Recently, I was glancing down the ABE list of the most searched for out of print books of 2015, when I discovered that at No.38 was an old old favourite of mine, Phoebe and the Hot Water Bottles. I LOVED Phoebe when I was little. Whether it was the bright, intricate drawings, or the idea of holding tea parties for hot water bottles, or maybe just the fact that her name was Phoebe Beeberbee, I don’t know. But I can clearly remember requesting it again and again. I think that it is probably especially engraved on my memory because when I was about 7, we moved to a house with no heating. For the first time we all had to go to bed with hot water bottles, and I WAS Phoebe (sort of). The excitement of that wore of pretty quickly though, let me tell you.
In some ways, it’s quite a sad book. Phoebe is clearly very lonely – she is has no mother, and apparently no friends either, and her father is so busy that she is left to play by herself most of the time with her 157 hot water bottles (which are the only ‘toys’ she has). She spends the whole book trying to help her father (who won’t let her) and longing for a puppy to play with, bless her.
I borrowed our old copy of the book from my Mum a while back to share with my boys. Strangely for two car/knight/superhero/dinosaur fanatics, they love it too. Clearly it has something that really speaks to children. And if it is 38 on the most searched for out of print books, there must still be a lot of love out there for Phoebe. Actually, there is a whole Facebook campaign to get it reprinted. Just out of interest, I had a quick look online at what secondhand copies of the book sell for, and even those in far from mint condition (like ours) are now worth a fair bit. Probably should take better care of it then…
So, why is it still out of print? Well, at the end of the book, Mr Beeberbee goes out and leaves Phoebe alone (!), and Phoebe single-handedly saves his chemist shop from burning to the ground by emptying out all her hot water bottles onto the fire. Apparently, the book was withdrawn from Stockport public library after concerns were voiced by the Fire Brigade that it was sending the wrong message. There seems to be a general consensus among campaigners that as a reason for not reprinting, this is laughable. But I’m not sure I agree.
I once bought a DVD of early episodes of Sesame Street, which I grew up with, but which is no longer on TV in the UK (sob). The DVD came with a disclaimer saying that it was for nostalgia only, and shouldn’t be used as entertainment for children. My husband and I scoffed at this, until we put it on, and found it was full of children going into strangers’ houses, and happily playing unsupervised in hazardous building sites. The point is, times have changed.
I do still read Phoebe to my boys, but I can’t help finishing each reading with my own disclaimer that it is most definitely not what they should do in the event of a fire.