Monday, July 21, 2008

Forever Rose by Hilary McKay - and some musings on Capital Letters

Thank goodness for British children’s books! There is something about a book in which characters say “shan’t” and use mysterious objects called spongebags and occasionally talk in Capital Letters that warms my heart like a spot of tea and some beans on toast.

Forever Rose by Hilary McKay (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster, 2008) is the fifth and last in the series that started with Saffy’s Angel in 2002. As fans of the Casson Family series know, there are four children (each named after a color), an absent-minded and impractical but loving artist Mum, and a Dad who is an Important Artist and lives in London. That the family members are eccentric and unpredictable is only part of this series’ charm – it’s the warmly affectionate and usually understanding (if occasionally disparaging or scornful) way the Cassons treat each other that is so enticing. Oh, and the deft way McKay has with words, letting her address significant issues with a lovely lightness (somewhat reminiscent of Eva Ibbotson and Sylvia Waugh). And don’t forget those capital letters! Yes, everything and everyone comes together at the end of this book and it is Very Slightly Soppy, but oh so satisfying. I wish there would be more!

It must be Winnie-the-Pooh (Dutton, 1926)that first got me hooked on capital letters. I know many folks think they’re a tad twee, but I think they’re so perfect for expressing thoughts of a particularly Serious and Weighty Nature (if only in the mind of the character or narrator, who might be slightly pompous or might simply be waxing ironical). Here is an excerpt from Winnie-the-Pooh’s “Eeyore Has a Birthday” chapter. Owl has asked Pooh what Pooh is giving Eeyore for his birthday.

‘“I’m giving him a Useful Pot to Keep Things In, and I wanted to ask you…”
“Someone has been keeping honey in it,” said Owl.’

Then Pooh asks Owl to write “A Happy Birthday” on the present, as his own spelling is Wobbly. Owl writes, “HIPY PAPY BTHUTHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY.”
‘Pooh looked on admiringly.
“I’m just saying ‘A Happy Birthday,’” said Owl carelessly.
“It’s a nice long one,” said Pooh, very much impressed by it.’

Lord, I love Winnie-the-Pooh.

Remember those hilarious Bagthorpes? The Casson family starts to look pretty darn normal in comparison. In the series “The Bagthorpe Saga” by Helen Cresswell, all the siblings go around madly adding Strings to their Bows and the grown-ups are either ditzy, malicious, or downright bonkers. In Absolute Zero (MacMillan, 1978), the second installment, one sibling enters The Happiest Family in England contest (they’re all constantly entering contests) and – oh horrors – wins. “It will drive us all,” predicted Mr. Bagthorpe, “to the brink of breakdown. If we have to look happy for more than five minutes on end, the strain will prove too much.” In a family of self-important, ambitious, odd individuals, thank goodness there is young Jack and his sweet, stupid dog Zero to keep the family slightly grounded. These books, with their slightly hysterical, extremely farcical, madcap tone, are direct descendents of the Bertie Wooster books by P.G. Wodehouse.

Long live the British! Keep those Eccentric Family Sagas coming!

1 comment:

  1. I love these musings. When I first started reading them, as a fan myself of the McKay series, I thought, oooh, I have to post a plug for the Bagthorpes. But as I should have predicted, you were already on it. Many thanks for tying these wonderful funny books together in such a witty package.
    Susan Patron