Dulcie, as a baby, was described by someone far wittier than I, as having ‘a whim of iron’. She still displays some pretty resolute behaviour but can be as flakey as pastry when the mood takes her. A wish to open a bottle of nail varnish and coat the scruffy little nails of a group of two friends and a neighbour’s toddler? Then she can spend ten minutes (which in a preschooler’s life is like a supereon) with her concentration-tongue poking out, sweaty palms twisting the lid and nostrils flared with the effort, until the silence and the smell cause me to run up the stairs and put a swift end to proceedings. Sadly only after twenty digits have been swathed in Hello Kitty pink. A long day, a slippery bit of jelly that won’t get on the spoon? Then she can curse jelly and renounce it after a nano-second of trying.
Himself the Elf is made from sterner stuff. He won’t allow obstacles to bend him from his path, whether they are physical (SHOVE goes the chair put in his way. PAH to the fence as he tries to slither underneath. UMPH to the door that has been shut on him) or his own limitations. There is now nothing that is out of reach, for he just climbs to get it. I honestly now find it simpler, easier and a darnsight less dangerous to hand over what he wants before he makes too much effort to get it (obviously, I don’t count knives, matches, medicines and the like under this as they’re dangerous, or dried apricots as too many have a predictable outcome and I’m the person who has to deal with it). My suggestion the other day that he occupied himself nicely with the play cash register while I addressed a parcel was greeted with scorn and he decided actually what he wanted to do was get the mouse off the desk and see what he could make it do. Now, I clearly talking about a computer mouse. If he could instruct rodents to perform tricks then you can be completely sure that I’d have mentioned it before. Hell, I’d have even started a blog dedicated to that very same subject. But no, this was the computer mouse, and so was kept, as convention dictates, on the desk next to the computer.
Himself reached up and fished around on the desktop, fingers missing the prize by mere centimetres each time. He hung onto the desk with his feet off the floor. No mouse. He stood back, gimlet-eyed, before pulling the bottom desk drawer out about six inches. Then the next drawer four inches and the one above two inches. And lo! He had created some steps and the mouse was his.
We also keep some of the books on a higher shelf in his room, purely because they are too big for the bookcase. And because I hate some of them. So they don’t get seen too often and then no-one remembers to request them being read and I don’t lose another sixteen and half minutes of my life wishing I wasn’t reading the interminable Hamilton’s Hats (the Amazon link will entreat you to ‘Look inside!’ Don’t. It is a truly awful book). But one book from there pleases me rather and both Dulcie and Himself the Elf seem fascinated by the vagrancies of the caprices of the children inside What I Like. I might squash it sideways onto the more accessible bookcase.
What I Like by Catherine and Laurence Anholt
Both my children would put this book on their list of What I Like, but I can’t ever really make my mind up about it. The premise is excellent, as children have such strong likes and dislikes, and these can change so quickly or endure seemingly forever (and amongst this, I count Dulcie’s insistence of pushing a small doll’s buggy around everywhere we went for about five months which was fine apart from the ear splitting din that the cheap plastic wheels made on tarmac and the propensity that the material had to detach from the frame causing howls of anguish and the way I always got my thumb caught as I folded it. Apart from that is was FINE) and it is such an engaging idea. What do you like? What don’t you like? Do you know anyone else who likes this? All fabulous starting points.
The illustrations are good, though not entirely to my taste, busy and scribbly and full of action. There’s some wryly amusing pictures of parents, too, which I always appreciate. A dad looking on blankly as twins demonstrate that what they like is ‘having a shout’, with newspaper slightly lowered from his eye-line and the unwritten thought bubble of ‘What on EARTH ARE YOU TWO DOING?’ appearing for me. In another picture, a little girl is telling us she likes ‘my new baby brother’ as they snuggle with the dad on the sofa – and the mother is, possibly, smiling benignly from the kitchen at the sweet scene, but I like to think she’s laughing that she isn’t doing any childcare right at that moment and is about to whip her apron off and head for a lie-down on a hammock outside.
Writing this has actually clarified for me why I don’t love this book, but just appreciate why it is good. It is a perfect length – you can whip through it pretty fast if you can hear a mushroom risotto and a glass of IPA calling you from the kitchen at 6.59pm, or you can read it slowly and happily with a bundle of baby and girl on your knee, spotting the dogs, talking about how we all feel about getting lost, or going out, or having to share. There’s some fabulous realism that as well as children climbing trees and let’s pretending and making friends, there’s a nod to the less pre-lapsarian aspects of childhood as it is admitted ‘What we all like is watching TV’ and a nod to my own particular bête noire with one child listing ‘waking early’ as something they especially enjoy.
But, but, but – doggerel. Pesky doggerel stops me loving this book (I may have mentioned my dislike of this before. Here for instance. And here). I can’t help feel some of the choices have been made purely because they rhyme. One child lists not liking ‘rats, gnats, bats’. Really? Really? There are children who are bothered by gnats? And bats? Glad I’m not his mother come halloween as that would quickly become tiresome. Elsewhere, there’s a more believable list of likes: ‘Whales and snails/dogs and frogs/lots of animals’, which to my ear sounds childishly realistic and doesn’t grate.
So, What I Like would probably slot nicely in my list of ‘I like’ (perhaps being forced to rhyme with Hat and Bike), but not make it on my page of ‘I love’, though currently I think Himself the Elf would climb a desk, scrabble over a sofa and pull himself into a sink just to catch a glimpse of this tome….