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Archive for the ‘Books and Magazines’ Category

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The Whizzkid’s Handbook

Posted by Big Boo on October 10th, 2011

The Whizzkid's HandbookThe Whizzkid’s Handbook, written by Peter Eldin, was a book intended as a sort of guide to surviving school life. It basically consisted of a host of tricks, dodges, hints and tips to allow you to keep one step ahead of your teachers at all times, and (probably correctly) assumed that every school boy or girl in the country secretly wanted to be Dennis the Menace or Minnie the Minx.

Whilst the majority of entries in the book would probably have had you sent to the headmasters office quicker than a very quick thing, they were certainly all amusing to read and at the very least wish you had the guts to do at school for real.

The kind of things you might find included tips like how to fake an illness to get a day off school, excuses for why you hadn’t done your homework, ways of out smarting the school bully and so on.

There were also some rather amusing fake educational entries, with my favourite being the entry on why fire engines are red, which went something like this:-

  • Fire engines have six wheels and six firemen
  • Six plus six is twelve
  • Twelve inches make a ruler
  • Queen Elizabeth was a ruler
  • Elizabeth knighted Drake
  • Drake sailed the seven seas
  • In the seas there are fish
  • Fish have fins
  • Fins live in Finland
  • Finland is next to Russia
  • The Russian flag is red
  • And that’s why fire engines are red!

OK, some dodgy logic, and sadly no longer true thanks to the Russian flag bit at the very least, but once you’d memorised all that it was one of those great ways of impressing your mates in the school playground.

The book proved incredibly popular, so much so that there were two further volumes published.

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Where’s Asterix?

Posted by Big Boo on September 9th, 2011

Where's Asterix?Towards the tail end of the Eighties, a new phenomenon in books came along – the Where’s Wally? (or if you come from the US – Where’s Waldo?) series. These books had incredibly detailed and intricate drawings depicting various different types of scenes in which the stripy jumpered Wally was hiding, and it was the readers job to scour the pages trying to find him.

The concept proved very popular and as well as several follow up Wally books, it has also been applied to other famous characters, and one of these is Asterix the Gaul, in a book entitled, funnily enough, Where’s Asterix?

Where’s Asterix contains 12 action packed double page scenes in which it is your task to locate the famous French character. To add to the fun each scene also lists a number of other things for you to try and find, turning the book into a game in the process. You award yourself one laurel wreath for everything you find, and two every time you locate Asterix himself. If you manage to attain between 50 and 65 wreaths you can declare yourself a champion Asterix spotter!

The book was originally published in France a few years back, and has finally made it’s way to the UK thanks to Orion publishing, who deal with all the Asterix books in the UK. Since I’m sure a great many younger readers of today will probably not be that familiar with Asterix and his friends, the book also includes a useful introduction showing you what all the funny named characters are, including Asterix’s best friend Obelix and his dog Dogmatix. I still can’t believe that the potion providing druid is called Getafix…

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Posted by Big Boo on June 8th, 2011

Elmer the Elephant by David McKeeMy wife recently came home from work with a bit of a bargain. One of those book companies that come round to businesses with a selection of cut price books each week had a bag full of Elmer books at a muchly reduced price, so she snapped them up for our two and a half year old daughter.

Both my wife and myself had very vague memories of seeing Elmer before, and let’s face it he’s not hard to forget, as he’s an elephant made out of patchwork colours, rather than bog standard elephant grey. I certainly couldn’t remember having read Elmer as a child, and it turns out the reason for that is because Elmer didn’t actually come along until 1989, by which time I had already sat my GCSEs, and multicoloured elephants weren’t part of the English syllabus.

What also caught my eye was the name of the author, David McKee, as he also was the man behind some of the more memorable animated shows from my youth, Mr. Benn and King Rollo.

So, having a child now allows me to catch up with something from the Eighties which I myself missed the first time round, and I must say I’ve been quite enjoying it.

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The Smurfs

Posted by Big Boo on May 25th, 2011

The SmurfsI think my first encounter with a Smurf wasn’t with the comics or even the cartoon series, but with the little plastic figurines of the Smurfs that were given away as part of a promotion with a petrol garage. Wikipedia claims it was BP, but that’s only partly right. It was actually a chain of garages called National, which admittedly BP happened to own, but as far as the general public was concerned it was National. They even had a little musical slogan “you’ll get service with a Smurf“. Thanks to Kitty’s Cavern for clearing this one up for me.

There obviously wasn’t a National garage close to us though, as I remember we only had a couple of the freebie Smurf toys. My sister had a Smurfette one, and I remember having a Smurf that was black instead of blue. It always puzzled me at the time why he was black, but in this case I have to thank Wikipedia for putting my mind at rest, as the black Smurf was actually a blue Smurf who was bitten by a fly and went a little insane. He was the central plot for one of the Smurf comics.

Before National used Smurfs as a promotional aid though, I had never heard of them, despite the fact they were actually created way back in 1958 by Belgian cartoonist Peyo. Whilst they are known in Belgium as De Smurfen, which is where the English name for them comes from, they were first given a French name, Les Schtroumpfs.

This odd name came from Peyo asking a French friend to pass him the salt at a meal, but he had forgotten what the French word for salt was, so said “pass me the schtroumpf” instead. This led to Peyo and his friend continuing their conversation substituting the word schtroumpf in place of other words, thus inventing the manner in which the Smurfs tend to speak, substituting the word Smurf for other verbs and nouns. Whilst you could normally work out what they were saying from context, “I’m smurfing my smurf to the smurf” could mean anything really.

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Stocking Fillers - Suppliers to Father Christmas
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Meg and Mog

Posted by Big Boo on May 4th, 2011

Meg and MogI remember my sister getting a copy of Meg and Mog when she was quite young (probably four or five) and it became one of her favourite books for her big brother to read to her, before she could read it herself.

Meg is a witch who dresses in typical witch fashion, with a big black cloak and tall pointy hat, and travels in typical witch fashion on a broomstick. She has the typical witch pet too, a rather scraggy looking black cat called Mog, who accompanies Meg on all her adventures. There’s also an owl, named Owl, who also lives with Meg and Mog, but being the wise bird he is doesn’t always get involved with Meg and Mog’s outings.

In the first book we see Meg and Mog arise from bed on Halloween (in the night of course, she is a witch after all), have their “breakfast” and then set out to meet the rest of Meg’s coven to cast a midnight spell, which sadly ends badly for the other witches, as they all get turned into frogs!

The Meg and Mog series began in the Seventies, but several titles were published in the Eighties and Nineties too. The books were written by Helen Nicoll and illustrated by the hard to pronounce Jan PieÅ„kowski. Meg and Mog are drawn in a very simple cartoon style, with a lot of block colour in the surroundings to make up for the fact that Meg and Mog are drawn in bold black and white throughout, with a splash of yellow for Mog and Owl’s eyes.

There have now been almost twenty Meg and Mog stories released, with a host of other activity books and such like too. In the Eighties Meg and Mog was even turned into a stage play featuring Maureen Lipman as Meg, and later a cartoon series too.

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Posted by Big Boo on April 20th, 2011

BarbapapaYou’ll need to be an older Child of the 1980’s to remember this one (i.e. you were actually born in the Seventies), but I’m including it because it was one of those things I have very fond memories of from my childhood, even though those memories are lacking in any real clarity of details. All I really remember is that at the time, I loved it!

Barbapapa was a series of originally French language books, and later a cartoon series (which is how I mainly remember it), created by Annette Tison and Talus Taylor. The first book was published in 1970, whilst the most recent appeared as recently as 2005!

So who is this Barbapapa then? Well, he’s a big pink blob, who’s natural shape appears to be something like a pear. I say natural shape as he has the ability to squish and mould himself into any shape he chooses (a bit like The New Shmoo, another obscure reference for you there).

Whilst something big, pink and amorphous might seem terrifying, Barbapapa was anything but. He was a friendly sort who liked to help out people with problems however he could, which usually meant he would transform himself into some object or other that would prove particularly useful for the situation at hand.

He may well of started off on his own, but it wasn’t long before he got himself a family. First he met Barbamama, a female blob who was jet black in colour, and with curves that suggested a more feminine form. I guess the writers probably regretted their choice of colour for Barbapapa at this point, as pink might have made more sense for a female of the species, but there you go. However along with her shape, she also wore a ring of flowers around the top of her head, to make her look just a little more girl like.

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Here’s A House – A Celebration of Play School

Posted by Big Boo on March 9th, 2011

Play School BookIf like me you used to love watching Play School when you were but a tot, then it might interest you to know that there are now a couple of books available that go into the history and back story of this iconic kids TV show.

Written by Paul R Jackson, volumes one and two of Here’s A House – A Celebration of Play School, are now available. The first volume covers the genesis of Play School and covers it’s run from the mid Sixties through to the Seventies. Of possibly more interest to regular readers of this site though will be the new second volume, which covers the Eighties and Nineties, and also talks about the other versions of Play School that spun off from the original in different countries.

Each book contains details of major milestones and events for the programme for the relevant decades, and also features entries on each of the many presenters and contributions from the many people who were involved in the creation of this wonderful piece of television history.

For more information check out the pages on Kaleidoscope Publishings website for Volume 1 and Volume 2.

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Richard Scarry Books

Posted by Big Boo on February 21st, 2011

Richard Scarry Cars and TrucksOne of my favourite books when I was very small was Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. The books was literally jam packed with images of different animal characters riding around in different types of vehicles, and it was the kind of book where you could spend ages looking at each individual page looking for funny little details that you might otherwise have missed.

One of the aspects of this book that I enjoyed the most was that whilst most of the vehicles depicted within it were very realistic, in so far as a cartoon style drawing can be considered realistic, some of them were just plain silly, like a car whose bodywork was in the shape of a crocodile or perhaps even more absurd, a pickle!

This book can be considered part of Richard Scarry’s invented world of Busytown, a fun place populated with Scarry’s unique style of animal characters, who tended to look quite rotund with little arms and legs and very little in the way of a neck. Busytown might have been bizarre in places, but again most of it was quite realistic in nature, making the books educational as well as fun for the young reader.

Richard Scarry was born in 1919 in Boston, where he attended the Museum of Fine Arts School. His first book was Two Little Miners, which was published by Little Golden Books in 1949, but arguably the book which cemented his future popularity was Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, which contained well over a thousand images of every day objects, all labeled with the name of the object. It was published in 1963, and over the next 12 years sold 7 million copies!

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