Tag Archives: Tomi Ungerer

Disappearing act

Eleven years after writing about Kriktor the boa constrictor, my thoughts return to this old childhood favourite.

I was reminded of Kriktor’s disappearance from the library when reading about the young Lucy Mangan’s search for The Phantom Tollbooth. Some things are easier today, now that we can search all over the world for almost anything we want or need.

When Lucy’s teacher had read the book to the class, Lucy understandably wanted a copy for herself. But there were none; the library had no longer got it. My Phantom Tollbooth copy is an ex-library one, as was one of Lucy’s subsequent [three] copies, when she finally found them, years after falling in love with the book at school.

We can probably assume that the London libraries near her got rid of this book because they saw no need for it. My Kriktor’s tale was different. He was ‘borrowed’ and never returned. Used for a television programme, I suspect his disappearance was not unusual. Busy people in a busy studio won’t stop to consider one picture book, and whether it should be accompanied ‘home’ to the safety of its library, where more children can enjoy it.

There are other ways of losing books from libraries, of course. I have often thought of writing about the wicked ways of the world here, but stopped before giving anyone ideas.

In my early twenties I had a boss, who told me about this fantastically funny novel she liked, and how hard it had been to source another copy when hers went missing. Eventually one was discovered in a library, and she borrowed it, before going back there, apologising for ‘having spilled coffee’ on the book and offering to pay for it.

All right for her, and as it was anything but a literary marvel, possibly not the end of the world for the library. But it’s the principle of the thing that bothers me.

And then she lent it to me to read.

Before you get too excited, I gave her the book back when I’d read it. I have no recollection of either the title or the author, but she was right; it was very amusing and a fun read. And there was not a single stain of coffee anywhere.

Nominations for the 2010 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

The ALMA people have a long longlist of 168 nominations for next year’s award, and I won’t write them all down here. I had a little look for individual authors that you may know and be interested in:

David Almond, Quentin Blake, Aidan Chambers, Morris Gleitzman, Margaret Mahy, Michael Morpurgo, Walter Dean Myers, Axel Scheffler, Kate Thompson, Tomi Ungerer, Jacqueline Wilson and Diana Wynne Jones.

There are absolutely masses of Scandinavian writers, as well as others from countries we rarely pay attention to in the English speaking world. And then there are the organisations. Boring as it may seem to vote for a group that brings books and reading to many children, I wonder whether that is what they should do after all.

The above writers are all good and worthy, and as Sonya Hartnett found last year, five million kronor will do a lot for a person. But the good the money will do through an organisation is very different.

I also wonder why these particular authors are on the list. Presumably because they have someone who campaigns for them and who are allowed to nominate. I need to find out who does get to nominate. I can see myself nominating, you know.

Yo-yoing snake


Do you know Crictor, the brave boa constrictor? I used to love him, despite being frantically phobic about snakes. I suppose there’s always an exception to every rule.

Crictor is a picture book from 1958 by French artist Tomi Ungerer. It’s still around, and sadly it seems to have been picked for this year’s Swedish book sale. We need books like these around. Always. It does seem to be available in English still, though.

Young Crictor comes to live with a little old lady, Madame Bodot, in a small French town. She looks after him like a baby, Crictor joins in by going to school, etc, and eventually becomes a hero by rescuing Mme Bodot from some thuggish burglars.

My copy of the book, which appears to have been improved on by colouring in with oil pastels (Now, who could have done that?), came from the Retired Children’s Librarian, long before she retired. When I was in my early teens she asked for it back. Not because I wasn’t looking after it properly, but because Swedish television stole “her” copy. In those days she was head of the children’s library in the posh bit of Stockholm near television centre, and whenever they needed anything bookish they came to her. They made a programme about Crictor, but omitted to return him afterwards. And the Retired Children’s Librarian felt she needed to safeguard at least one copy of the book. So I gave it back.

Over the years I thought of him occasionally, and when Offspring turned up on the scene, I asked for Crictor back. So the brave snake made the journey across the North Sea, in a suitcase belonging to Mother-of-Witch. Never forgetting the oil pastels or the television people, I have always kept him with me since, and not in either of Offspring’s bookcases.

For World Book Day in the year 2000, or thereabouts, Daughter needed dressing up as a book character for school, so we turned her into Mme Bodot, complete with Ikea snake. And absolutely nobody knew who she was.