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Friday, 13 February 2015

Jack and Nancy

Earlier this week I took my two children to our local branch of the library.  Our preschooler immediately broke into a run and headed straight to the children's area where he proudly chose a book about dinosaurs. Our baby excitedly crawled around and picked up books as she practiced standing up. We sat and read ('Steam Train, Dream Train' and another one about animals building a house, like a reverse Noah's Ark). When it came to getting our books issued, our little boy marched up the little stairs expectantly waiting for his stamps, of which he was very pleased with (a beetle and a caterpillar). Simple pleasures. I feel that this exquisite quote from Caitlin Moran expresses everything I love about libraries:

"A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen, instead. A human with a brain and a heart and a desire to be uplifted, rather than a customer with a credit card and an inchoate "need" for "stuff." A mall--the shops--are places where your money makes the wealthy wealthier. But a library is where the wealthy's taxes pay for you to become a little more extraordinary, instead. A satisfying reversal. A balancing of the power."
When I first moved to Wellington to study, a group of us from the hostel I was living in decided we would go and join the library. We got hopelessly lost and after wandering the streets for a few hours we eventually found it. When we walked through the entrance I was transfixed. So many books! Such a large library! The promise of so many hours of wonderment and enlightenment! Like Caitlin Moran so eloquently expresses, I too, was like Alice waiting with the key to unlock many doors.  It was a far cry indeed, from the tiny provincial libraries I had grown up with.
Coming back to the present, I found a treasury of Quentin Blake at the library, in which is one of my favourite stories: 'All Join In'. It is such a funny and joy- filled little read. The children delight in joining in with the activities of other members of the family: playing music, joining in with ducks quaking, sliding down the bannister, playing with kitchen pans, cleaning and finally eating a massive chocolate fudge banana cake. 

Reading 'All Join In' and enjoying some delicious summer peaches

I remember laughing and laughing with my sisters over his illustrations in 'The Twits' and 'George's Marvellous Medicine' (the one of Granny's head coming out of the roof always sent us into hysterics). However, I was also terrified of his illustrations in 'The Witches' (so much so that mum wouldn't let me watch the film for quite a while).  I love Blake's style: spiky black outlines and splodges of colour. I feel it infuses his work with an uplifting sense of energy and irresistible fun.   A few years ago I stumbled upon a first edition of one his books, 'Jack and Nancy' (1969) which is wonderfully whimsical and now sits in our son's bookcase.  Jack and Nancy fly off to a deserted island (via an umbrella that gets picked up by the wind) where they live for a while until they are rescued by sailors and then come home and eat a lovely simple dinner. 

I love this page.  The murky water colour detail of the sky and Jack and Nancy flying up above via umbrella

Jack and Nancy are barely visible at the top of the page.  Again, love the drama contained in those murky storm clouds.

This story makes me think of Pippi Longstockings- probably because Jack and Nancy are quite happily autonomous of any adults while on the island. 

Sir Quentin Blake, like Shirley Hughes who I discussed in a previous post, is also still alive. You can read some more about him here and here if you are interested. If you don't have any of his books close to hand, perhaps next time you are passing by a library go and look for one.  I guarantee you will be uplifted. X

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