Monday 6 July 2015

Stig of the Dump by Clive King and Edward Ardizzone (Puffin)

Stig of the Dump

Written by Clive King

Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone

Published by Puffin Classics

One of the joys of reading with Charlotte is being able to introduce stories to her that I remember from childhood. Some of the books I managed to hold onto, some we have to hunt for in secondhand bookshops (as they're sadly out of print) and some are still as well loved now as they were back in the 70s and have stayed in print for new generations of kids to be thrilled by.

Clive King's 1963 children's novel "Stig of the Dump" is one such book, and though it's been given a multitude of new covers over the years (including editions brought out to cash in on the two TV series that have never really captured the essence of the book) it's still a stunning story, and Edward Ardizzone's scratchy often indistinct inky artwork still lends an amazing atmosphere to the tale.

"Stig of the Dump" starts out with a young boy, Barney, staying at his grandmother's house for the summer holidays along with his annoying big sister. Though Barney has been warned not to play near a chalk pit at the bottom of Grandma's garden, he's a boy - and like most boys ignores good advice in the eternal search for mischief and adventure.

Barney falls into the chalk pit after being a bit too inquisitive one day and as his world spins around him, Barney comes to and realises that he's fallen through the roof of a makeshift shelter. Worse still, a beady dark pair of eyes is watching him from the darkness.

This is how Barney meets Stig, a caveman living in the chalk pit and adapting to life amongst the thrown away rubbish of modern folk.

No explanation is ever offered in the story for how a caveman ends up in modern times. None is really needed though it's a great story for sparking delicious discussions and theories on time travel (can't really say that about many childrens books, can you?)

The story is all about Barney and Stig's friendship, and it's a classic 'fish out of water' tale as Barney slowly introduces Stig to the wonders of the modern age - and likewise, Stig introduces Barney to a simpler more earthy way of life.

The two become friends and share many adventures together, thwarting the local rowdy kids who take it on themselves to invade Stig's pit - and defeating a nasty pair of burglars who raid Barney's Grandma's house for her silverware. They even manage to corner an escaped Leopard!

I loved the effect this book had on Charlotte. The story harks back to an era when 'playing out' was the norm, and way before anyone ever thought of coining the phrase "upcycling" here's Stig making amazing inventions from the rubbish other people throw away.

Back when "Stig of the Dump" was originally written, kids might well have had TV as a distraction, but most kids would have leaped at the chance to go out and play (and probably cause mischief). For Charlotte, Barney's world sounds absolutely amazing and full of opportunities for adventure (and quite a lot of peril, we wondered how on earth he made it to the end of the story without breaking his neck!).

Perhaps because we try to spend every weekend out in the wilds, in the countryside of Oxfordshire, she recognises a bit of herself in Barney as we build shelters in the woods, or (safely) make a makeshift fire though we draw the line at chopping down trees or playing in or around dumps.

"Stig of the Dump" is timeless and brilliant and it's been a real pleasure introducing Charlotte to this simple but atmospheric story that still holds many happy memories for me, and now will hopefully hold a few for her too.

Charlotte's best bit: When Barney and Stig make a window for Stig's cave out of jam jars, a wooden box and clay and when Barney and Stig encounter a Leopard escaped from a local circus.

Daddy's Favourite bit: The closing chapter in the book is still as electrifying, brilliant and bittersweet reading it as an adult as it was when I was a child. A modern classic, deservedly revered and treasured.