The old Disney cartoon version of The Jungle Book is a classic though I will admit I never took to it much, but I now gather that the latest release of the same is wonderful and so feel I must make an effort to see it. I remember having of the Jungle Book on my book shelves when I was a small child. Old, battered and red leather type covering with thin paper and looking very old and precious to me, though on reflection I have a feeling they may have been a Reader's Digest edition, part of a series.
Anyway, I remember reading some of the stories and finding them a bit difficult but one that stuck in my mind was the one when Rikki-tikki-tavi, a mongoose, fought off a dangerous cobra. Why that one has remained to vivid I have no idea.
A new edition of The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling has just been issued by Alma Classics to coincide with the release of the latest film version and a copy dropped through my letterbox last week. I have not read any of these stories since I was young so I have had a very pleasant week dipping in and out and refreshing my memory and generally reverting back to my childhood. It is a rather lovely edition with illustrations by Ian Beck and, as with all children's books I am sent to review, is being saved to pass on to Florence and Beatrice when they are a little older.
Another two titles also arrived, again from Alma, and these are in translation. First up is The Story of a Seagull and the Cat who taught her to fly by Luis Sepulveda and is a delightful and slightly sad story about a dying seagull, caught up in an oil spill who manages to land on a balcony and lay her final egg before she dies. Before she does so she meets a cat called Zorba who promises the seagull to look after the egg and not to eat the chick when it is hatched and also to teach the chick how to fly. This seems a lot to ask of a cat and will he, and his friends, keep his promise? Well, what do you think? The other cats who help out are called The Colonel and Einstein, wonderful names for them all.
A delightful story with pen and ink illustrations very suited to the narrative.
Next one, The Bear's Famous Invasion of Sicily by Dino Buzzati. Starving after a harsh winter, the bears descent from the mountains in search of food and invade the valleys below where the army of the Grand Duke of Sicily tries to fight them off. There are pitched battles and skirmishes and in the end the bears win and reign over the land.
There is a marvellous list of characters at the start of the story. King Leander, the King of the Bears 'a bear of most ancient lineage', his son Tony who has disappeared caught by hunters. The Grand Duke tyrant of Sicily who is very vain and changes his clothes eight times a day but never looks anything but hideous and everyone laughs at him behind his back. Sworn enemy of the bears.
Then there are all the other bears: the Bear Saltpetre, The Bar Titan, the Bear Theophilus (the wisest of them all) and the Bear Merlin. There are also snakes and serpents and trolls and, of course, a cat, Marmoset.
Full of charm and packed with stories and beautifully illustrated this is a lovely book. It is printed on the kind of smooth expensive paper that you just wish to stroke. And at the end of the story there is a Reader's Companion by Lemony Snicket who takes you through each chapter with questions and suggested activities, all very tongue in cheek: 'there is a slim possibility that the instructors at your school are a bit foolish and instead of assigning a work such as the Bear's Invasion of Sicily, they have chose to focus on something less important, such as long division of planting bean sprouts in cups or learning to be a good sport...' This is the kind of subversive humour that children love. Made me smile too.
I am off to London tomorrow and these last two books are coming with me for Florence and Beatrice as I think they will love having them read to them. Florence, now six, is reading very well and I am hoping that she may sit and read it on her own as well when I leave them behind.
My thanks to Alma Classics for these gorgeous books.