These books were well-loved by all of my children. Although I don't think the boys care about them any more my daughter is unwilling to let them go. I am glad because I don't want to part with them either.
How many times have I read these stories to my children I wonder?
Shirley Hughes was born in 1927. She began illustrating children's books in the 1950s, books like the My Naughty Little Sister stories by Dorothy Edwards and Something To Do which I mention in this post.
In 1960 she illustrated her own story, Lucy and Tom's Day. It was to be the first of many books written for and about small children.
Shirley Hughes' stories are firmly rooted in reality. They deal with the everyday happenings of a small child's life. New wellies, trips to the seaside, birthday parties, baby sitters, losing a beloved toy, helping mummy in the kitchen, chatting to neighbours, playing with siblings, going to the park.
Although a lot of Shirley Hughes' books were written in the 60s and 70s when I was a small child I don't remember reading them or having them read to me. I first discovered them when I was teaching some twenty years ago.
What struck me most about them was that the world she illustrated was my childhood. The setting of these stories is not the rural idyll of Milly Molly Mandy but a city, or suburb exactly like the area in which I grew up. The houses her small characters inhabit are Victorian terraced houses just like ours was. The parks and schools, the high street shops were the same as the ones I visited. Our milkman actually looked like the milkman in Alfie Gets in First (the chap with the beard).
The interiors of the houses had the same cosy, friendly, mis-matched furnishings as our house had.
My mum hung washing on a line in a back garden very similar to this one.
This could be the road my parents live in.
My birthday parties were not outside, not in December, but sandwiches, sausages on sticks and cake were a feature of every one. (My mother-in-law had to abandon sausages on sticks after one memorable party she gave for my husband. Apparently his little friends took the cocktail sticks from the sausages, inserted them into the drinking straws and used them as blow guns).
The big jug of autumn berries and seedheads in this picture reminds me so much of the kind of arrangements my mum used to make.
Shirley Hughes last published a book in 2009. Even her most recent books have a nostalgic but somehow timeless quality. A bibliography of her work can be found here.
If you have pre-school children and haven't discovered Shirley Hughes yet then I urge you to try her out.