Time has clearly moved on. Himself the Elf is a fully mobile – forwards, backwards, down and up. Especially up – little man-machine, busily Makaton-signing his way through life as he spots pictures of hippos and boats, and can make his more simple
wants known through very basic language (most frequently “more cheese” and “all, ALL” when offered a share of any food). Dulcie has recently reached the lofty age of four and is so terribly superior, it is hard to know what to say sometimes. Things that are now increasingly infra dig: biscuits that someone else has bitten first (fair game until recently, and eaten off the floor too, if not stopped in time); any help whatsoever in toilet matters; suggestions of clothes that can be worn, especially coats or cardigans; being told anything at all, ever, in any circumstances, unless her express permission has been given; and eating any meal without the prompt Hurry up, please and Could you please stop talking for a few minutes and finish your food? at least nine hundred times.
Inevitably, there is a tremendous clash of wills and interests. They clearly love each other but they match this with a seemingly unquenchable ability to annoy the other. Dulcie builds something crazy and unstable that looks like the first draft of an M.C. Eschew drawing out of Duplo, the Himself comes over to investigate, using his fists with all the delicacy and finesse of a Tory politician objecting to same-sex marriage. She is, rightly, enraged by this and – perhaps unjustly – furious at any suggestion that she build something a little more stable that takes into account the laws of gravity, to prevent such a precarious structure being so vulnerable. Thankfully, his taste in books has moved on from the most basic, and we all enjoy the charmingly retro production that is I am a Bunny.
I am a Bunny by Ole Rissom illustrated by Richard Scarry
This, this is a world in which bunnies wear dungarees that Boden would do well to copy. A world in which 1960s rabbits are called Nicholas and are simultaneously large enough to blow a dandelion clock by holding like a toddler would, yet small enough to shelter from the rain under a toadstool. Nicholas might wear clothes and own blankets and have a name, but the other creatures in the book have evolved at a more pedestrian rate than he has managed, and he watches the seasons unfold through their activities. In spring he chases butterflies and in summer he lies back amongst the strawberry plants, under the sun and watches the birds (“Spring might be a bit chilly for those butterflies,” Dulcie sniffily points out). He lives in the sort of countryside that only exists in books and the imagination. It is idyllic. There are no dog turds festooning the grass and no-one has smashed an empty Bulmer’s bottle on the grassy tussock or flung a sandwich packet in the stream.
Nicholas smiles so sweetly, even when it rains in the summer. He is captivated by the change in the seasons, deftly and merrily catching leaves in the ‘fall’ (grates on my ears, not because of the Americanism, which is fair enough in a book written and published originally in America, but because the accompanying sentence “In the fall, I like to watch the leaves falling from the trees” is too repetitive and a synonym could easily have been found. But this is nitpicking), and finishes the book wrapped up in a jaunty yellow duffelcoat, paws outstretched to catch the snow, before he snuggles down in his hollow tree to dream about spring.
I am old enough to have had books with the same style of illustrations when I was a child, in second-hand books, or battered pictures in a doctor’s surgery, and they are so utterly, wonderfully dated that I am actually tempted to take a photo of each page and turn them into posters for the Elf’s wall (if this is against publishing law, please don’t tell anyone because a) that is mean and b) clearly, as a person who hasn’t had time to update a blog in three months, I’m seriously never going to get around to actually doing it). And both children love it. The story has little narrative arc beyond the change of the seasons, but each page is busy and bright with enough to interest a pre-school child while not overwhelming or confusing a 16 month toddler. And you get it from Daunt Books, which is a treat in itself for any book lover.
Now, all I need is the seasons to actually change so the children don’t think that bit is a fictional as clothed rabbits…