And why kids books make great travel souvenirs.
So does anyone else buy children’s books as souvenirs? Or, for that matter just books, any kind of books, as mementos of travel? Books are my kryptonite, the thing that I can’t resist and the thing, that will always weaken my resolve not to buy stuff. In any new location, I am like a pig hunting truffles when it comes to books and bookshops, it is not even a conscious act, but I will be drawn to the pull of what Terry Pratchett called; ‘L-space’:
“Books bend space and time. One reason the owners of those aforesaid little rambling, poky second-hand bookshops always seem slightly unearthly is that many of them really are, having strayed into this world after taking a wrong turning in their own bookshops in worlds where it is considered commendable business practice to wear carpet slippers all the time and open your shop only when you feel like it. You stray into L-space at your peril”. (Just felt like throwing in a gratuitous Pratchett quote ).
I am thinking about kids books at the moment, because I am in a bit of reading block, unable to get into anything, to concentrate and lose myself in text. In those circumstances kids books and poetry become a bit of a fall back. Which is why I am posting on this now. A bit down and unable to really enjoy anything I picked up to read, my daughter introduced me to the work of the wonderful Scottish illustrator and author Morag Hood, whose work is defined by a beautiful simplicity and joyous whimsy. A favourite is; I am Bat, a little gem of a book, making effective use of primary colours, simple block prints and startling character and warmth given the simplicity. The ferocious little bat who does not like mornings but does like cherries is such an endearing little character. It is impossible to read I am Bat and not smile. Morag Hood is an author/illustrator I will be looking out for.
But back to my opening remarks about children’s books as souvenirs. These days when I travel I tend not to pick up much stuff, but I do have a weakness for books, books and postcards which can be used as bookmarks. So last October/November when we spent a few weeks in Scotland, I did not come back with a tartan collection or bottles of whiskey and gin, but rather a couple of kids books. One; The Kilted Coo by Rachel McGaw, illustrated by Rowena Aitken, I picked up for the humour and whimsy, a simple story about a highland coo, who wants his own kilt. I loved not only the humour of the miscreant cow who steals tartan from all who pass his paddock but the language appealed, the Scottish dialect: “Get ontae this,’ he told his wife, ‘before that coo causes us mair strife!’ And lets be honest who can resist the cuteness of scruffy highland cattle, especially when combined with larcenous tendencies; ‘A lady’s scarf, a mannie’s hat, Drew thinks ‘Oh, I’ll be having that!”
I bought The Kilted Coo, with another book, The Secret of the Kelpie while in Falkirk, that fascinating old industrial town, just north of Edinburgh. A curious city, with fascinating history, from the Roman period, through to the industrial period of the 19th century, but what it is most famous for today and the thing that attracts visitors and what drew me there, was firstly, the Falkirk Wheel, the unique boat lift that connects the Forth and Clyde canal with the Union canal, an amazing piece of engineering. Secondly Falkirk is home to the largest equine sculpture in the world, the dramatic Kelpies by Andy Scott. The Kelpies are Scott’s tribute to the barge horses the used to work the canals, the role of the horse in industry and I guess a tribute to industry itself. The name and form also draws on the sinister Scottish legend of the Kelpie, the shape shifting spirits with the strength of ten horses. It was after visiting Scott’s awesome sculpture that I picked up the children’s book; The Secret of the Kelpie, it seemed a fitting reminder. The blurb on the back: Every loch in Scotland, however, beautiful, has its cold, dark depths. And every loch in Scotland has it s kelpie. But it’s easy to forget those dangers on a sunny afternoon…
I loved the Scottish landscape and the endless lochs, no sooner did one stop than we seemed to hit another one as we drove around the country. Beautiful lochs and a towering landscape evoking deep time. But those deep still lochs, could evoke the sinister as well as the sublime, so the kelpie seemed a fitting symbol for the landscape.