Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Shirley Hughes

Listening to Shirley Hughes on Radio 4's Woman's Hour reminded me how much her books have meant to me throughout my life. She used her Guest Editor slot to talk about the importance of libraries, taking young children to art galleries and how to wear a hat.

Well, I've never felt comfortable in hats but the bit about art galleries rang true. My children still remember going to see the Dutch Flower Paintings at the Dulwich Picture Gallery many years ago, the first of many such trips. As Shirley said, we would just look at a few paintings in a gallery and talk about what was going on in them. She mentioned going to see And When Did You Last See Your Father? at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool as a child; I went to the Walker a few years ago and that was one of my favourites.

So, back to the books. I didn't find them all but here's just a few of the books I have that were either written or illustrated (and often both) by Shirley Hughes.

It was interesting to see how many of my favourite books as a child had Shirley Hughes covers. Here are just a few ...

I read and re-read all of these many times. Something to Do is a wonderful book. First published in 1966 it has a long chapter for each month of the year. There are nature notes, poems and, of course, lots of ideas for things to do, both inside and out. I particularly loved the craft ideas and longed to be ill in bed so that I could make a mouse out of a handkerchief.

It never once occurred to me that I could make it even if I wasn't ill! By the way, I've since tried this and it's not as easy as it looks. I did however make some furniture for my dolls house out of conkers, as described in the chapter for October.

I recently came across a Folio edition of this book, called Year Round Things to Do in my local secondhand bookshop and was pleased to see a variation on the original cover which kept the tree.

It was when my children were small that I discovered the wonderful Shirley Hughes picture books. I always say that if you were told you could only have books by one author for a child, then she should be that one. Although why anyone would say that, I don't know! Anyway, I think the Alfie books were our favourites. He and his little sister, Annie Rose, lived in a London terraced house a bit like ours and the books are so warm and true to life. I particularly liked this one, An Evening at Alfie's.

It's raining inside the house and, while their babysitter calls for help, it's Alfie who works out why Annie Rose is crying.

The relationship between Alfie and Annie Rose is beautifully told and illustrated in all the books about them. The fact that my daughter looked rather like Annie Rose as a baby made them even more special. In The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook Alfie takes his special stone, Bonting to the seaside ... and loses it! This was more traumatic in our house than the time when Dave loses Dogger (don't worry, there's a happy ending and, this time, it's Annie Rose to the rescue). Alfie's Bonting had its own little bathing suit so both my children had to find their own Bonting and I had to provide the bathing suits. Here's my daughter's Bonting, proudly wearing his, complete with his name - just in case he got lost. It obviously worked as she still has it more than twenty years on.

In case you're wondering, yes, this is going to be a very long post with lots of pictures. Feel free to go and make a cup of tea and come back to it later. 

Anyway, as well as the Alfie books, we loved the Nursery Collection - small themed books in verse.

They're all really good, here are the first few pages of Bathwater's Hot ...

Bathwater's hot, Seawater's cold,
Ginger's kittens are very young But Buster's getting old.

The Colours book is also wonderful - a perfect combination of illustration and text. 

Tangerines and apricots,
Orange flowers in orange pots.
Orange glow on an orange mat,
Marmalade toast and a marmalade cat.

'Marmalade toast and a marmalade cat' - I thing that sums up all the warmth and comfort of home to a small child. Out and About features the same children but is a bigger book with longer poems.

Shirley also writes books for older children; here are just a few ...

... and there's a lovely book called A Year of Stories and Things to Do which collects together lots of her different stories, interspersed with suggestions for things to do each month. Echoes of Something to Do here.

Glad to see Bonting getting a mention.

Does anyone else have fond memories of reading the Naughty Little Sister  books by Dorothy Edwards? These copies belong to my daughter and, yes, they are illustrated by Shirley Hughes.

I'm still collecting books by Shirley Hughes only now it's often my children who buy them for me. This one, The Christmas Eve Ghost goes back to the Liverpool of her childhood.

I also have her autobiography A Life Drawing which is a fascinating read and full of little pictures.

Just look at all those different emotions on the evacuees' faces

But possibly my favourite of all her books and the one I think everyone should go out and buy - now! - is this one.

A Brush With the Past covers the first fifty years of the twentieth century and is full of the sort of narrative paintings Shirley talked about on Woman's Hour. There is so much to look at in every one of them; it really is an art gallery for children in book form. Just look at the different faces in these ...

Cold leftovers - An English country estate - 1908

Homecoming tea - Yorkshire, England - 1918

A slice of bread by the roadside - Northern France - 1940

There are pages of text with more historical facts for other years but oh, the paintings. This is a wonderful book.

Before I finish I must just say a word about Shirley's daughter, Clara Vulliamy, who is also an author and illustrator. She particularly enjoys illustrating classic children's books such as the Mary Plain books by Gwynedd Rae. If you haven't met Mary Plain, you're in for a treat. I'm also fond of Clara's illustrations for some of the Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories.

This is the story where Milly-Molly-Mandy wins first prize at a party (a doll) and then swaps it for the little cotton wool rabbit that was the booby prize. I was that sort of child!

Clara also writes lots of original books for children and then there's this series ...

... the Dixie O'Day books, written by Shirley Hughes, illustrated by Clara Vulliamy. What a perfect combination.

And now I really must stop. I hope I've encouraged any of you who have yet to discover these books to go out and find them or just to take a child to an art gallery. Thank-you Shirley for so many beautiful and inspiring books.


  1. Thanks for such a thorough review! I will be homeschooling my 2 preschoolers this next year and so will be on the lookout for some Shirley Hughes books to add to our home library.

    1. I'm sure they will love them. Children's books are one of my passions so I plan to write more about them in the future.

  2. I seem to remember the Naughty Little Sister stories being read on Listen With Mother, which was on every day in our house as I have seven younger siblings. The Something to Do book and Milly Molly Mandy are very familiar as well. I must look out for A Brush with the Past. I think my favourite illustrator of children's books has to be Quentin Blake. I enjoyed reading his early books (Angelo, Patrick) to my own children and still got the same enjoyment from reading the later ones to my grandchildren. Who could not enjoy Cockatoos?

    1. Yes, I love Quentin Blake too. 'Mrs Armitage on Wheels' is a favourite. Have you seen his book about his work, 'Words and Pictures'?