The welcome return of a childhood favourite
Dogger's Christmas by Shirley Hughes
This is a sequel to Shirley Hughes' iconic Dogger, which was published in 1977. If you're not acquainted with the original story, it's about a little boy called Dave whose beloved soft toy (that's almost as old as he is) goes missing. Dogger is eventually recovered, after a few twists, with some help from Dave's big sister.
Dogger won the Kate Greenaway medal in 1977 and in 2007 was voted the public's favourite Greenaway winner of all time. This is a story that has captivated young people and grown-ups for more than 40 years. It powerfully resonates with children who can identify with losing something so precious as well as their parents, who can relate to the ensuing panic.
The edition of Dogger that I owned when I was younger recently emerged from my parents' attic, much to my surprise and delight. This book is an integral part of my childhood. It's one of the stories that I remember being read to me regularly, and the images are so familiar, it feels as though I lived through those scenes myself. Dogger was published in the late 1970s and because I grew up in the 1980s, the world it depicts looks just like the one I remember from that time, and is as convincing now as it was then. The soft toy at the centre of the story, Dogger, seemed so real, I could almost feel his soft, velvety fur. It was as if Dogger belonged to me and when Dave lost him, I did too.
We have the Shirley Hughes Collection and a few more Alfie and Annie Rose, and Lucy and Tom books. My kids and I enjoy the simple but lively explorations of family life, and how the characters are portrayed so naturally and lovingly. Even though nostalgia isn't a factor for my children, these stories still have a strong attraction and are truly timeless.
When I heard there was a new Dogger book releasing, I had to have it. As I suspected, it's just as loveable as its predecessor. Dogger is lost again, this time on Christmas Day. The first story had a theme of kindness at its core, with Dave's sister Bella's selfless act saving the day. The new book also celebrates compassion for others, which it champions as the true spirit of Christmas.
The family visit their elderly neighbour who lives alone on Christmas morning. It's fantastic to see the father cook the Christmas dinner (and supervise the younger children). The gifts and toys are modest and a tribute to simpler times. We see the family exchange items like "sweet-smelling soap," "a bag of chocolate coins," "a little diary," and a "book about wildflowers." As well as Dogger and his blocks, Dave plays with, "his train set, his spaceship and cars that you coud wind up so that they would whizz about very fast on their own."
It's so lovely to meet this family again. The children appear slightly older; Dave's face and limbs have lost some of their childish plumpness and Bella and Joe look a little more mature too. Dogger hasn't changed a bit and Shirley Hughes' artwork has as much magic as ever.
Shirley Hughes began illustrating children's literature in the 1950s and hasn't stopped working since. Now 93, Shirley has written more than fifty books, which have sold more than 11.5 million copies, and has illustrated over two hundred. Shirley's daughter, Clara Vuillamy, is also a successful children's writer and illustrator, with her own distinct style that is completely different to that of her mother.
Shirley and Clara have collaborated on a series of books called Dixie O'Day, which I wasn't aware of until I started writing this post, but am now dying to read. I've been hearing amazing things about Clara's own Marshmallow Pie and Martha and the Bunny Brothers collections and am hoping to get hold of these soon.
Here are Shirley and Clara interviewed by The Book Trust and here's another interview with them both from The Guardian. If you'd like to read about the inspiration for Dogger, here's another interesting Guardian article by Shirley's son, Ed Vuillamy. I was fascinated to learn of an Irish connection to this classic; the toy that Dogger is based on was a Christmas gift Ed received from an Irish great-uncle called Hugh Hynes, circa 1959.
Dogger's Christmas is an affectionate and comforting story, destined to be adored by children and every bit as enduring as Dogger and Dave's first outing. Parents and grandparents who grew up with Dogger, or remember reading it to their own children, will love it too. A wonderful seasonal story, Dogger's Christmas is certain to be enjoyed for years to come, by many generations.
Title: Dogger's Christmas
Author & Illustrator: Shirley Hughes
Publisher: Penguin Kids (Bodley Head)
Publication Date: 29th October 2020