Sunday, 9 September 2012

Rhinos, small children, death and surfing...

          The other week I was lucky enough to have a friend staying over who bought his four year old son with him - now I know that isn't everyone's cup of tea but since my Tins are way into their teens nowadays it was a rare privilege. Not least because I'd forgotten how good it is to have a solid intellectual discussion where you just can't get away with the normal bullshit - four year olds demand nothing less than your honest opinion. In this instance I volunteered to read the bedtime story (more of which in a minute) and ended up having a full on hour long discussion about death and what lies beyond the veil.....

          Not for a four year old any religious platitudes or ideas of an afterlife - nope, he wanted to know exactly what happened to foxes, badgers and grandad after they died. It's trickier than you think to explain this. I did make the mistake of telling him that our tortoises would outlive him...then of course he made it personal ! Anyway, it stretched my brain but I hopefully came to some satisfactory conclusion with him and left having much deeper thoughts than I'd gone in with.

          And apologies to his dad for giving his son the impression that badgers might appear in the bedroom at any time and thus making him wake up in the night....but that's another story for another time.

          Stories of course are the other brilliant thing about having a four year old over. Reading aloud and picture books are easily as much a pleasure for me as it is for the children and it gave me an excuse to indoctrinate him with what has to be one of my favourite kid's books. I've always thought that children's books can be a higher art form than many of their more serious high art relations, they have to tread the fine line between being colourful and interesting whilst never patronising or talking down. Plus, they have such an incredible influence on the rest of our lives - I doubt if psychedelia would ever have flourished had not the protagonists and the listeners been brought up on the wildly weird children's books of their generation. Everyone seems to have a favourite childrens's book and they do have a profound influence on how we see the world.

          One thing that's always interested me as well is why the artist usually gets credited below / after the writer. I appreciate that it's a skill to say something meaningful, funny or thought provoking in so few words, but it's always the pictures that stick with me. Give the artists their due - they deserve it. They also work damn hard for it.

          Anyway I digress. The book in question the other night was the rather fabulous Rhinos Who Surf by Julie Mammano (and for the record she writes and illustrates the books) which I picked up in a bargain book shop many years ago when the kids were very young and used it to encourage them to follow me into the water... it seems to have worked ! The rhinos are great big psychedelic waterborne dudes who speak surf dude speak and take on the waves in some style - it's a great book and never fails to enchant - I can commend it even if you don't have children ! It's great art served up with no need to proclaim itself as such.

          Anyway - below are a few excerpts just to give a flavour..

          One word of warning here for those of you in the UK - you might need to explain that your kids should, in later life, be discouraged from 'Dropping in', it means something different over here and might end up in some nasty confrontations....but for now enjoy the mondo waves !

And this of course demands some surf music - although I wouldn't recommend this one from '63 as good way of getting small children to sleep. It is of course on the wonderful Rhino Records



  1. Everything calls for Surf Music...Excellent.

    I have a live in four year old student of philosophy. It's taxing.

    I took him to a football game last night ("American" even though it's dominated by The South...anyway) and on our long walk back to the car, in dark, he wanted to know where he was before he was born.

    "Son, you just weren't yet."

    Not good enough for the young master...

    "God had me. God was holding me."

    Who am I to argue with that?

    1. Good to have you over e.f. - I think you might appreciate the next post too by the way. Yep, four year olds - they hold the secrets of the universe in their heads and we go and educate the hell out of them...

  2. That looks like a really fun, fantastic and original book. Ooh I've come over all inspired...
    Your words about artist credits are much appreciated!

    1. And very heartfelt. Here's to a National Gallery for children's book illustrators (hate that term anyway) - children's artists !