Dan Colasimone always reaches for the retro reads, either to stir up memories or get a new take on some childhood favourites of a past era.
I’m not even exaggerating when I say one of the best things about fatherhood is getting to re-visit many of the children’s books I used to read as a kid.
When buying books for my daughter I skip right past the intense colours and zany characters of the newer releases and hunt out the ones that stir up memories for me.
Yep, I know that makes me just like one of those guys who only listens to Double J and thinks music stopped being good precisely when my youth ended, but I don’t care. If I have to read a book hundreds of times, I get to choose a book I like.
Each classic kids’ book is like a little time capsule from its era, too.. As adults we watch movies and read books set in different times and places – it’s called escapism – so why not give my daughter a little sample of the world 30, 40 or 80 years ago?
The first time I pick them up again they trigger some deep-down subconscious memories for me as well. And reading them as an adult gives you a whole new perspective.
Here are some mini-reviews of my favourites.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar (first published 1969)
Loosely based on Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphisis (probably), Eric Carle’s masterpiece is the tale of a goggle-eyed caterpillar who ravenously eats his way through a range of foods before pupating and becoming a beautiful butterfly. The message, apparently, is that if you are greedy and destructive enough, eventually you will be rewarded with the best life you could imagine. Hey, it worked for Trump.
Like many children’s books, Spot’s adventures tend to be a series of fairly random happenings which conclude with him going to bed. He is a dog-child (also known as a puppy) who lives with his mum and dad. I say dog-child because the family has quite a few human traits but also some dog traits. They are usually naked but Spot will wear, say, a chef’s hat while cooking. I don’t think he has an evil soul, but Spot just does whatever the hell he wants, seemingly oblivious to his parents’ needs or work-life balance. In one single day with his dad, for example, spot plays on swings, flies a kite, plays soccer, feeds some ducks at the park, goes to the beach and has ice cream before coming home for bedtime stories. I feel this is setting a very high bar that most parents would struggle to match. Thanks a bunch, Eric Hill.
Clifford the Big Red Dog (1963)
This series, which began the year JFK was shot and continued till 2015, the year Uptown Funk shot to the top of the charts, encompasses EIGHTY different books. The title explains all you need to know about the plot, though. Clifford is a really big dog, who is red. Unnaturally so in both cases. His owner is a girl called Emily Elizabeth who narrates the stories, which usually involve Clifford getting into trouble of some kind due to his extreme largeness. Possibly the best thing about it is the hairstyles and fashion of the human characters, which remain rooted in the 1960s kitsch suburbia of The Wonder Years and your parents’ faded photographs.
Possum Magic (1983)
It’s hard to take the piss out of this book by Mem Fox because it’s so goddam beautiful. The grandma possum makes Hush invisible but then later she wants to be seen again and they’re both upset about it so they travel the country eating Australian foods until she can be seen again and Lamington’s are the answer to life’s problems and I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE CRYING. That fucking snake, though, still gives me the heebie jeebies.
One Woolly Wombat (1982)
This basic counting book is so ‘80s it should have yo-yos. Oh wait, it does have yo-yos! Again, it stars Australian animals and some pretty sweet illustrations, including some kangaroos (OK, four thumping kangaroos) getting randy at a party, nine hungry and dead-set evil looking goannas scheming up something in the kitchen and 12 crazy cockatoos counting in a field with, bizarrely, an abacus. Fourteen seems a strange number to learn to count to as well. I don’t understand it one bit, but I like it.
The Tiger Who Came to Tea (1968)
Oh my god, I seriously want to live in the Tiger Who Came to Tea extended universe. The soundtrack would be Dionne Warwick and Marvin Gaye, with some Jefferson Airplane coming on in the trippier bits. I don’t know what Judith Kerr was on when she wrote it, but it was 1968 so we can make assumptions. Let’s run through the plot: A little girl called Sophie is having tea with her mum in the kitchen when there’s a knock on the door. It’s a tiger. A pimp-ass looking cool motherfucking tiger who looks OFF HIS CHOPS. The tiger then proceeds to eat all the food in their house and sink all of dad’s beer. Mum seems slightly concerned but Sophie is digging it big time. The tiger then just says thanks and leaves, the place is trashed. Dad, who looks like Atticus Finch, comes home, hears the story, doesn’t even flinch, and takes the family out to a café for sausages and chips and ice-cream. And the tiger never comes back. THAT’S THE STORY. I can’t wait till my daughter is old enough to ask what it means so I can say to her it has no meaning and that like life, it’s a series of baffling events and you shouldn’t try to understand it but just go with the flow and enjoy it, like Sophie and the tiger.
Set in some gritty northern English town in the late ‘70s, this has to be one of the most atmospheric books for small children around. Nothing much happens; a kid called Dave loses his favourite toy, Dogger, at a fete, then gets it back, but it feels so layered and nuanced – it sucks you right in. Also, Dave’s mum is a babe (in a frazzled ‘70s mum kind of way) and his sister is a football-kit wearing legend.
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- How to make sure your baby and dog become best mates