Friday, 30 November 2012

Adding badgers to the mix

Following on from my last post, if you put Wind in the Willows, here are some badgers for you:

"The badgers in the footage were in for rearing, they would have come in individually as orphaned cubs, but then mixed into this group when moved to the paddocks as part of the rehabilitation process, getting them ready for their life back in the wild, They would have been released back to the wild as this group"

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Favourite animal books

The delightful Mary Plain by Irene Williamson
The RSPCA emailed me about a competition they are having and asked me to write about my favourite animal book when I was a child. It's very hard to think of just one. It wasn't my first book but I loved Gwynedd Rae's stories about Mary Plain, who was a bear cub from the "bear pits at Berne." (I had no idea what that meant).

Mary had so much character. Her best friend was The Owl Man, known thus because of his large horn-rimmed glasses. The Owl Man had a friend called Fur Coat Lady, but neither Mary nor I wondered whose fur it had been before. The little bear was very fond of cream buns though if she ate too many could fear she was going to be "untidy."

Before Mary Plain, I had been hooked on the Mary Mouse books by Enid Blyton, with their odd small landscape format. At the opposite end of the size spectrum came Kathleen Hale's giant Orlando books:

Really nothing else could do justice to the overwhelming glamour of a large and handsome ginger Tom. Orlando's home life showed him as very much the boss of the operation, with his wife always in an apron and doing domestic chores.

Orlando was the breadwinner (?mousewinner) though I do remember one book (?Orlando goes Camping) in which the adult cats and kittens partook heartily of watercress - a rather unlikely food for felines but I'm sure Kathleen Hale enjoyed painting it.

Another favourite was Sam Pig and Sally by Alison Uttley though I can't remember any of the stories now.

I didn't really get on with Wind in the Willows and feel no nostalgia for it. Peter Rabbit I don't remember having at all and yet I seem always to have known those little child-friendly square hardbacks that Frederick Warne produced of Beatrix Potter's stories.

There was no Roald Dahl when I was a child - perhaps I should like him better if there had been - and no Dick King-Smith or Michael Morpurgo - whom I would have enjoyed more.

But in the RSPCA's survey, Dahl's Fantastic Mister Fox came out top of the favourite animal books remembered by adults aged 16-64 this September, with Wind in the Willows coming  second and Beatrix Potter's books in general coming third.

The survey was linked to the writing competition Wild About Britain. There are two age categories in the competition to write a short story about a British wild animal (no bears or ginger cats) – 11 years and under and 12 to 16 year-olds. The closing date for the competition is midnight on Monday 10 December 2012 and the winner will receive a selection of books from Random House publishers and be published on the website. The full judging panel is to be confirmed but will include Chris Packham.

Full details are here:

And what was your favourite animal story when you were a child?

Friday, 9 November 2012

Ailurophobes, look away now!

I'm an unashamed cat lover, but I've never had a ginger, though I find them deeply attractive. Jackie Morris, on the other hand, has had lots. And, as is the way of it with cat owners, she has lost many over the years too. This gorgeous, quite large-format picture book was inspired by one of them: Pixie.

The ginger curls up "ammonite tight" on her patchwork cushion and dreams of her bigger cousins, from the tiger, "bright flame cat of the forest" to the Scottish wildcat "ancient, almost a memory." The artwork is stunning and the text lyrical and there is a spread at the end with all the natural history details of the elegant felines. A must for every cat-lover, but you'll have to get your own; I'm not parting with mine.

Ginger cats have been getting almost as much coverage in the media and on social networks as a certain transatlantic event. Two candidates have been vying for the title of (The) Tobermory Cat. One is a photographic book by Angus Stewart and the other a picture book by Debi Gliori.

I had read so much online about Stewart's claims of plagiarism and Gliori's being cyber-bullied by people who thought that Stewart had invented this feline that I bought both books. (I like to know what I'm writing about).

And really you know they just aren't the same kind of book at all. I loved looking at all the photographs of the (apparently) composite cat in Angus Stewart's book. He (they) is clearly a real character. It makes a lovely album.

But Debi Gliori's is telling a story, a made-up story, for younger children about finding a way to be special. It's not an Obama/Romney kind of choice at all. I'll keep them both.

But that's not the end of my cat stories! I have been catching up with a bit of a backlog and I hadn't come across Puss Jekyll and cat Hyde before. The text is a poem by Joyce Dunbar and the illustrations are by Jill Barton, whose work I didn't know.

It's a simply premise, recognisable to every  owner, that domestic cat has two distinct personalities: the cuddly, purry, wanting its tummy tickled delightful companion and the fierce and solitary hunter. Eleanor Farjeon caught it in her poem Cat: "Sleeky flatterer/ Spitfire chatterer." And Dunbar does it here too.

My only worry would be that the Jekyll and Hyde allusion will be lost on children.

I must end with another Jackie Morris book, one so beautiful that it seems impossible paper and card could contain so much magic.

The reproduction of the cover here doesn't do it justice; the colours are much richer and the detail sharper. This book is currently nominated for the Kate Greenaway Award and I'd love it to win. Collection of Nursery Rhymes or Stories are often called "treasuries" - I've done one myself - but this one does feel like entering a secret room full of unimaginable precious objects.

Forty simple and familiar rhymes are transformed by Morris's alchemy into full blown stories through her art. The fine lady who rode to Banbury Cross for example has not just rings on her fingers but a hawk on her wrist (I suspect the correct Merlin); not just bells on her toes but a train of minstrels including one playing two recorders at once like the musician in Simone Martini's Knighting of St Martin fresco in Assisi.

The girl in Lavender's Blur rides a polar bear! And we ride to Babylon with a winged lion and a winged horse. Giant cats and giant sheep - nothing is what you expect. Weasels swarm and kiss and stir the rice and treacle - oh I can't go on; it is just too gorgeous for words. Give the woman a prize and give the book to every child you know. I WISH I'd had it when I was a little girl.