A while since I last posted. I’ve had a few interesting adventures in the meantime. I went to a fabulous Dylan Thomas Centenary Supper organised by the artist Dan Llywelyn Hall, where I got to sit with Menna Elfyn and Gillian Clarke (who might be two of the loveliest women in poetry) and toast the welsh bard in champagne at midnight. I’ve been interviewed about translation by English PEN. I’ve also lectured on ‘Ovid in Drag’ at a conference at New College in Oxford, which was a bit scary (the first lecture involved jokes in Latin) but seemed to go well, and taught an Arvon course in Devon for Start 360, a Northern Irish organisation who support vulnerable young people. I was just so moved and impressed by everyone on this – their bravery in talking about their experiences; their willingness to get stuck in. One student read his first book during the week, whilst so many lines have stayed with me – a young mum describing her son’s toes as ‘frozen peas’; the experience of being a young offender in prison compared to being a dog ‘trained to fight’ and put in a cage.
And now it’s December, when people start posting lists of their books of the year, but in 2014 I’ve mainly read poetry for work (reviews plus the Next Gen judging = about 210 books) and you already know(ish) what I think of those. Aside from that it’s just been stuff by friends, and I don’t wish to be accused of log-rolling (although Jaqueline Saphra’s new pamphlet is a thing of beauty). I’ve already blogged about Rosemary Tonks, and my favourite novel and non-fiction books of the year (Dave Eggers ‘The Circle’ and Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes everything’), although I feel I would like to mention Elena Ferrante, who I discovered via this brilliant article in the Guardian – I read ‘Days of Abandonment’ the other week and just devoured it: it’s about a woman’s state of mind after her husband leaves but is so intense and visceral it reads like a thriller….
The real books of my year though, if I’m honest, have been children’s books. ‘Brown, Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You see?’ and ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle. ‘Dear Zoo’. ‘Monkey and Me’. ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’. The marvellous ‘Hog in the Fog’ by Julia Copus. Alan Ahlberg’s ‘Peepo’ and ‘Each Peach Pear Plum’ and his rousing cry: ‘Hooray, hooray for bread!’. Or ‘Goodnight Moon’ written by Margaret Wise Brown in 1947, a weird tale where a green bedroom has a red balloon and a mouse and a doll’s house that lights up at night, and the lines ‘goodbye nobody, goodnight mush’.
In our house, the Tiger has come to tea most nights – Judith Kerr’s book is perhaps my favourite, the way the little girl hugs the tiger even as he takes everything from them; the walk at night past the headlights and lamplight to the cafe for sausage and chips. Michael Rosen has a theory the Tiger might have been influenced by Kerr’s fear of the Gestapo as a child – she denies it, but it does have a sinister charge. Anthony Browne’s ‘Gorilla’ is another I love for it’s weird, undefinable atmosphere – a little girl slowdances with a gorilla in the garden at night and is the happiest she has ever been.
And then there is the bustly, hustly dog Hairy Maclarey, and Thing One and Thing Two, and the residents of Acorn Wood, and there is Moomintroll, of course, and Little My. And Jill Murphy’s ‘Peace at Last’ where the fridge goes hhhmmmmmmm as poor Daddy Bear tries to sleep. And Maisy the mouse, who delights my son by sharing his interest in the practical (underground maps, traffic crossings, lifts).
Gruff is so story-crazy we need a new shelf – he just makes little heaps all over his room – and I’m maybe reading thirty books a day, so in just a week it can feel like they are fixed in your head for ever. At the moment we’re into ‘Owl Babies’ – the babies wake to find their mother gone, and alternately speculate and comfort each-other and panic about foxes, and then the heart-stopping image – ‘and she came’ – where the owl swoops towards her chicks through the dark.
And Sendak. ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, with that terrible cry: ‘we’ll eat you up we love you so.’
And ‘In the Night Kitchen’ – the genius idea of swimming in milk, probably Gruff’s idea of heaven, and the page where a naked little Mickey, with all the bare cockiness of a baby boy cries COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!
So yes, 2014 has been a year of picture books for me. Lovely, haunting, magical, tedious, astonishing, relentless picture books. Am very much hoping Gruff gets some new ones for Christmas or I might go mad.