Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Books by Racey Helps

Books written and illustrated by Racey Helps

At home, there are two books that still survive from my childhood - which I've kept from the age Charlotte is now. One is a Tale of two Dormice which is a pretty unremarkable tome, but the other is an extremely battered and well worn copy of "The Tale of Hunky Dory" by Racey Helps. Though there are pages missing, and despite fruitless searches for a replacement, I've still kept it simply because Angus Clifford Racey Helps (they don't make names like that any more!) was an absolutely electrifying storyteller and illustrator. 

"The Tale of Hunky Dory" was first published by Collins in 1958 so it would've been ten or so years later when I was given a copy as a baby. Naturally when you're a baby, the only thing you want to do with books is eat them so over the years the book got extremely mauled, and bits got lost in various house moves - but one thing that has stayed constant is just how utterly skilled Helps was. As with the previously covered books in the Blackberry Farm series, Helps books feature a range of animal characters with human characteristics - though the characters in Hunky Dory owe a great deal to the likes of Kenneth Grahame and the Wind in the Willows books rather than Beatrix Potter. 

"The Tale of Hunky Dory" follows the tale of the titular dormouse and his adventures as he prepares for a long winter in hibernation. Due to a mix up, Hunky Dory loses his favourite blanket to a rather adventurous and inquisitive shrew who is obsessed with all things nautical. The two finally bump into each other just as Hunky Dory has purloined Shrew's bed as a boat. Eventually they embark on a water-borne adventure that sees them narrowly escaping the jaws of a nasty pike. 

The painted illustrations are achingly good in this, and it has broad appeal right through the generations as it's now one of Charlotte's favourite books (even though I have to use my addled memory to fill in the pages that are missing). Amazon seems to have a few used copies of Helps books if you click through the link at the top of this review. They're excellent and if you ever spot a copy of "The Tale of Hunky Dory" and don't mind parting with it, get in touch!

Charlotte's best bit: Hunky Dory's tiny little pink feet

Daddy's favourite bit: The absolutely sumptuous illustrations of nature in the book

Rating: 5 out of 5