20 Jan 2010

The Naughty Book

I was thinking over these things one day whilst a party of children were engaged in uproarious laughter over a quite new book. I had looked at the book. I thought its language very poor, and thought that it described both preposterously mischievous children and equally stupid parents. That ought to be a bad book for a nursery, I thought, and yet how the children were enjoying it. So I considered the matter again, and came to the conclusion that they were quite right to enjoy it, and that I should be very silly to interfere. Do I like frivolous literature myself? Most of us do. And it is very good for most of us too, provided it does not suffice for all our reading. This book was the children's frivolous literature. They had the choice of other sorts, and being reasonably brought-up children they used their choice wisely and gained by the very variety of what they read. So I think we need not be too severe on the mere cheerful foolish book. We need not too rigorously exclude the slangy child and the imp.

But there is another sort of book-child I would never invite to play with mine. I call him the poseurand I think Little Lord Fauntleroy about gives an idea of what I mean. I think he is everything a child ought not to be. He is heir to a title, he converts his grandfather, he patronises the tenantry, he is always getting into attitudes, especially his legs—his influence, I am convinced, is largely due to his clothes. I would banish him and his like most mercilessly.

Mrs. Crump, Living Books for the Nursery PRArticle Volume 14, no. 12, December 1903, pgs. 944-953

It will come as no surprise to most of you to know that there is a large pile of books on Jemimah's bedside table. Actually, there is a large pile of books beside every bed in our peaceful home - even the spare ones. Our bookcases, filled to bursting point, sort of necessitate this artful arrangement of books on every available flat surface, and bedside tables are amongst the best place for books to be regardless of how many books you actually own.

If you check Jemimah's pile today you'll find the following:
  • A Little Bush Maid by Mary Grant Bruce, our school read-aloud;
  • her current read, Horse Crazy, The Complete Adventures of Bonnie and Sam by Alison Lester;
  • one or two of Anna Fienberg's Tashi books;
  • her Bible;
  • Rudyard Kipling's Rewards and Fairies;
  • Further Doings of Milly -Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley;
  • Nurse Lugton's Curtain by Virginia Woolf; and
  • The Potato People by Pamela Allen.
Quite a varied list of titles, I'm sure you'll agree.

Last night I went into her room to read her her bedtime story to discover it missing. The pile, I mean. Completely. In its place was one solitary book.

Glancing quickly at the title I asked, where her book had disappeared to, amusement tinging my voice.
"Which book, Mummy?" asked my princess, seriously.
"Oh that book. I must have tidied it away somewhere. Anyway, I thought tonight that we could read The Naughty Book." She looked purposely over at the one book still lying on her bedside table. It was William's Bad Resolution by Richmal Crompton.

Aha, The Naughty Book.

What a perfect title for a Just William book.

William is only a visitor in our peaceful home. Much like Flat Stanley, William came to us a week ago via the mail box from his home in Northern NSW as a consequence of my recent post on Bad Books. His owner wondered whether Charlotte Mason would consider him twaddle, and sent him down for us to try.

Much like Mrs Crump's experience in the quote above, William was an instant hint with Jemimah. Why did she like him? "Because he's naughty, Mummy!"

As her sensible mother, my opinion of William was a bit more considered. In general I do not enjoy rebellious, intransigent and rude children in fiction. The question was, did William qualify? Despite the fact that William remained 11 for the 50 years the books were being written, would he have been gaoled for delinquent behaviour when he finally reached 18? That's what I wanted to know.

So my answer? William's a nice kid, he's just misunderstood. He's loyal to his friends, and kind to those who deserve it. He tries really hard to do the right thing. He is polite to his parents and generally obedient. He accepts discipline. The problem is, if something can go wrong, it will, and with a kid like William then if that happens he just has to fix it. That's all. He has a sense of justice too, so beware anyone who does him wrong. Especially if that someone just happens to be William's archenemy Hubert Lane.

So would I like Jemimah to go and play at William's house? Well, er, no. To be honest I wouldn't. I would be willing to have him play at ours though. Under strict parental supervision. The problem is, William wouldn't like that, so he probably wouldn't come anyhow.

Not like the book version. That version of William is welcome at our place anytime. We're loving him, and he's certainly not twaddle, though he probably qualifies as frivolous literature. Which begs the question, Why is it that naughty, disobedient children appeal in 2010 as much as they obviously did in Mrs Crump's home in 1903?

Pippi Longstocking, Ramona, My Naughty Little Sister, Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden, and Ian Falconer's naughty pig Olivia are all favourites in our home. Do you have favourite naughty children in yours? I think part of the reason we like them is that naughty kids have the best fun, the greatest adventures. They have so much freedom, and no parental constraints. They seem to do what they want and to get away with that. They can stand up for themselves. No one teases them, no one bullies them.

Good naughty children are never violent, never nasty, never cruel. They're nice.

I think that's it, you know. Naughty children are funny. They're lovable. Mostly though they're real. They're naughty, they're punished and they move on.

Jemimah for one likes that, because she's naughty too.

So's her mother.

By the way, I don't like Little Lord Fauntleroy either. Do you?


  1. No Little Lord Faulteroy but I read a lot of the William books growing up ~ & Jennings. Have you met Jennings? And I should confess that Judy has alsways been my favourite of the Seven Little Austrlians. The later books are missing something with her presence gone. Enid Blyton's The Naughtiest Girl in the School ones & All Because Of Patience. My wiring is bad. I do like them naughty. Not bad, mind you, just michevious & *real*.

  2. LOL. Little Lord Fauntleroy is one of my daughter's favorite books. Too funny.

    I think the biggest naughty kid book I can think of is Peter Pan, another favorite in our home. Five Children and It, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. I'm sure I could list for days the number of great books that have children who demonstrate naughtiness on occasion.

    As with everything, balance. We have no problem with books that show normal children behaving in sometimes naughty ways. We have no problem with the occasional very naughty child or with the very unlikely practically perfect child like Lord Fauntleroy.

    However, I cannot tolerate a book whose entire make-up consists of bathroom noises and vulgar disrespect.

  3. I have not read Little Lord Fauntleroy (gasp!), but we love Ramona around here. To my mind, Ramona rises above many other children's lit characters because her actions have natural consequences and, lots of times, her reasons for "being naughty" kind of make sense. Even when she's being a pest. Also, she matures as she ages, recognizes consequences of her behavior, and detests naughtiness she sees in other (younger) children, like Willa Jean, whose behavior is strikingly reminiscent of Ramona's at an earlier age!

  4. I asked Maxim who his favorite naughties are.

    "Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer," was his very quick reply, "and I love it when Matilda gets back at her parents."

    Not a surprise as the majority of the time my boys walk around the house with home-made corncob pipes in their mouths. Oh, and they assure me that I am not nasty like Matilda's mother and father...whew.

  5. William sounds strangley like someone in MY house.....Anyway, here is our very favorite "naughty" book--when reading it you must make "varoom, varoom" noises to start up the mini-bike! Foo reminded B and me of P for years! Now he's still pretty proud of the likeness!! I told him once I'd make a quilt with Foo for HIS son when he's born. Here's the link:

  6. Ah yes, some good villains coming through. I thought there would be. Matilda is great, isn't she? Lurve the movie too.

    Like Daisy, I can't abide the modern gross bathroom noise books...

    I also haven't read the modern equivalent of Just William, Horrid Henry. Have any of you? Comments?

  7. No, haven't. Wanted to say that I'm with you and Daisy. "Poop Fiction" is a definite no-no here.

  8. I am glad you are enjoying William, even if you wouldn't let Jemimah visit him!

    I have read one Horrid Henry so far. There are definite similarities. I probably have a soft spot for William more. I always enjoy teaching boys more than girls, and definitely favour boys with spirit.

    As far as why we like naughty heroes, I think you're right, and would add this: part of we good children enjoys vicarious naughtiness. We get to put a frog in Hubert's sock vicariously, no hard done, and it's fun!

  9. I'd love to someday read the book, just because you've piqued my curiosity... :) William sounds like my Cullen. I wouldn't like him to go play at other people's houses, I like to keep tabs on him too!


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