From Mr. Men to Spot and even Australia’s own cult classic Grug, what is it about certain children’s book characters that has them entertaining generations of children (and their parents!) for decades? They’re not the type who landed on our bookshelves after TV success (ears burning, Iggle Piggle?), though most have since been televised. Instead, this lot found a following after their first book rocketed up the bestseller lists.
Perhaps their charm lies in their simplicity. Miffy, Maisy, Grug, Spot, Hairy Maclary and the Mr. Men characters are all uncomplicated and the stories about them reveal simple experiences not unlike those of a young child. This allows a child to build familiarity with the character while exploring and understanding new things. Going to hospital is less scary after reading about it with Miffy. A visit to the dentist offers few surprises when they’ve been there, done that with Maisy. The playground is more familiar because Grug’s checked one out. Being called Mr Grumpy is not a good thing! So let’s visit the worlds of these characters who are so popular we wanted more, more and more of them – in books, and sometimes even on the TV, as well as merchandise galore – year after year, decade after decade.
This scruffy terrier first appeared in 1983 after New Zealand author Lynley Dodd penned Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy. The story won the New Zealand Children’s Picture Book of the Year Award the following year. There are now 11 titles, as well as two spin-off series based on his mates Slinky Malinki and Schnitzel von Krumm. Preschoolers love Dodd’s wonderful imagination and humour. Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd, Penguin, rrp $14.95.
Miffy is a young rabbit created by Dutch artist Dick Bruna. The first Miffy book was published in 1955 and more than 30 books have followed, with 15 of the classics available in Australia.
Each of the original titles is a storybook designed for small hands, with a simple illustration and basic, rhyming text (some books have no text, such as Miffy’s Dream). The stories are about things in a young child’s life (Miffy at the Zoo and Miffy in Hospital). Miffy’s Birthday by Dick Bruna, Hardie Grant Egmont, rrp $12.95.
Maisy celebrates her 20th birthday this year. The friendly white mouse, who began her life as a doodle on a piece of paper back in 1990, is now one of the world’s most familiar picture book characters. She loves to explore the world around her and enjoys the same everyday adventures that all young children share. Maisy books also come in sets of dedicated series, including Maisy First Experiences and Maisy First Science. Maisy’s Book of Things That Go by Lucy Cousins, Walker Books, rrp $19.95.
Created by Australian author Ted Prior, Grug started life as the top of a Burrawang tree and
hit bookstores in 1979. Simon & Schuster have now republished the series of 25 titles and more will be released this year. Part of Grug’s timeless appeal is that he is fascinated with the world around him and solves everyday problems creatively and with little fuss. The books are highly collectable, like the Mr. Men series. Grug and his Bicycle by Ted Prior, Simon & Schuster, rrp $4.99.
The “world’s favourite puppy” was created by English author Eric Hill, one of the pioneers of lift-the-flap novelty books for babies. His first book, Where’s Spot, was published in 1980 and there are now 80 titles available in Australia. Spot has many aliases, too: Dribbel in Holland, Tippens in Sweden, Bolinha in Portugal, to name a few. The simple narrative and bright, bold illustrations make this series a hit. Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill, Penguin, rrp from $12.95.
Simple in design and illustration, the Mr. Men series kicked off with Mr. Tickle in 1971 after English author Roger Hargreaves’ son asked what a tickle looked like. There are more than 100 titles to collect with characters like Mr. Muddle, Mr. Quiet and Mr. Mischief, all of which allow young children to explore different personalities through fun stories. The accompanying Little Miss series was first published in 1983 and has titles including Little Miss Bossy, Little Miss Neat and Little Miss Helpful. Mr. Tickle by Roger Hargreaves, Penguin, rrp $4.95.