I have been sorting through piles and piles of books which my son has decided to outgrow. It is very naughty of him to continue growing and maturing, and I am moved to tears as I remember all of the fun I had reading those books. Yes, I do stress "I had" because I developed a habit of falling in love with my kids' books and keeping them on my own night-table. I think I may even have loved those books more than my kids did. It also didn't help that, at the time, my mother (who loves kids' books even more than I do) was living in an apartment in London DIRECTLY ABOVE a children's bookshop. We received almost weekly packages during those years, and my father claims that my mother single-handedly helped the bookshop owner renovate and expand his business. Mum also boosted the British postal service profits, but that's another story.
I have always secretly believed that, if you live long enough and look closely enough and love the books enough, you will eventually find the locations and characters from your favourite children's books. "Where The Wild Things Are" was simple, it was set in my house during the year my son was two and a half. I discovered Pippi Longstocking in Maria's blog only a few months ago. The four March girls from "Little Women" SEEMED, upon a first superficial reading, to have grown up in a small New England town in the 19th century, but they in fact travelled much more widely...all the way into the 21st century (currently living quite happily in the general vicinity of Atlanta, Georgia and a small village in Germany).
Today I made another fabulous literary discovery - Magic Beach is alive and well and entertaining adults and children alike, a mere hour's drive from my home.
Alison Lester does not name the children who come to life in her glorious illustrations and rhymes, but I discovered their names today. The children are Oscar, Felix, Jasper and Grover. Oscar is the one with the huge plastic sunglasses collecting shells, Felix is the one sitting beside his mother and explaining to her why he may not necessarily like his new school, or then again, he might, or maybe not. Jasper is easy to spot because he is the one lying on his back in the water fully dressed, grinning wildly and giggling. Grover is the baby who is cheekily pretending to hide behind a clump of grass in a sand-dune, knowing that his mother really sees him but also secretly thrilled that perhaps not, but then probably yes, but then perhaps not.
There's a lot of exhausting activity, squabbles, laughter, tears, sand, salty water, sunhats blowing off in the wind, and heat rash. But eventually they all get together and start building a sandcastle for their mum. The sandcastle they build is a huge circular affair with three levels, two tunnels, a water-filled moat, shell decorations and leaf flags. Then Oscar says "Stop everything, I need to write a letter up there," and he climbs up to the very highest sandcastle tower and writes the letter K in the damp sand. All four boys then clap and jump for joy, and say they're hungry and thirsty and hot, and so they all walk home, slowly, through the hot sand, carefully crossing the road and following each other in a line as they walk down the front path to the door of their beachside home.
The thing is, though, Magic Beach was MUCH more magical than I had anticipated, for I didn't only see Alison Lester's characters walking along the sand. I also saw Mary from Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Secret Garden", and Little Bear's adoring mother who surprises him with a beautiful cake, after watching him so very patiently and lovingly as he prepares his vegetable birthday soup.
I wonder what K, Mary and Mother Bear saw when we walked along Magic Beach together this afternoon? Whatever it was, I hope it was a story with a happy ending.