How to Hide a Lion at Christmas by Helen Stephens

Published: 4th October 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Alison Green Books
Illustrator: Helen Stephens
Pages: 40
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

A charming holiday picture book about a girl, her pet lion, and a Christmas adventure.

Iris and her lion go everywhere together. But when Christmas comes and the family is going away, Mum says the lion must stay behind. After all, you can’t take a lion on a train. Luckily the lion has other ideas. He sets off on a festive, snowy adventure to find Iris—and almost bumps into Santa Claus!

This is the Christmas edition of How to Hide a Lion and in this story we see Iris face the challenge of hiding her lion once more because lions can’t go on trains and therefore cannot come with them to visit Auntie Sarah.

It’s a very sweet book. It’s fun to see Iris attempt to hide her lion but can’t quite make it work. Iris’ lion doesn’t want to make her sad by being left behind so he sets off to join them on their Christmas. Having not read the original book or others in the series first I was slightly underwhelmed, but I’ve since read the first book which is more substantial and this makes this a nice addition to the series of Iris’s numerous adventures of having to hide her lion.

You don’t need to have read the original per se, it’s easily accepted that Iris has a lion and no understanding of how this came about is required, but I did feel like it was missing something. Having now read the original story I can see the themes Stephens uses here which connect it to the original. But even beyond that, there is a sweet story about a lion not wanting his friend to be lonely and setting off to make sure she has a nice Christmas, albeit with a few mishaps on the way. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.

I enjoyed this because there is a lion in it, which is an easy way to gain my approval over anything, but beyond that it’s also a nice, fun story. Stephens’ illustrations are bright and colourful, the mixture of full page and small illustrations suit the story and helps convey the narrative being told. Her style is simple but still full of detail, and the scenes through the book tell their own story.

I think I will have to track down more of Iris’ adventures because seeing the humorous and creative ways she tries to hide her lion, I’d love to see more of her attempts and see what mischief they get up to in the meantime.

You can purchase How to Hide a Lion at Christmas via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Blinky Bill and Nutsy (#3) by Dorothy Wall

Published: 1937 (print)/05 June 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Angus & Robertson/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 156/2 hrs and 56 mins
Narrator: Julie McGregor
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

While telling the adventures of Blinky Bill, a naughty little boy in the form of a koala, the stories also present messages of conservation. Blinky Bill is known for his mischievousness and his love for his mother. In general throughout the stories he does things that are realistic for koalas as well as things that child readers would like to do. Dorothy Wall tells the stories directly to the children and Blinky often interacts with the readers in an introduction. Her dedications are often to ‘All the Kind Children’, with her own son Peter and other common Australian names of the 1930s appearing. The books are also fully illustrated by Dorothy Wall herself.

The third and final Blinky Bill book brings the adventures of the rambunctious koala to an end and introduces a whole new set of characters to get to know. Gone are the days of the same few characters, now there’s a heap of new names and creatures to get to know. If you’re like me and grew up in Australia in the 90s, you will recognise many of these characters from the television series, the difference is the story is not the same at all.

Wall has turned this simple bush story into a strange tale about animals behaving more and more like humans in ways that don’t even make sense. It’s gone from animals with a society but still behaving like animals to a complete anthropomorphising of these characters with chequebooks and boarding houses, hair getting put in rollers and the need for potato bins. They are now living their lives like humans but in animal form.

From waxing lyrical about the wonders of zoos at the end of book two, Wall opens book three showing us the animal abuse suffered and the desperate need to escape. The inconsistencies are annoying to read about, especially when there are so many contradictions not only in previous books but in the same story. The established society had changed so much and with new characters it was like a new story starting from scratch.

This time Nutsy joins Blinky on his adventures around the bush as she is the new addition to his family. Found lost and alone Mrs Koala invites her to stay and soon she is out adventuring with Blinky. With new friends like Splodge, Nutsy and Mr Wombat there is a consistency in the tales as these faces pop up again and again. Blinky has adventures around his home with the same mischief causing approach, angering various animals, helping others, and there’s the standard chapter where he and his friends make their way onto human land and cause chaos.

I know coming at this almost 100 years later will skew any interpretations but I can see how this would have been received by kids and parents when it was first published. They would related to Blinky being a naughty boy and getting into trouble as well as Mrs Koala’s frustrations. The fascination with Australian animals they may have seen near their homes or not see at all would be delightful, a long tradition seen with English literature coming to an Australian setting. It would also be a way to gain sympathy for these creatures, I can see Wall’s attempts at trying to sneak in references to helping them after fires and treating them like wild animals but it is quite subtle.

For all its faults from a modern perspective it was interesting to see the original story and the adventures of Blinky and the mischief he gets up to. Even though the audiobooks are three separate stories, the physical copies are always a collection of all three together. Listening to the audiobooks back to back was like reading the collection but it also made me realise the changes between each book. McGregor does a good job as narrator and the voices and tone she uses suited the style of writing. I missed out on the illustrations Wall had done scattered through the pages but looking at my paperback copy they are simple and are more decorative than anything else. As a classic it reads as such and it’s a good source material to gain inspiration from which is why Blinky Bill is still as captivating today.

You can purchase Blinky Bill via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Princess Kevin by Michaël Escoffier

Published: 7th April 2020Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Illustrator: Roland Garrigue
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

This year, Kevin is going to the school costume show as a princess. His costume is perfect but he knows that the best costumes are authentic. So he is outraged that none of the knights will partner with him and complete the look. Things don’t go quite a smoothly as he planned. Next year, there is only one thing for it. He will just have to be something even more fabulous.

This is a heart-warming and funny story about imagination, diversity and persevering at expressing your fabulous self.

I liked this book because it allowed an exploration of self and breaking gender norms without it having to be purely for trans or other identity reasons. Through the narrative, Escoffier notes that girls can be knights and cowboys so why can’t Kevin be a princess?

It showcases that kids want to play dress up and be the different characters they read in their books and whether that is a knight, a butterfly, or a princess then what does it matter? Kevin can be a princess because he is becoming someone different for the day.

There is some minor bullying towards other costumes and the lack of great design, but it doesn’t go any further than that. Ideally it would be better without this inclusion, no matter how trivial and small because in a book where Kevin is trying to have fun and be his best self on the day, having him join in mocking another student is not the best thing.  There is an apology that’s offered right after which is a slight redemption so I’ll grant Escoffier that.

There isn’t a moral to the story, Escoffier isn’t offering a grand statement in Kevin’s expression because as children do he finds the costume constrictive after a while and hard to play in. I liked that this story is such a non-event. It’s about a dress up event at school and nothing more. Escoffier normalising this behaviour is a great positive because letting boys chose to be princesses simply because they want to be is something I wholeheartedly support.

You can purchase Princess Kevin via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Blinky Bill Grows Up (#2) by Dorothy Wall

Published: 1934 (print)/05 June 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Angus & Robertson/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 150/2 hrs and 31 mins
Narrator: Julie McGregor
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

While telling the adventures of Blinky Bill, a naughty little boy in the form of a koala, the stories also present messages of conservation. Blinky Bill is known for his mischievousness and his love for his mother. In general throughout the stories he does things that are realistic for koalas as well as things that child readers would like to do. Dorothy Wall tells the stories directly to the children and Blinky often interacts with the readers in an introduction. Her dedications are often to ‘All the Kind Children’, with her own son Peter and other common Australian names of the 1930s appearing. The books are also fully illustrated by Dorothy Wall herself.

After coming home to his mother after the last batch of mischief, Blinky has gone out adventuring again and he meets a whole host of new creatures. Wall has changed her approach with this story completely. While the first book kept the animal more natural, this one tends to stray into the anthropomorphising area. There are lucky dips and bazaars, and while the animals are still animals, they start participating in more human type activities. 

The koala culls are still underway, it is mentioned that 200 000 of them have been shot which explains why there are none left in the area. Again, no idea why, if there was a mention of the need for it other than fun it would still be terrible, but Wall makes it sound like they are culling them just because they can. Especially given the description of the killing of Blinky’s father in book one. Strangely enough Blinky himself is now not immune to killing. He easily advocates for killing other animals and even has animals killed himself for trivial reasons but is horrified when humans do it and sees it as unjustified. 

There is not real sense of how long Blinky has been gone on this round of adventuring, whether it is a few days or weeks, Mrs Koala seems happy to have him back each time though regardless. The Australian animals are on show once more, though Wall includes a hedgehog (though the illustration is of a porcupine) instead of an echidna which was curious. But possums, bull ants, goannas and lyrebirds all get to be on show. There’s also introduced species like foxes and rabbits who get their own part of the story too.

Where Wall starts to lose my understanding is when she informs the readers that koalas are happy in the zoo. This is part of the story where she breaks the fourth wall and address readers directly. The narrative style has always been one where Wall is telling Blinky’s story to a reader and even with this shift the tone remains the mystical lyrical style that brings you into Blinky’s world, but it also tells readers that instead of being happy in their natural habitat koalas love being at the zoo. She then contradicts herself by telling readers not to kidnap the koalas from the zoo and keep them as pets because they need to be surrounded by their bush, and yet my understanding is, being in the zoo, a 1930s zoo on top of that, is hardly any better.

There’s a lot more confusion with this second collection of stories than the first. Blinky still goes on adventures but they feel less connected. It jumps all over the place and it’s jarring to go from animals running a fundraising bazaar to Blinky orchestrating vengeance on predators to Blinky causing mischief at a farm to back in the bush meeting friendly animals like birds and hedgehogs. Granted this story has been strange from the start, but by the end it turned into a strange propaganda about zoos and animals and I was glad to be finished.

You can purchase Blinky Bill via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Blinky Bill (#1) by Dorothy Wall

Published: 1933 (print)/05 June 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Angus & Robertson/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 100/2 hrs and 3 mins
Narrator: Julie McGregor
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

While telling the adventures of Blinky Bill, a naughty little boy in the form of a koala, the stories also present messages of conservation. Blinky Bill is known for his mischievousness and his love for his mother. In general throughout the stories he does things that are realistic for koalas as well as things that child readers would like to do. Dorothy Wall tells the stories directly to the children and Blinky often interacts with the readers in an introduction. Her dedications are often to ‘All the Kind Children’, with her own son Peter and other common Australian names of the 1930s appearing. The books are also fully illustrated by Dorothy Wall herself.

When I say I have wanted to read this series for almost half of my life I would not be telling a life. I remember gazing in wonder at the huge, illustrated hardback collection at the bookshop and wishing I had the money to buy it. Even when I eventually bought the much smaller, cheaper paperback it still sat on my shelf for years waiting for me to pick it up. Now that I have read the stories, I’m glad I can tick it off because it is quite a unique, strange collection and yet one that has captured the hearts of people all around this country given he is still popular and being reimagined for kids today.

First published in 1933 the time period is evident in Wall’s writing style and the events in this book. The notion of Australian animals is a fascination and similar to May Gibbs with the Gumnut stories, telling stories of “the Australian bush” was the way to go. We’re introduced to Blinky after he’s born and how the animals around comment on him, watch him get named, and then, in a weird turn of events see him being nannied by a wallaby and almost get eaten by a snake. Why a newborn koala is being taken from the tree to the ground is not even the first question, the better one is why his mother can’t raise him herself. But such was the times I suppose and Wall is reflecting human behaviour onto these animals.

To give her some slight credit, Wall doesn’t overly anthropomorphise the animals. There is a group that live around the tree and are neighbours, animals hunt and are preyed upon, and we see Blinky’s early life. He is cheeky and mischievous, the iconic red “knickerbockers” on him from a young age.

Wall doesn’t hold things back either, there is a proper depressing description of the death of Blinky’s father in the first chapter, one told from both his perspective and the others. Definitely something I wasn’t expecting. It isn’t graphic, but it is rough to listen to. As Blinky grows up and explores the bush we see more of the animal life and the balance with humans and see the tense relationship between them.

Blinky has always been portrayed as being cheeky, but he is a lot rougher and harsher in the book. He hates his neighbour, he also runs away a lot when he doesn’t get his own way. The “reality of bush life” is through this story, Wall obviously wanted a cute tale about the Aussie bush creatures but it isn’t quite as cute with hunters culling koalas for no reason and animals preying on others, but it also has a simplicity about it where Blinky comes across various Australian animals and having brief encounters with them. Wall’s Australian knowledge only goes so far as Blinky’s mother is called Mrs Bear for most of the book until it switches to Mrs Koala and Blinky is called a cub not a joey, but given the actual weirdness in the story that part I might forgive her for.

You can purchase Blinky Bill via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson | Project Gutenberg

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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