Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Literary roundup

My avider readers may have noticed, amid the sporadic coverage of this year, that my book reviews have been trending to the negative. Of the two books I've reviewed this year, both have fallen short of my expectations, at least in any positive sense. My public, I make no doubt, will be worried for me. There's only so long one's soul can survive on the sort of diet I've discussed in the previous two literary posts.

But allow me to reassure you, dear reader, that my literary experiences have not all been negative. I have in fact read some fine works this year. Some of them, indeed, several hundred times.

There's a Wocket in my Pocket is far from Dr Seuss's greatest work. It lacks the compelling characterisation of The Cat in the Hat, the poignant pathos of Yertle the Turtle or the timeless sagacity of Oh, the Places You'll Go. But on the other hand, its vivid depiction of a world packed with sentient creatures in every cranny echoes the powerful meanings of Shinto or Gaian animism, and that can only be a good thing. In other words: if you think there's a jertain in your curtain, you'll treat it with more respect.

More importantly, the pages are made of stiff card, which means it can survive day-to-day handling by a 16-month-old child. That, indeed, is the common theme of this list.

Ten Little Babies, Gyo Fujikawa's sinister thriller based on the Agatha Christie novel, tells of the varying fates of - as the title suggests - ten babies. The illustrations make quite clear, however, that the nine little babies who went to bed late are not included in the ten who originally sat down to dine. So in fact there are 55 little babies in this book, only ten of which are accounted for. A disturbing thought.

Guess How Much I Love You is the only book on this list that belongs to me, having been a gift from Susan some years ago, and ownership not having formally transferred to Atilla. I must remember to include it in my will. In reading to 'Tilly, I have been forced to recognise that although stretching out one's arms or reaching up high are fine graphical demonstrations of "this much" - flipping oneself upside down and stretching one's feet up a convenient tree trunk is, frankly, hard.

Duck's Stuck, a muddy fable of farmyard life, doesn't aspire to either the poetic or artistic heights of a Seuss. But it does have a quiet little charm of its own, which I can best explain by pointing to the fact that Cow's lines are predominantly words that you can actually moo. "Cow chewed. Feathers flew. 'Try now', mooed Cow." I defy you to read that aloud without changing your voice. This, together with the great "Aaaa-chooo", have kept this book firmly at the top of Tilly's favourites list for more than three months.

How to Catch a Star is a little more advanced, with its themes of holistic astronomy, sophisticated engineering and animal training. 'Tilly is less convinced by it, generally seeing it as a last resort to fend off the moment when he finally has to accept that it's bedtime.

Honourable mention should go to That's Not My Polar Bear, now pretty much retired, but an invaluable guide to distinguishing wildlife. Thanks to this book, 'Tilly has known since before his first birthday that if he is confused between two polar bears, he can identify one from another by carefully squeezing their noses, tickling their tummies and rubbing their tongues. Valuable tips, I'm sure we can all agree.