One of fils cadet‘s Christmas presents was a boxed set of the Alfie stories, written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes. (He was also given a boxed set of Octonauts books, but the less said about those, the better!) The set contains the first four stories: Alfie Gets in First, Alfie Gives a Hand, Alfie’s Feet and An Evening at Alfie’s.
I’d admired Alfie Gets in First since fils aîné first brought it home in his book bag, and we’d read Alfie’s Feet before, but the others were new to me. I’m so pleased that they’ve become a hit with both boys because they are a genuine pleasure to read. The stories seem simple, but they are so well-crafted that there’s a lot going on in them. An Evening at Alfie’s, for example, is about a water pipe bursting while Alfie’s parents are out for the evening and Maureen from over the road is babysitting. It’s more than that, though: there’s the sound of the water, starting out as “drip, drip, drip,” becoming “drip-drip, drip-drip, drip-drip” and then “splash! splash! splash!”; there’s the way it ties in with Alfie and Maureen reading about Noah’s ark; and then there’s the fact that only Alfie can work out why his little sister Annie-Rose is crying.
Similarly, the illustrations are so detailed that sometimes I find I’ve stopped reading because I’m studying all the things on the dresser, or the people walking down the High Street. I particularly like the way that the text of Alfie Gets in First tells only half the story. Once Alfie has got himself shut inside the house with Mum’s keys, leaving Mum and Annie-Rose outside, the right-hand page shows the inside of the house; events outside the house are on the left, and the door is in the middle, in cross-section. While more and more people arrive on the doorstep with good ideas and ways to help, we see Alfie on the other side as he stops crying and works out for himself what to do, until he triumphantly opens the door.
There’s also a certain nostalgic quality to the illustrations – as the slipcase says, this is the 30th anniversary edition – and I find myself amused that there’s not a car in sight in Alfie’s street. All the same, the stories remain as true to everyday life with small children as ever, and utterly captivating. Thoroughly recommended!