Along with Audrey Tarrant’s Pip Squeak, Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s characters and anything by Arthur Ransome, Shirley Hughes’ illustrations were a staple of my childhood. I remember my mum reading Alfie, I remember the story when he shut the door and got stuck in the house with his Mum outside, and of course, of course I remember her collaboration with Dorothy Edwards, My Naughty Little Sister. Not that it’s at all predictable that the eldest of two girls would find those stories appealing. Of course not.
I had the appropriate sympathy for the big sister narrator, and when her little sister got up to all sort of entertaining scrapes I could laugh along from the vantage point of a big girl who clearly wouldn’t do anything so silly as that. Those of you reading who know this to be untrue are begged to keep my secrets, especially the one about the time I snipped into the hem of the dress made for Mum to wear to my own baby sister’s christening that I think has been brought up at every landmark birthday and possibly even my wedding.
When Claire mentioned it as one of her girls’ favourites it reminded me that it was long overdue an appearance as part of this series. I spotted The Complete My Naughty Little Sister years ago sat on the shelf in a charity shop and I knew in that moment it was never not coming home with me, even if the only little person I had to read it to was a tiny baby Kitty. It was a day when my sister was visiting and we came home and poured over it, we both remember so many of the stories, the one about the gap in the fence, the one where she learns to knit and, my personal favourite, the washing day, when Granny stirs up the washing in a giant copper and then runs it through the mangle while My Naughty Little Sister swings in a little rope swing suspended from the ceiling of the wash house, just as her mother had before her. I think I always rather liked the idea of swinging while doing the laundry and in truth that still sounds like a lot more fun (provided I can keep my nice shiny modern washing machine of course!
Reading them again now I can see and hear that they are very much books of their time, and books of their era of parenting. When I was little it didn’t seem at all odd to refer to characters as naughty, or bad in the case of Bad Harry but I don’t think you’d ever find a modern book that would use that kind of language, and I’ll admit I edit a little as I read and make a few substitutions along the way. But for all that they are lovely stories, stories of domesticity and childhood and just the kind of thing that appeals to little girls who oh so often ask for “a story from your head”. And as always Shirley Hughes’ illustrations are just so lovely, spelling out vast amounts in simple black and white sketches.
And while I bought this book when Kitty was very little it took a few years before she was really big enough to sit and enjoy the stories but now she and Elma too will snuggle up to hear about the crazy exploits of a little girl who I rather suspect might just be their latest heroine.
If you have read something lovely recently, please do put your link in the comments section and shout to the world – and we’ll all come and have a read! Last week Jess and Rosalie expanded my knowledge of Dr Seuss, The Foot Book looks like it has the most fantastic patter for reading aloud, definitely a hit!
What We’re Reading is a weekly round up of posts about children’s books. That’s about as far as the ‘rules’ go; it can be picture books, baby books, books for older children or even young adult if you like; just come and shout out in the comments to tell us what you’ve been reading recently. If you’d rather join in on Instagram or Twitter that would be wonderful too, just use the hashtag #whatweread and tag me (@cariemay on Instagram and @cariemaymakes on Twitter) and then we can all come and say hi. What We’re Reading posts are usually on a Tuesday but as I finished writing my Me and Mine post on Monday night a small boy awoke in a most decidedly squeaky way and I decided it could wait until today!