Friday, October 30, 2009

Oldies but goodies

Have any other Generation Xers noticed the recent relaunching of books we enjoyed as children? Spot has celebrated his 25th birthday (in silver), Meg and Mog their 35th, and suddenly at Borders a few months ago I spotted the personification of a bad hair day that is Grug. I am not entirely sure whether the emergence of my old friends from 25 years of literary solitude is a marketing strategy aimed at soft sentimentalists like me who are now buying for our own children, or whether it was my absence from the children's section that kept them out of my line of sight. Either way, it is always good to find a familiar face in the cast of thousands that are vying to be The Next Big Thing (Preschool Version).

My mother had kindly archived my favourite picture books while I was between being a child and being with child, and is now mutually benefitting herself and us by passing them on to Big Bro- the benefit to her being reclaiming bookshelf space, one Golden Book at a time. I have been enjoying rediscovering my old friends with Big Bro: he has adopted some as his own favourites, whilst others will have to be saved for the appreciation of Little Bro, or perhaps archived again for the next generation to enjoy- or enjoy their eBay winnings from selling off their grandmother's antique books!

It seemed fitting to talk first about two books that reinforce the idea that being old is not an automatic consignment to the scrap heap. Both books appeal to Big Bro because the stories revolve around some of his favourite vehicles, fire engines and diggers, but both have illustrations and text that I enjoy passing through again and again.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel- Virginia Lee Burton

I read this book as a preschooler but presumably didn't own it, as it wasn't amongst my archived books. When I mentioned buying Mike Mulligan for Big Bro recently, my cousin commented that she had never read it but knew about the story from Ramona the Pest, which has made me wonder whether my memory is from reading the original, or via my well-read copy of Ramona. Either way, it's an exciting read: Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Anne, have passed their heyday and are now looking for a way to prevent MaryAnne being relegated to the scrap heap in a world dominated by later models of excavators. This quest takes them to Popperville, where Mike strikes a deal that they will dig the cellar for the new town hall in a day or forfeit his pay. The finale is a close call, but ends happily when a mutually beneficial outcome is brokered by a small boy.

The story, with its twist at the end, is entertaining in itself, but the two aspects that make me enjoy reading Mike Mulligan so much are the gently repetitive language (it is so easy to read), and the illustrations. With credit to Roger Hargreaves, if you have never seen a steam shovel cry, go to Popperville.

The Bravest of All- Kate Emery Pogue (Little Golden Books)

Jonathan is an old timer firefighting hero who, together with Engine Number One, are thought to be past their peak. Yet one night when all the young fire fighters and their newfangled equipment are occupied elsewhere, Jonathan and Engine Number One are the only ones who can save a family's house. For Big Bro, the book's appeal lies in the firefighting drama, and the presence of engines and hoses; I can't quite put a finger on what exactly it is that makes me enjoy reading it. The language has the best qualities of a story session, the story has the feel of a legend, and the vivid illustrations add to the drama.

Two footnotes for fans of these books, from a quick bit of Google Research:

Bravest of All appears to be out of print ($75 for a used copy through Amazon??) , and if you choose to believe a lawyer (joke! Don't sue me!!) then Mark Bennett points out that second hand copies of this and other pre-1985 publications may become less available owing to new US consumer protection laws: in this case we are to be protected from lead in untested pre-1985 books, which must be destroyed or tested. The concern is of course that for many second hand dealers, the cost of testing would be more than the profit margin on the book.

And an extra fact for Mike Mulligan aficionados:
I have found the answer to a question that I ponder each time I read: why is one Dickie Birkenbush footnoted on page 39? The answer of course can be found via Wikipedia

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