In my next catching-up-on-book-reviewing instalment, I look at Dogger, by Shirley Hughes, published by Penguin.
Shirley Hughes is a multi-award-winning national treasure in children’s literature, and rightly so. This summer she celebrated her 90th birthday, alongside the 40th anniversary of the publication of her classic picture book, Dogger.
Rather like another grande dame of picture books – Judith Kerr – Shirley Hughes started off in another field before specialising in children’s literature. She studied fashion and dress design at Liverpool Art School and then continued studying at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford before embarking on a career as a freelance illustrator, which led her into writing and drawing books for children when her own children were young. You can read more about her here.
Because I grew up in Canada, I was never familiar with Shirley Hughes’ books but they have come as a lovely discovery. When I read Dogger to the youngest children in the Library, their eyes were opened to her magic too.
Dogger looks at an area many of us as children are familiar with – losing a loved soft companion. Dogger is Dave’s favourite toy and goes everywhere with him. Unfortunately, this brings a major risk: loss. This is what happens to Dave and he’s desolate at the thought that he may never find his beloved friend again.
Shirley Hughes, with the original Dogger, who belonged to her elder son!
As I read the book aloud to the children, their fidgetiness stopped. All looked on with wide-eyed worry as Dave and his family searched for Dogger, suggesting places he might be. When I paused to ask if they had ever lost their favourite animal or doll, everyone had – usually under a bed or in a different room. (I revealed that I’d left my bunny Hoppy on a transatlantic flight from Canada to London and the kind airline staff announced their discovery over the tannoy system at the airport and they were suitably impressed.)
It is this ability to tap into and soothe the worries of children that makes Shirley Hughes such a popular author and illustrator. Things that other adults or parents might think are minor are given the importance children attribute to them in her books, and the fact that the accompanying emotions are treated sympathetically and resolved is reassuring to her young readers. I have one particular boy in the Library, in Year 3, who always borrows and re-borrows the Alfie stories by Shirley Hughes because he loves them, and enjoys sharing them with his younger sister. When I told him about the re-release of this book, the joy in his eyes was unforgettable.
Please share with me your tales of favourite lost-animal/dolly/toy woes. Where is the strangest place you’ve left a much-loved toy?
Please note that while I was sent a copy of this book to review, the views expressed here are entirely my own.