Among the giant pile of books we currently have checked out of the library are these two, both of which are skating close to five stars for me.
This is a terrific picture book. Never Tease a Weasel, by Jean Conder Soule, illustrated by George Booth. The text is a children’s book classic; this illustrator is new.
A simple little rhyming advice book, in which each verse ends with “But never tease a weasel. [...] The weasel will not like it/ And teasing isn’t nice!”
The words are simple enough for a good emergent reader to have a go at almost all of the book, but it doesn’t come across as a “Dick and Jane” at all. Nor is the tone lecturing, despite the theme.
Every ink drawing is absurd and amusing. The illustrations complement the text aptly, with the animals looking awkward and unimpressed by the anthropomorphic “favours” suggested in the text.
The first verse and chorus:
You could knit a kitten mittens
And perhaps that cat would purr.
You could fit a fox with socks
That exactly matched his fur.
You could make a goat a coat
With a collar trimmed in mink;
Or give a pig a wig
In a dainty shade of pink.
But never tease a weasel;
This is very good advice.
A weasel will not like it -
And teasing isn’t nice!
…and it goes on in that vein. Great fun to at least age six, and possibly well beyond.
The Lad is at that lovely age where we can enjoy both picture books and read-aloud chapter books or anthologies equally. On the go right now are two Goosebumps books, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the Princess Bride, the Secret Garden, a Peter Jennings short story book, one of the later Narnias, and possibly some others I’ve forgotten.
We just finished reading Danny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. As a child, I had no idea how subversive and anticapitalist it is.
[cut just in case you're really that spoiler-allergic!]
I just loved the image of the pheasants THUMP!ing down out of the trees, doped out of their tiny little minds on sleeping-pill-stuffed raisins. And giggled at the idea of “poacher’s bottom”.
But on a re-read, the idea of the poor mechanic, the village doctor, the local policeman, and the vicar’s wife all happily poaching what they needed from the uber-rich douchebag Victor Hazell, and sharing the pheasants amongst themselves fairly and happily, warms the cockles of my heart. The book is thoroughly anticapitalist at its centre. And at the end, despite the fact that they’ve pulled off a poaching over a hundred pheasants*, the plot still finds a way to have the protagonists take only what they need.
DtCotW reads a little differently from the other Dahl books. It is quieter, calmer, more flowing. There is little gimmickry, and no special effects.
The descriptions of the landscapes bring to mind the Moomin books. The descriptions manage to be intensely evocative, but with simple language that a quite young reader could manage.
I also have a soft spot for the models of masculinity, of father-son love in the story. Their relationship is gentle and powerful. Danny’s dad happily and unselfconsciously addresses him “my love”. He treats him as the competent, interesting human being he is, allowing him appropriate levels of freedom to explore the world and to take risks. Both openly admit that they love each other to pieces and like nothing more than spending time with each other, sitting on the platform of their little wooden caravan and talking about the world.
Essential childhood – and adulthood – reading. Don’t miss.
And while I’m here, can I give a noisy “Huzzah!!” for the public library system? It’s bloody marvellous.
* Plus, I found out that the Lad can now accurately subtract 120 pheasants from 200 pheasants in his head, using only fingers for props. Who knew?