One of my great joys in lit kid life is giving Junior Reader access to books I read as a child. Whether as picture books, or chapter books, we are conveying something of the joy of story, character, illustration – and magic.
So what did my parents read? And what did they pass on to me? Because I realise that, while I have happily indoctrinated my way along with Junior Reader, I don’t always know what was an ‘heirloom read’ in the first place.
In a few cases, I do know. So it seems only fair to share those that I took to as well – in part, because I knew that they were part of my parents’ lives.
In this case, the instances are from my mother – and from her own books, some of which I now look after.
You may not be too taken with the title, and that’s OK. But you need to know about the wise and loving Mama Pudditat, chief character and mother of the kittie-poosies.
This is one of two picture books my mother owned which I have held onto. They have a special place on the special books bookcase, which conveys something of the esteem in which I hold them.
The kittie poosies are born into Mama Pudditat’s fine home – but we need time to know more. We need time to explore this place, where Mama Pudditat has pictures of mice even in places that the Mouse Man himself may have not thought to decorate.
But Mama Pudditat’s home is lovingly described in detail. In some respects, this was probably one of my early interiors reads without knowing it.
Indeed it must be, as Mama Pudditat makes her own curtains and paints her own stool for the sitting room – all carefully shown, picture by picture. (My childhood soul thrilled to the notion of gold stars on the ceiling and curtains, even if I don’t feel the need for them now.)
And Mama Pudditat is happy to give the tour, especially to her friend Mrs Pattypaws, because: the house also contains a nursery, where the kittie poosies will live.
If this sounds all too saccharine, forgive me. Anthropomorphic, yes, but then so are many other fine examples in children’s literature, and we still read them.
Mama Pudditat goes on in the next story to name her kittens – and later to shore up her source of income, through making and selling pink sugar mice.
Sugar mice are no doubt less common these days – or perhaps less exciting and more quietly packaged than the factory items. But there is still something special about them – and surely some of that comes from Mama Pudditat.
A few years ago, I was thrilled to discover that Mama Pudditat had also made it into German, as Mama Miezemau. It also restored to me the front cover illustration (the cover long being missing on the English version we have).
I am grateful to be able to show you the covers of both books (view the links above), because a great deal of the charm of the books is in the illustrations.
Master Bunny is told by Alison Winn, about whom I have found out little so far, but the pictures are by the well-known illustrator Molly Brett, whose books I also enjoyed as a little girl.
This book is like a cross between an animal story and a strip cartoon, with every illustration and story pane numbered. With plentiful bunnies in the story, this gives us a clue as to what pleasantries might have happened, had Peter Rabbit and his father been less keen on adventures.
Sometimes certain book phrase enter a family’s collective consciousness. In this case, the key phrase is at pane 29:
“That night Mrs Bun [Master Bunny's mother] gave Master Bunny a lovely hot bath and brushed his ears until they shone like silk.”
I can still recall my mother pretending to do the same to my brother, stroking his ears. In fact, the ear stroking comes at a key point in the story, because soon after, Master Bunny is off on holiday to visit his cousins – and find adventure.
There are plenty of details that children will enjoy and find real – from the pride in getting new clothes, bucket and spade to next bumping straight into a lamppost and needing a plaster.
The cousins have plenty of fun, between pillow fights, water fights at the seaside and a tea party which includes:
“…strawberries and cream/
Swiss rolls and chocolate biscuits. Everybody ate a great deal.”
Master Bunny’s final adventure involves crawling into a box kite on a windy day, and being by the seaside, you can guess something of what happens next. But rest assured: all ends happily.
I know something of other books my mother owned. I have mentioned the Famous Fives in hardback, and indeed Junior Reader can now return from a visit to my parents with another Famous Five out on loan.
My mother was also seemingly keen on increasing the colour in the books she owned – several Famous Fives copies have been painted in in water colour, as have a couple of the plates in Master Bunny.
There are a few (now worn) Flower Fairy books too that are hers – pages part in, part out, and their stitched binding clear to see. There is something of the love and time that was poured into these reads that is still greatly attractive.
One thing I can be sure of from these experiences is that I inherited a love of good illustration. Whether through Molly Brett, Kate Greenaway or Cicely Mary Barker (Flower Fairy books), I learned something of how the right pictures can transport you into the world of the story – and keep you coming back again.
I may favour more varied illustrators now – and a number are much more satiric than the safeties of the illustrations I’ve referenced above. But they all make a picture book special.
And as you know by now, if you’ve read a few of my posts, picture books are among the most special things of all.