Babette Cole 10.9.49 – 15.1.16

January 17, 2017

Author and illustrator Babette Cole has died.

. . . Among her bestsellers were the Princess Smartypants series, which reimagined the traditional fairytale heroine as a motorbiking Ms; books about Dr Dog, a family pet who dispenses medical advice, which were turned into an animated cartoon series; and The Trouble With Mum and its sequels.

Never conventional in appearance, conversation or lifestyle, in person Babette was a highly entertaining companion, a brilliant raconteur of stories true or fanciful, told in a breathy voice and with theatrical manner. Her life as she relayed it seemed to be a series of entertainingly optimistic plans combined with disasters or near-disasters; and her picture books had a similar sense of high-octane drama underpinned by an anarchic sense of humour.

Despite the fun, Babette was no lightweight. She created books on the kinds of disgusting topics that children love and adults mostly do not, and then, emboldened by their success, she went on to more controversial subjects, partly because she liked to shock and partly because she felt she had a duty to make sure children were properly informed. . . 

The Trouble with Mum is a delightful book.

The trouble with Mum is that she’s different. She wears funny hats, makes funny cakes and the other parents don’t like her. This makes her sad. Then one day the school goes on fire and Mum, who is different because she’s a witch, magics up some rain and saves the day.

One of the lines I remember from the book is Mum was sad.

Shortly after one of the many re-readings of the book when my daughter was about two,  she found me in tears, gave me a hug and asked, why Mummy sad? I explained I was reading a sad book and was grateful for the story which had taught her to recognise the feeling.

You can listen to the The Trouble with Mum here (though it uses Mom not Mum) and Princess Smartypants here.


Noddy rides again

November 18, 2008

It’s so much easier to bring up other people’s children than your own but in spite of that I do try to restrain myself from offering new parents advice unless it’s sought – with one exception.

When I give a book to a new baby I always suggest the parents read it themselves before reading it to their offspring. That way if they don’t like it they can put it away until the baby is old enough to read it her/himself, because if they don’t like it at first reading it won’t improve with the many repeats children demand of their favourite stories.

I agree with whoever (and it may have been Tolkein but I’m not sure) said there are no good children’s books there are just good books.

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When our daughter was younger I used to get as much enjoyment out of some of her favourites as she did, not just for the story they told but the way they told it.

They included Jane and the Dragon by Martin Baynton, which doesn’t let its follow your dream and girls can do anything themes get in the way of the story; Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell (which I can still recite although the toddler to whom I used to read it is now in her 20s); Babette Cole’s The Trouble with Mum, Jill Mruphy’s Five Minutes Peace (oh, how I empathised with Mrs Large’s desire for just a few child-free moments); and anything by Joy Cowley, Lynley Dodd or Pauline Cartwright.

Although if I had to choose a favourite from the latter it would be Do you know what I think?  (Do you know what I think? I think rabbits should have to clean their ears. I think giraffes should have to wash their necks . . . I have to! Every day!)

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With so many wonderful books to choose from it pained me that sometimes my “You choose a story” would be rewarded with a Noddy book which had belonged to her father.

Noddy went out of fashion, at least in part because there were concerns over racism and homsexual overtures. I didn’t care about the gollywogs or Noddy’s relationship with Big Ears, I just got no pleasure in reading the stories because the language and plots were boring.

However, thanks to the pc ban at least a generation of parents and their children were safe from Enid Blyton. But parents should beware because Noddy’s making a come back.

The popular children’s character was created by English author Enid Blyton in the late 1940s. Now her granddaughter, Sophie Smallwood, is preparing to write a new Noddy adventure.

Chorion, which owns the rights to Noddy, has commissioned the new book to mark 60 years since his first adventure was published.

Smallwood could well be able to bring Noddy from the 1950s to the noughties and make the story more readable while doing so, but I won’t be rushing out to buy a copy.


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