Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Grumpy Old Sailor

After being away for most the week (and wondering why I had no clean clothes for the rest of the week) my mood by Friday night was somewhat despondent. The Scottish one has been exceptionally busy recently as well; conflicting work patterns have stopped our paths crossing as much as they could. However he came up more than trumps by taking me out for dinner, and on Saturday morning after a very early visit from my mother (who wanted a signature for a shot gun licence – we’re trying not to argue with her) he said lets go to London.

London is an hour and a half and something over £50 pounds away by train, so it normally involves planning and budgeting for me, but as he was offering to cough for the fair I couldn’t say no, so off we went. The object of the visit was the Strawberry Hill exhibition at the V&A – which was excellent, and the V&A generally – I’ve not visited for years, and the Scottish one, quite unaccountably does not know it at all well. We loved the cast court, especially the life size cast of Trajan’s column in two bits, and he was hugely taken by some concrete (architect) stairs we walked up; all in all it was a grand day out topped off by a parcel from my dad when I got home.

What he’s sent me is a children’s book called ‘The Grumpy Old Sailor’ (which appealed to the Scottish one, who likes to sail) and appealed to me because it’s lavishly and beautifully illustrated. I wanted to write about it because it fits with the island reading I’ve done over the last few weeks, but I admit I have no idea how to write about a children’s book, partly because I have no idea what children enjoy but here goes anyway.

‘The Grumpy Old Sailor’ is written by Janice Armstrong and illustrated by Meilo So, it’s the first of four planned books from the duo who are both based in Shetland. It’s about four children and an old sailor (quite grumpy initially) and the relationship they build before he heads off on his final journey. The language is a mix of prose and poetry which sounds nice read aloud, but the story itself is quite poignant. I think books like this are meant to be read aloud to children, and looked at by them, rather than read by them. I’ve been drawn back to the book throughout the day to properly work out what’s happening – it’s still a bit mysterious, but if I wanted to explain death to a small child I think this would be a good place to start.

Despite how that sounds it’s not a depressing book, but it is affecting – which is no bad thing for children, the morals aren’t hammered home, and the pictures are wonderful. Strongly rooted in place I still think it’s a book that will travel well, and one I hope to give to quite a few families this year particularly because I really love the illustrations. There is a cat that keeps appearing that I had to go back and hunt out in every page and dozens of other details that I really enjoyed – so thank you dad, a great book for children from six to thirty six.


  1. The book sounds interesting - and as for the V&A - isn't it great! i always look forward to trailing around there.

    thanks for sharing


  2. Glad you enjoyed the exhibition! I haven't been in yet but will go in today I think. Trojan's column is so amazing, isn't it? I've been inside the cast and it's totally hollow - we're currently storing a massive menorah in the bottom half!