Today was library day, but I have a proofreading job that arrived today that I need to complete this weekend, so I am posting this review about some books of ours that aren’t library books but are some of GirlChild’s favorites anyway!
Topsy and Tim series, by Jean and Gareth Adamson
We discovered Topsy and Tim when one of my husband’s coworkers—a native of England—gave her son’s small collection to GirlChild when her son got too old for them. The coworker had read them as a child, and her parents gave some of the newer editions to her son when he was three like GirlChild. They’re probably not going to be in your local library unless you’re in the UK, but they’re available for purchase on Amazon if you’re interested in them. The editions we own have copyrights between 2003 and 2006, but I am under the impression that they are updated editions of some of the original works from fifty years ago; someone correct me if I’m wrong! (I know that several of the titles from the 1990s and early 2000s, at least, were relaunched with the new illustrations starting in 2009.)
1990s and early 2000s artwork (what we have):
Most recent artwork:
Topsy and Tim—a set of twins—were created by British wife and husband team Jean and Gareth Adamson back in the late 1950s.They wanted to write upbeat stories about realistic children in a time when there was little of that sort of literature available in the UK. The lady who gave us these books described them as “wholesome,” and while they certainly are, they aren’t the sterile sort of non-stories that Dick and Jane—the closest thing I could think of in American children’s literature (if you can call basal readers that)—are. (All the other “firsts” stories and everyday living stories I could think of featured animals or Sesame Street characters in the main roles instead of “real” children. And they weren’t that great.) The authors researched each book thoroughly, and they often based books on events they experienced with their children, so the realism is pretty impressive. Gareth Adamson died in 1982, and although new titles continue to come out (Topsy and Tim Go for the Gold is due out in February 2012) and Belinda Worsley has been illustrating them since 2009, the books still bear the original author and illustrator names. I haven’t been able to figure out if all the newer books are just updated and revised editions of the originals or if new titles are actually being written…does anyone in the UK (or who is just really smart) know enough about this series to help me out?
The stories themselves feature twins Topsy (the girl) and Tim (the boy). They appear to be between three and five years of age (the ages recommended by Ladybird Books) since our books feature playgroup (which appears to be kind of like American preschool) and primary school (and their class seems a lot like American kindergarten). (I noticed that there are some books recommended for ages 5-8, and Topsy and Tim appear older in the illustrations, too. I just don’t have any of those books on hand.) Their behavior is also pretty typical of these ages; although the books are “wholesome” (as our gifter called them), the children are not perfect in the slightest. (Neither are the adults, to be honest, and thank goodness!) They are kind children, but they make mistakes, misbehave, wander off…all things real children—even the nicest and best-behaved ones—do from time to time. The stories contain a lot of dialog and basic narration in short sentences that make them perfect for reading aloud to the younger crowd and for independent reading for the upper end of the intended audience. For this Austen, Heyer, and Rowling-loving mommy, the introduction to British terms and spellings is an added bonus. (GirlChild first heard the word “mummy” in these books, so when we told her that a Halloween-themed rubber ducky was a mummy, she asked what happened to the “mama duck” that she had to be wrapped up in bandages. She was so glad she had a rubber duck dressed in surgical scrubs to help her out.)
The editions that we have are hardback copies about the same size as a typical adult paperback (but only about a quarter inch thick, including the covers), so they fit well into small hands. The illustrations are done in bright primary colors and have clean lines and simple backgrounds. The pages themselves vary from yellow, blue, green, and pink throughout a single book. (The newest editions, which appear to be larger, squarish paperbacks, look to have white backgrounds on all the pages.) The facial expressions lend a lot to the text in that they sometimes convey an emotion (like frustration on the part of the parents or indecision or worry in the case of the children) that would be difficult to explain in the brief text but is an important part of the event. Some of the books even have a few simple activities–matching, mazes, spot the differences–at the end.
GirlChild’s Reactions: GirlChild cannot get enough of these books. She relates completely to Topsy and Tim, so much so that I would purchase the appropriate book for her before she deals with something like being in (the) hospital (British English doesn’t have the “the”) or taking swimming lessons. She loves the illustrations and notices little things about them (such as the fact that in Topsy and Tim New Lunchboxes, Topsy is eating Tim’s banana (his is missing from his lunchbox, but hers is still there)), and she asks questions about why they’re doing things (especially if the image doesn’t match up exactly to what the text is saying at the time) and what different things are if she doesn’t recognize them. GirlChild also uses a lot of vocabulary that I know she gets from these books because they’re atypical (or nonexistent) in American fare for preschoolers, like “glum,” “cross” (the grumpy variety), and “plimsolls,” so I feel pretty good about broadening her horizons in that way. I know that a reference to an event in a Topsy and Tim book (such as going camping or putting medicines in a locked cupboard) will bring instant attention and compliance from her. She has actually requested blackcurrant jelly (although she said, “Jelly curtain, please…you know, jelly in a bowl!”), cheese and cucumber sandwiches (although she picked out the cucumber slices before she ate), and peanut crunchies (for which I haven’t been able to find a recipe that matches the description in the book, so I wonder if they’re just something the authors’ family made and aren’t common), all foods mentioned in the books we’ve read. We compare places we go and things we do to where Topsy and Tim go and what Topsy and Tim do, and it feels like a completely organic learning experience instead of a forced one. Given their ability to introduce GirlChild to new situations, new words, and a different country’s way of life, I heartily recommend these books to any parents with children in the target age group who like to spice up their lives with a little bit of culture with which their kids can identify.
By the way, I got all the information I used to write this review that isn’t opinion from these two websites:
http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Author/AuthorPage/0,,1000000048,00.html (author information)
http://www.topsyandtim.com/ (publication information)
Other titles we own:
(Ours actually has a different cover, but this is the same generation of illustrations. Oddly, Topsy is dressed the same in ours, but Tim’s clothes are different, and the doctor’s hair is lighter on ours.)
(This one’s about bullying.)
(This is the newest generation of illustrations; for some reason our version of this one isn’t available on the U.S. Amazon…try the UK one perhaps?)
(This is, again, the same generation of illustrations, but this is a different edition than ours. Oh, and let the arguments about “airplane” and “aeroplane” begin…GirlChild cannot let us pronounce it “aeroplane” without correcting us!)
(Ah, the shopping trolley and “one more job” for the twins to do!)
(Probably GirlChild’s favorite overall! I’m not sure why the Amazon image wasn’t showing because it’s available on their site, but this one comes from Ladybird Books.)