My kids *adore* making mud and then trying to cover as much of the patio and themselves in it as possible.
I thought this must be a near universal delight for children so I was sure there would be some good books out there about getting muddy and relishing the squelching and oozing and the sheer messiness of it all.
Here at home I went straight for Tickle, Tickle by Helen Oxenbury, a board book which both my children have loved. It opens with an image that certainly captures my kids’ experience of mud!
Helen Oxenbury’s illustrative style is deceptively simple – with just a few outlines and blocks of colour she captures postures and conveys emotions so perceptively her books are always a delight to read. Tickle, Tickle is one of a series of four board books, each about everyday experiences of young children and babies, and although they are brief (each book contains just four rhyming lines), they are some of our very favourite books aimed at the youngest of children.
Looking for a story about mud we made a trip to our local library and quizzed the wonderful librarians there – could we have a picture book about mud please? And this is where I was rather surprised – it was actually quite hard to come up with a book that fitted the bill. First another Helen Oxenbury book was suggested: Tom and Pippo and the Washing Machine.
Tom’s favourite cuddly monkey, Pippo, has “played in the mud and got really dirty.” Tom’s mum gently explains that Pippo needs to be washed and the illustrations depict Tom’s worry at being separated from his Pippo with a lightness of touch that acknowledges the concern without being heavy handed. Of course, Pippo comes through his adventurous trip in the washing machine and looks to be having a lovely time swinging from the washing line as he dries. And then before you know it, Tom and Pippo are back playing in the mud and loving it.
Like many of Helen Oxenbury’s books, this one illustrates everyday domestic life – sorting out the laundry, hanging it on the line, the mum wearing jogging bottoms. There’s a warmth in her uncluttered pictures that reminds me to see the pleasures and possibilities for adventures in even the simple, perhaps otherwise mundane aspects of family life at home, and I’m grateful for that.
This books is one of many written about Tom and Pippo, in a series I had not come across before, but I shall certainly be looking out for more now that I know about them.
Serendipitous browsing brought us Algernon and other Cautionary Tales by Hilaire Belloc, illustrated by Quentin Blake, which contains the short poem “Franklin Hyde, who caroused in the Dirt and was corrected by his Uncle”:
His Uncle came upon Franklin Hyde
Carousing in the Dirt.
He Shook him hard from Side to Side
And Hit him till it Hurt,
Exclaiming, with a Final Thud,
“Take that! Abandoned boy!
For Playing with Disgusting Mud
As though it were a Toy!”
From Franklin Hyde’s adventure, learn
To pass your Leisure Time
In Cleanly Merriment, and turn
From Mud and Ooze and Slime
And every form of Nastiness-
But, on the other Hand,
Children in ordinary Dress
May always play with Sand.
Quentin Blake’s illustrations are always a great deal of fun and M loved the idea that it was naughty to play with mud, but the rest of the book seemed to unnerve M somewhat; several of the poems end up with the protagonists dead, and whilst I hadn’t expected that to bother my daughter unfortunately she wasn’t keen to read the book a second time.
The only other book we could come up with at the library about playing in mud was The Mud Pie by Roderick Hunt and Alex Brychta. This book is part of the Oxford Reading Tree series, a reading scheme widely used in the UK to support learner readers.
It was the first time I’ve ever looked at such a book (my eldest, M, starts school in September and whilst we read a lot at home I’ve consciously made no attempt to coach her in reading by herself) and my strong gut reaction was one of despair – how can a book like this inspire a kid to read for themselves? I found the story and illustrations bland (perhaps this was bound to be the case with a book which states “This story practices these words: a is in it my this”), but I have to grudgingly admit that the twist at the end of the book did make my daughter giggle and ask for it to be read again. I shall be very interested to see, however, if she picks it up of her own accord before we have to return it to the library.
So to summarize:
Tickle Tickle: ***
Algernon and other Cautionary Tales: ** from me but * from my daughter
The Mud Pie: – (no stars)
Please do let us know if you know of any great books or poems about playing in the mud!