The phenomenal, ongoing success of Horrid Henry and the recent rebranding of Blyton’s Naughtiest Girl in the School series (with new illustrations by Kate Hindley) show how many young children love to read about kids getting up to no good. Picture books which revel in really bad behaviour are less common but Children are Naughty by Vincent Cuvellier and Aurelie Guillerey and The Cake by Dorothee de Monfreid (@DdeMonfreid) are two new books which are exceptions to the rule. In these books there is no moral finger-wagging telling readers the behaviour is inappropriate or unacceptable; the naughtiness is not redeemed by charming features elsewhere (such as in Pippi Longstocking, for example) but rather they are celebrations of all that is entertaining about unadulterated misbehaving.
Children are Naughty covers just about every bit of bad behaviour you might find kids getting up to, from pulling hair, to not sharing toys, throwing tantrums and refusing to do what is asked of them. There’s a funny nod to an adage all too often wheeled out in parenting: “Do as I say, not as I do” (or in this case did) – acknowledging that adults too were once kids, and of course as kids we were always angelic and never ever broke any rules (ahem). The illustrations have a 1960s feel about them (as does the text at times with some casual sexism I didn’t feel comfortable with) and are beautifully produced to look like vintage prints (a technique the publisher, Flying Eye is very good at, as can also be seen in their reproductions of Dahlov Ipcar books).
In The Cake a bunch of hungry friends agree baking a cake would be a good solution to their predicament. But they can’t agree on what sort of cake to bake and [spoiler alert] their disagreements end up in an enormous food fight. The tone and visual style of The Cake will appeal to fans of Poo Bum by Stephanie Blake (from the same publisher, Gecko Press); full bleed pages of bold, saturated colour, and characters drawn with thick black lines and a certain wobbly naivety.
Both have provoked me to reflect on my own values and where the boundaries lie (if there are indeed any boundaries) when it comes to what content I as an adult (as a book buyer, as a librarian, as a parent) am happy with. It’s not often I’m made uncomfortable by a picture book! I wonder if it is just coincidence that both books are translations from French (Linda Burgess translated The Cake, but sadly no translator is acknowledged in Children are Naughty). Is unrepentant naughtiness one of those themes like sex and death which are more common in continental European picture books than English/US picture books?
I don’t think these are books for everyone. Some will love the cheekiness, the rebelliousness of these books. Others will feel they go a step too far. One of my girls loved both books, whilst the other was actually saddened by them, feeling that the behaviour was a bit mean. I’d encourage you to seek them out and see how not only you, but also your kids react to them. You might be surprised.
Connecting with our inner rebels, these books encouraged us to have a food fight of our own. Instead of pistols it was plates of squirty cream at dawn:
It has to be said we laughed a LOT doing this. There really was something exhilarating about doing something so “naughty”. I won’t be encouraging a repeat performance, but we had 20 minutes of unbridled joy. I’m pretty certain this particular playing-by-the-book will find a place in family lore in years to come.
Music to go with cake and/or a food fight includes:
Other activities which go well with reading The Cake include:
What is the most unusual cake you’ve ever eaten? Have you ever had a food fight? And just how comfortable are you with books, especially picture books, which don’t model angelic behaviour?!