I know my Mum must have read hundreds of stories to her two little girls, day in day out as she balanced the demands of toddlers with having married into the isolation bubble that is a boarding school community, but it isn’t those stories that have stuck. I remember other things with Mum; sitting on her knee by the open bathroom window to watch the boarders come down the fire escape during a drill, or letting me follow her around dressed in my nurse’s uniform aged 3 ish when the house was felled by a tummy bug, but the story teller, that was Dad.
His childhood library revealed a good crop of nightly page turners: Swallows and Amazons, King Solomon’s Mines, Treasure Island, and of course, Jim Davis, in which the eponymous hero accidentally discovers smugglers’ caves from concealed entrances on the very cliffs where my grandparents’ house now stood. They were enthralling stories, full of swash and buckle and Dad has a talent for bringing words to life. It’s no wonder that we grew up with a love of exploring, and spent rather a lot of time in Grannie and Grandpa’s garden “just looking”.
But for today we are, rather appropriately, going back to the beginning. And in the beginning there was Pip Squeak.
A tiny field mouse and his hedgehog and water vole friends, given words and character by Audrey Tarrant, and given voice by my Dad. I think she wrote a whole series of Pip Squeak but these were the two that we had; one published a few years before I was born, and one which must have been bought for a tiny little me, published by Medici in 1981, and purchased for 85p.
And last week, for the first time in many a year, I got to hear Pip Squeak bedtime stories again, as Dad took over the baton for a week; tucked up in a chair with a granddaughter snuggled into the crook of each arm, or sitting with Kitty in her big girl bed as she slipped down the pillow into slumber just as Pip flipped off the raft and landed with the tablecloth sail in the jackdaw’s nest for only about the fourth time that day.
I think Audrey Tarrant must have been the Julia Donaldson of her day, in a time when children’s authors didn’t hit quite the same constellation of celebrity as they do now. She wrote and illustrated these little short stories with such abundant love and attention to detail that it’s easy to see why Kitty was utterly captivated (that’s a look of serious concentration I promise), and was often found stalking Grandpa, book in hand, to request another reading. It’s no surprise that these little paperbacks stayed, when so many other books and playthings were handed on.
And it’s because at age 33 I can still tell you just how Pip and friends use a pot of red paint catch the thieves as they try to escape in a lorry (answers on a postcard/in the comments) that I’m joining in with Kelle at Maggie Stone and Lucy at Dear Beautiful for the first time with a pair of books that have been out of print for years. But if you do see them in the wild, or unearth them in the back of the loft, promise me you’ll bring them home and have a little read.