Tag Archives: Ted Prior

Reading with the Grandies 31: Roald Dahl, Grug and the Bus Book

In the months since I last posted about Ruby’s reading, she has discovered Roald Dahl, and her little brother has started asking to be read to from what he calls the ‘Bus Book’.

Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach (© 1961, illustrations © Quentin Blake 1995, Penguin Random House 2016)
—–, Fantastic Mr Fox (© 1970, illustrations © Quentin Blake 1996, Penguin Random House 2016)
—–. The BFG (© 1982, illustrations © Quentin Blake 1982, Puffin 1985)

Whatever else you might think about Roald Dahl (and I know there are people would keep him away from young children because of what they see as cruelty), his sentences are a joy to read aloud, and evidently a joy to hear, while his plots are full to bursting with vividly imagined incidents. We’ve read James and the Giant Peach more than once, a couple of pages at a time. We’ve reached page 54 or so of The BFG, in one sitting, but will probably take a while to return to it because something about it is too scary.

Fantastic Mr Fox has been an amazing success. Currently we see Ruby for a couple of hours in the afternoon two days a week. On half a dozen successive Nanna-and-Poppa afternoons, she has asked for Fantastic Mr Fox, and listened to the whole book in a single sitting. Once or twice she has agreed to have something else as an appetiser, but this is the book she wants, and she wants it all. At first, she would cover her ears to mute the bits she found scary, but by the most recent reading she stayed for everything. As the non-reading grandparent, it’s wonderful to watch her absorption in the story, and her intent study of Quentin Blake’s illustrations.

I hope we can keep Wes Andersen’s travesty of a film out of the picture until it’s too late for it to spoil anything. And I expect Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which I loathe for its, well, cruelty as well as its racism and gooiness, can’t be too far away. But for now, we’re having a ball.


Ted Prior, Grug and the Big Red Apple (1979)
Daria Solak, Big Wide Words in the Neighbourhood (Hardie Grant 2022)
Claire Laties-Davis (text), Kazia Dudziuk (illustrations), Britannica’s First 150 Words (Britannica Books 2021)

As Charlie’s second birthday approaches, his interest in story isn’t as intense as his big sister’s. He loves spreads where we name an object and he finds it. The pages he comes back to again and again, and then is reluctant to leave, have pictures of buses, cars and especially TRUCKS. These two books, with illustrations by Daria Solak and Kazia Dudziuk respectively, stand out for their surprising choices of words, and unconventional illustrations.

Grug and the Big Red Apple, on the other hand, is a story that does the trick. The introductory bits where Grug, the mysteriously animate scrap of Australian flora, finds the apple, and the bit where Clara the carpet snake coils around the apple in order to move it – all that’s well and good, but we all love the last few spreads where the apple looms larger and larger in the foreground while Grug looks hungrier and hungrier beside it, and then, turn the page and all that’s left is a tiny core and a sated Grug. Yay for story!

Ruby reads

My granddaughter, Ruby, is now nearly 14 months old, and I have re-entered the world of books for very young people. This is a catch-up on books I’ve read to her or listened to while someone else read to her – some fondly remembered, some new to me. Ruby’s parents and the people who give them books have very good taste. I mean no disrespect to the many brilliant board books featuring photos of African animals, sometimes with rudimentary rhymes, whose pages she loves to turn, but I’ve only included books that give me pleasure as well. In no particular order, then:

Eric Carle, The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969)

This book is 50 years old this year, and its place in the canon is firmly established. I know the last page when the caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly is supposed to be the great visual thrill, but I love the transformation before that into a very big, round caterpillar.

Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, On the Day You Were Born (Allen & Unwin 2018)

Margaret Wild is one of the greats of Australian children’s literature, and her collaborations with Ron Brooks are legendary. The title of this book might lead you expect a story of mother and baby cuddling in bed, but no, here the baby’s father takes ‘you’ on a walk out into the wonders of the world, and returns in the last words to the mother. None of the humans is seen – just the gorgeous world.

Hairy Maclary Scattercat (Puffin 1983), and other brilliant books by Lynley Dodd.

This book first appeared the year Ruby’s father was born. In case you don’t know, Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy is a scruffy and scrappy little New Zealand dog whose adventures are told in rollicking rhymes. Here he monsters a series of cats until finally the tables are turned by Scarface Claw, whose name says it all. Dachshund Schnitzel von Krumm isn’t in this book, but he’s in at least one of the others we get to read.

Nick Bland, The Very Sleepy Bear (Scholastic Australia 2017)

 This bear has a series of books, in which he is variously Very Cranky, Itchy, Brave, and so on. This one is a kind of trickster tale – a fox tricks the bear into leaving his cave with a promise of somewhere better to sleep. After inspecting a series of unsatisfactory possibilities, the bear insists on returning to his home, where he discovers the fox has installed a gang of his friends. Particularly relevant to adults who are trying to manage a baby’s sleep.

Eric Hill’s Spot series, in particular Who’s There, Spot? (Puffin 2013)

Along with the mouthless Miffy (whom I haven’t seen on Ruby’s bookshelves), Spot is a standout memory from my own early parenting days. The original was the lift-a-flap book Where’s Spot (1980). Who’s There, Spot, complete with flaps under which lurk a series of animals, is one of a vast number of sequels. Every baby I know has loved lifting the flaps on Eric Hill’s books, and as an adult, I’ve always enjoyed giving the hissing, trumpeting, barking, meowing hints beforehand.

Ted Prior, Grug at the Beach (Simon & Shuster 2009)

Grug is the animated grass-tree hero of his own series of 26 tiny books (I just found that out from Wikipedia, where I also learned that he may not be a grass tree after all, but I’m sticking to my story). The first book, Grug, appeared in 1979, and though the series finished in 1982, he lives on in treasured old copies and new editions. Grug at the Beach is charming propaganda for sunscreen, but don’t let that put you off.

Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Men series, in particular Mr Clumsy (Budget Books 1987)

I’m not all that keen on the Mr Men series, but there’s no doubting their appeal and longevity. Maybe the cheerful acceptance of idiosyncrasy and imperfection is the secret of their success. The gender specificity is a bit problematic, and was only made worse, in my opinion, by the Little Miss series. Girls can be clumsy too! Like the Grug books, these have the advantage of being small enough to fit very young hands.

Mem Fox and Judy Horacek, Where Is the Green Sheep? (Puffin 2006)

The text, which otherwise might be mistaken for a didactic exercise in naming colours, provides a perfect platform for Judy Horacek’s brilliantly silly illustrations. We haven’t got to Mem Fox and Julie Vivas’s great classic, Possum Magic, yet. In fact, no Julie Vivas at all – a gap that will definitely be closed before too long.

That’s enough for now. I’ll save Leo Lionni and others for another post.

I wasn’t going to mention any of these texts in relation to the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge, but then I remembered how children’s literature, especially picture books for the very young, tends to be seen as lesser creations than even the most lackadaisical work for older people, even while some picture books and books for very young people are works of genius. So here you are: On the Day You Were Born and Where Is the Green Sheep? are the fifth and sixth books I’ve read for the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge.