Monday, 7 October 2013

Musical Monday #29

Look what arrived today:

More Birthday Presents!

The Church Mice Spread Their Wings
written and illustrated by Graham Oakley (1975)

It’s always difficult to pull quotes out of these books because the pictures are usually the punchline to the text and that dimension is lost here.  So go, seek these books out for yourselves.

‘“When Mother Nature has finished soothing our fevered brows perhaps she could give us a good rubdown as well,” said Sampson bitterly as they stood dripping by the water’s edge.

This made Humphrey very angry.  “Here we are, cast up on a foreign and exotic shore and all you can do is make silly jokes,” he snapped, studying the map which had got a little damp.

“According to my calculations, we’re in China,” he said, “probably on the Pong Yang Peninsula.”

“We’re in Wortlethorpe Park,” mumbled Sampson.’

In ‘Spread Their Wings’ the mice force Sampson to give up all his weekends to escort them on country breaks, and of course everything that can goes wrong, until the mice are convinced they’ve been washed ashore in foreign lands and Arthur and Humphrey suffer a terrible fate.


The Diary Of A Church Mouse
written and illustrated by Graham Oakley (1986)

‘My New Year’s Resolution this year was to start work right away on the Story of My Life, but I’d hardly finished one sentence before up breezes Arthur and says that really it’s best to wait until you’re very old before you write your life story because by then you’ll know what happens in the last chapter.  I said that it was more likely that by then you’d have forgotten what happened in the first.  But he says no you wouldn’t, not if you kept a diary.  Well, I must say, that sounded a pretty good idea which is quite surprising because Arthur doesn’t have many of those.  For once I’m going to take his advice.  So here goes.
1st January Absolutely nothing happened.
2nd January Ditto.
3rd-8th January Very uneventful.
8th-10th January As above only more so.’

Humphrey keeps a diary of the year’s events, including an encounter with an abominable snowman, a very special Valentine’s card, some expert kite design, May Day celebrations, some very unsportsmanlike sports, Sampson’s new mouse-eating girlfriend, a disastrous attempt at homemade fireworks and a Christmas with fifty-seven Father Christmases.

This brings The Church Mice Collection to 10/12.  I only have the two ‘new’ (as in, written after I was no longer a child) books to get and I’ll have The Complete Collection.  VERY EXCITING.

I’m either excited or eating a banana sideways.

The Church Mice Spread Their Wings is the fourth book in the Church Mice series and The Diary Of A Church Mouse is the ninth.  Rather coincidentally, both books have a similar theme of Sampson wanting revenge on the mice, especially Humphrey, since Humphrey has always had a spiteful relationship with Sampson.  But then Sampson is pushed the brink of his ‘not-killing-mice’ vow in every book, which is always a lot of fun.

There’s a rather dark joke (SPOILER) at the end of ‘Spread Their Wings’ where Arthur and Humphrey crash their own funeral and the mice are annoyed with them for not being dead.  The callousness and shallowness of these (very British) characters is delightful to find in children’s books (no patronising wackiness, just genuine humour), and is convincing for the personality of mice.  Small and fickle go well together.

The Diary Of A Church Mouse is the most different of the series, being written from the perspective of Humphrey, rather than a 3rd person narrator.  The books always rely on juxtaposition to create humour, with the narration often being contradicted by the illustrations, but this one takes it even further.  Humphrey is an utterly unreliable narrator.  We all know he’s a verbose, pompous idiot who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else because he’s read a lot of books (having started out as the school mouse) so having him narrate means that every single picture shows the real story behind his blustering.  It’s very funny and a nice change, but I wouldn’t want to be stuck in Humphrey’s mind for more than one book.

The layout is noticeably different in The Diary Of A Church Mouse.  The pictures appear to be slightly cropped, not fading out at the edges but with clear corners that look to me as if part of the picture has been lost.  This may be because it is a 1996 reprint.  It is clearly from the same series of editions as The Church Mice In Action I have, which come with a thick green panel on the left of the cover, which isn’t very attractive.  I much prefer the editions that have a full picture on the front cover that then wraps around on to the back cover (as I have with The Church Mouse, The Church Cat Abroad, The Church Mice Adrift, The Church Mice At Bay and The Church Mice At Christmas).  But when collecting out of print books, you take what you can get.  Besides, I don’t even know if that style of cover is available for the later books in the series. 

Anyway, back to the layout.  In this book most double pages have one large picture on the left which depicts only one of the entries on the right page, and it’s a little confusing because the right page still has smaller illustrations for some of the entries, so basically the pictures are out of order.  In all the other books, the correct pictures and text are placed together and there’s no confusion about which one to look at first.

Despite this, both books are funny, clever and full of wonderful illustrations (I wouldn’t expect less from the extremely talented Graham Oakley), and this completes the main part of The Collection, so I am looking forward to sitting down and reading them all from The Church Mouse (1972) to The Church Mice And The Ring (1992) with no gaps.

Thank you everyone who has helped me get hold of these books. 

Only two more to go!

See Here, Here and Here for more on this series of books.

2nd June Being democratic we had a meeting today to decide which team sports we all want to play.  The most votes were for kiss in the ring, next came marbles and then I spy with my little eye.  Obviously they’re not yet ready for democracy so me and Arthur told them what they wanted to play and that is football and cricket.  As their leaders, me and Arthur will play tennis because it’s posher.
3rd-10th June Busy making bats and balls, etc.
11th-28th June Everybody practising hard.  Team Spirit not particularly noticeable yet but under pressure, in the matches tomorrow, it will blossom like a beautiful flower.
29th June It didn’t.’
 ~ The Diary Of A Church Mouse by Graham Oakley, 1986

For the rest of you, who don’t now own the ten greatest illustrated children’s books ever published to whisk away those Monday blues, you’ll just have to make do with a Musical Monday.

Beauty School Drop Out from Grease

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