Sunday, 7 July 2013

Children's Classics: Stories by Firelight

Stories by Firelight - Shirley Hughes
Shirley Hughes is one of the most talented and well known children's book authors and illustrators of the 20th century, maybe all time. Her stories illustrated my childhood and her characters, like Alfie and My Naughty Little Sister, became familiar faces.

My Naughty Little Sister - Shirley Hughes
One of my favourite books of hers is actually a collection of short stories and poems; Stories by Firelight. I was always drawn in by the warmth of the cover but the main reason I liked this book is that the stories were were a little bit different to her usual work, they had more bite.

Stories by Firelight - Shirley Hughes
Do you like my artfully placed coffee cup? Pity I didn't put any coffee in it.

One of my favourite stories from the book is Sea Singing, it's about a fisherman who falls in love with a Selkie (a seal who conveniently turns into a woman). It's being told to a young girl by her artist friend who lives by the sea, the illustrations of the water are a wonderful mix of the real and the fantastic. I always wanted to have dark hair like the little girl.

Sea Singing - Shirley Hughes

It's a story of love and, forgive me for getting deep here, the struggle of being who you are and getting what you want. Pretty intense for a kid's book.

Sea Singing - Shirley Hughes

These illustrations are so expressive of the man's need and the woman's sadness. Shirley Hughes combines adult emotions with the innocence of a child's imagination.

It's not all big emotional themes like love and loss though; she begins the book with a poem indicating the coming of Winter and ends with one celebrating the onset of Spring. A bit of a religious theme creeps in with the poems Inside the Inn and First Light; not being a Christian these could be a bit much for me but Shirley Hughes writes them without lecturing and with a light sense of humour that shines through most of her work.

Another of my favourites from the book is A Midwinter Night's Dream, a story with no words, which is quite strange for me as I was, and am, an avid reader.

A Midwinter Night's Dream - Shirley Hughes

The tale follows a young boy who falls through a door in his otherwise normal house and travels through underground passages. The pictures tell a story of strange creatures and a fantastical world that is always out of the corner of his eye or hidden round a corner.
I suppose it appeals to me and others who hope there is something magical just round the corner, and one day we'll be quick enough to glimpse it.

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