Bookworm is a feature whereby I follow a trail of children’s books – linking them by author, illustrator, subject or any other random connection that takes my fancy.
I was strangely excited when I came across this as it brought back so many memories, largely down to Helen Oxenbury’s brilliant illustrations. Back in the days before scanners and colour photocopying, my Dad used his artistic talents to painstakingly copy a picture from this book – the one which accompanied the poem:
Billy is blowing his trumpet
Bertie is banging a tin
Betty is crying for Mummy
And Bob has pricked Ben with a pin
Baby is crying out loudly
He’s out on the lawn in his pram
I am the only one silent
And I’ve eaten all of the jam.
The picture is of a harassed looking woman (bearing an uncanny resemblance to my Mum) surrounded by children causing havoc. Probably Dad thought it was an accurate representation of life in our house, and I guess it must have struck a chord with my Mum too as it hung framed in our kitchen for many years. So seeing it again after so long not only took me back to reading the book as a kid, but also right back to all the noise and activity of our kitchen, c1985.
So anyway, I read the book with my boys recently, and they really enjoyed it – it’s full of silly poems and nice pictures, there’s not much to dislike really. But looking at it as an adult this time, I realised that a lot of the poems are quite dark and strange – there’s one about rabbit hunting which ends badly, and one about a man who has a biscuit for a head which I think he puts in the oven. Weird.
I was hunting around on the web for references to this book, and found this image – taken from a video on YouTube here. It’s interesting, because these are not the words I remember – I’m pretty sure poor Tiny Tim dies in the bathtub and the Doctor, Nurse and Lady with the Purse have nothing to say but ‘Dead’.
I guess I can see why it might have been toned down in later versions, but it seems a shame we have to gloss over everything these days. My boys, just like us when we were kids, weren’t in the least bit bothered by the fact that Tim died, or that the man’s biscuit head exploded. Just like they don’t care when two of the three little pigs get eaten and the wolf gets boiled. These days they all escape and half the time the wolf only gets a scalding. Why is that? Surely it’s better to introduce the idea of death at an earlier age when they are better able to take it in their stride? I blame Disney.
Anyway, it’s still a marvellous collection of poems. Yes there are hundreds of such collections out there, but this one is definitely my favourite.