, the daughter of a farmer and a school-teacher. She trained as a librarian, but didn’t start writing until she was in her thirties. She kept writing well into her eighties (there’s hope for me yet). Cleary said that children kept coming into the library asking for books about ‘children like them’ and there weren’t any, so she decided to write them herself. As a child she was a slow reader and was often sick and absent from school. This seems to be a common theme for a lot of writers. Long periods of time confined to bed must cultivate the imagination!

It’s not possible to calculate the effect that books have on people, but I think that children’s books in particular can really influence how we see ourselves in the world. It’s good to read about characters who look and feel the way you do, especially if you feel like you don’t really feel you fit in. I think this is the reason that I love Ramona. She’s both vulnerable and brave.

Here’s a lovely tribute from journalist Scaachi Koul, born some 20 years after the first Ramona book was published, talking about how the Ramona books affected her life.

Have you read any of her books? Do you have a favourite character?