Tuesday, 23 April 2013

just william; wimpy kid

Of the children's books I've been newly introduced to through parenthood, the first volume of Diary of a Wimpy Kid made me laugh a couple of times. It also pulled off the trick, which is less often achieved than you might think, of writing a novel in diary form where you don't constantly think 'no one would really write that in their diary, it's only there because it's funny to the reader', and furthermore the trick of having a narrator who unselfconsciously makes you see why he's less likeable and admirable than he thinks he is. Sadly, it was very much diminishing returns on subsequent volumes (though I have read them all, still).

Definitely the best, however, has been Just William by Richmal Crompton. My perception of these books was coloured by the tv series from you youth, which I never saw but was aware of, and seemed populated with tedious and annoying characters. But actually reading the first volume (or at least, first volume in modern reprint series - I'm not clear on whether they reflect original publication), which I was doing at bedtimes, was a revelation. The best comparison I can make is that it was like PG Wodehouse for children; dry, witty, adult tone and vocabulary (reminded me in that regard somewhat of A Wizard of Earthsea, which felt like a book written as if for adults but with a deliberately limited vocabulary being what made it a children's book, rather than a childish tone). I'd happily read more of them.

Of course Richmal, like Harper (Lee), is one of those female authors often mistakenly thought to be male; I certainly thought that as a boy.