Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs

Published: June 18th 1985
Goodreads badgePublisher: Blue Gum Publishers
Pages: 224
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

The story follows brothers Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, and their adventures in the Australian bush. As well as many friends, along the way they encounter the wicked Banksia Men.

I am certainly glad I fulfil the 7+ category this book seems to have been given. Personally I think when it comes to books like Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Peter Pan, Blinky Bill, any of these classic children’s literature there should be no age. Everyone must enjoy them as soon as they are able. There is nothing in this book a six year old wouldn’t understand, they’d love it.

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie is practically an Australian institution. I do not know how legitimate these claims are but I think it is a fair call. The edition I own is a very old second hand book from 1984 which incidentally fell apart as I was reading. But before it became two separate sections of stained pages clinging for life with its thin cover the only protection and support, it was the collected works.

What I never realised what how the story of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie came about, yes they were brothers but apparently not exactly. Blown in by the wind Cuddlepie is adopted by Snugglepot’s parents as a baby, and thus the duo was created. Isn’t that sweet? Though I do wonder about poor Mrs Cuddlepie who had her baby blown away by the wind hours after it was born, and never see or hear from it again. That’s gotta be tough.

When the pair grow older they wish to have adventures, stories of the humans pass through the bush and Snugglepot is intrigued and curious of them. Tagging along is Cuddlepie and soon the start of their many adventures begin. In the first book there is an anti human feel about it, understandable of course, but it was interesting the fact that the original story was written in 1918 and the same issues about trapping and arson are relevant. There is a constant threat of death and many characters appear dead until they recover, but Gibbs isn’t shy of making you think they’re dead from whatever horrid thing they’ve experienced. It is what it is, and that’s what makes it great.

As a pair they tend to wander off a lot, often right in the middle of something they had been doing. This I think accounts for the majority of trouble and kidnapping situations they get themselves into. Each of the three main stories are very fast paced and filled with mini adventures that connect together, and there are a lot of new friends and characters to meet. Some of which are reoccurring through all three books, some are only seen once. One of the things that did annoy me was that in one of the most Australian books we’ve got, Koalas keep being called bears. No Gibbs, no! They are not bears! Surely you knew this in 1918, if not by 1918 then by 1934 you had figured it out for your final story? Yes? Apparently no.

So aside from the fact we keep hearing about the “bears” this was a rather quaint and charming little set of books. What interested me was how the Banksia story came about. Everyone knows about the Banksia men, everyone knows they are the enemies of the gumnuts but I was rather surprised to find out why. I am not going to tell you because that ruins them magic, and there is a lot of little magic moments in these stories. They are very blunt and jumpy and seem to just go from one thing to the next like a distracted toddler but they also manage to connect in some strange bizarre kind of way.

Gibbs talks to her readers like she is reading the story to them, in that sense it would work very well to read to your child, again the under sevens. Why over seven? Anyway the animals in this book are for the most part very sweet, and in the beginning I was suspicious of every animal that came along pretty much because lizards don’t generally do nice things for birds and I was confused. But this is a sweet, innocent and joyful story so everyone is nice, and all the bad characters are easily identified to avoid confusion once you realise how Gibbs writes. She also uses a lot of strange phrases which I cannot tell is supposed to be old Aussie rhyming slang or something, or just bush talk that all these creatures use, because it is strange.

The second and third stories follow these same patterns, mini adventures after another, sequels to the previous stories. Other characters get some more history as the stories continue and the continuing adventures of the duo and their friends manages to fill in all the missing information that remained from the previous book. It is rather a good system. You find out more about new places and people, an entire town goes to the dentist, Winky still will not wake, and despite being brothers Snugglepot and Cuddlepie spend a lot of time apart and move in with people very quickly.

There are some grubby bits about death and injury but there are no elaborate details, and Gibbs doesn’t exactly cover death in a deep, serious way. Sure the Banksia men want to drown the gumnuts, sure people get choked a lot, there is also a brilliant conversation that simply goes ‘Why did I get blown up?” to which the reply is ‘It was an accident…they will happen.’ And that they do Ms Gibb, that they do.

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