a list of…five books from my all-time-favorite author/illustrator…Shirley Hughes

My dear Shirley Hughes:  author of over 50 books, illustrator of hundreds, winner of not only the Kate Greenaway award — the UK’s version of the Caldecott medal — but the Greenaway of Greenaways award! — meaning, her book, Dogger, was voted by the British public “the best book ever given a Greenaway award” in honor of the 50th anniversary of that medal.  She has brought so very much pleasure to me and my kids through her charming stories and gorgeous artwork.  We ALL love her.

Why do I love Shirley Hughes’ work?  So many reasons.  1) She is a genius at understanding the small, real concerns of children and weaving them into satisfying, plausible plots. 2) Her artwork is incredibly warm, lifelike, and believable.  3) Her families are loving and ordinary and real. 4) A number of her stories feature  multi-cultural people and neighborhoods.  5) Her houses are always messy enough  that my own mess feels happily validated!  Hurrah!  6) The children in her stories solve their own problems, but not at the expense of the adults’ intelligence.7) She elevates the ordinary, the quiet, and the simple, gracing them with beauty.  8.) Her children still know how to play, rather than be entertained by electronic devices.  I could go on.  She is truly one in a million.

So, it was not easy to choose just five Shirley Hughes books — I’ll do another 5 another time — but here we go.  All of these are written and illustrated by her… 


I totally understand why this book has won so many awards.  It is really a perfect picture book.

Dogger is a little brown stuffed dog…a bit worn and floppy from years of loving.  He belongs to a pre-school age boy named Dave.  Dave is very fond of Dogger.  He plays with him, cares for him, takes him everywhere, washes him, sleeps with him.  So one evening, when bedtime arrives, and Dave discovers Dogger is missing, the entire family turns out and turns everything upside down in order to find him.  You can well imagine this scene.  But…Dogger is not found, and Dave is utterly woebegone. 

The next day is the School Summer Fair.  Dave’s family all go to enjoy the games and races and raffles.  In a surprising turn of events, Dave spots Dogger sitting on a rummage table of toys, with a price tag around his neck:  50 cents (or 5 pence, depending on what side of the ocean you read the book!)   Without any coins in his pocket, Dave is forced to race through the crowds, frantically searching for his family.  And, sickeningly, by the time he returns, another little girl has purchased Dogger.  Now what?!

It’s Dave’s big sister, Bella, who, in a lovely, self-sacrificing act, saves Dogger for Dave.  Without being saccharine in the least, this book portrays love and kindness in a way that would warm the heart of Ebeneezer Scrooge!    Authentic and sweet.  Don’t miss this book.

An Evening at Alfie’s

Alfie is the little boy responsible for much of Shirley Hughes’ success. According to some reports, Hughes’ books have sold 12 million copies, and Alfie makes up a quarter of the sales.  Once you meet him and his little sister, Annie Rose, you will understand the fuss and adoration!

In An Evening at Alfie’s, Alfie’s parents are heading out for the evening and the girl-next-door, Maureen, is coming to baby-sit.  Maureen is well-known and loved in this household, so Alfie and Annie Rose settle down in their beds quite happily.


…Alfie does not go to sleep immediately, and therefore he is the one to hear the drip-drip-dripping sound in the hallway and to alert Maureen that it is, in fact, raining inside the house!  Maureen is savvy enough to figure out that there is a burst water pipe, but her attempts to deal with this using buckets and mops just cannot keep up with the increasing quantity of water pouring out of the ceiling!  And in the meantime, Annie Rose is wailing in her crib!

In the end, Maureen’s dad comes over to help with the plumbing crisis, Alfie solves Annie Rose’s woes, and by the time Mom and Dad come home, everyone is dry and snug.  There are quite a few absolutely charming books and stories about Alfie and Annie Rose.  Check them out by clicking on this link:  http://www.alfiebooks.co.uk/alfiebooks.asp

The Big Concrete Lorry

This is one of the Tales of Trotter Street books which all take place in one neighborhood and feature various families.  It is a wonderful, multi-cultural street of row houses and neighborliness.

One of the homes is occupied by the Pattersons — Mom, Dad, 3 kids and a little dog.  The Pattersons have discovered that they are feeling a bit squooshed in their place — this is definitely not a McMansion!  The family lives and sleeps and works and plays all fairly on top of one another.  Moving is out of the question — too expensive.  So, Dad comes up with the brilliant idea of building a small extension on the house.  Everyone is immediately full of excitement and dreams for what this addition will be like!

The Pattersons’ neighbors are happy to help, and the guys get the foundation dug and ready in one day.  However, the next day, as Dad lingers in bed, tired and a bit stiff, jolly Joe Best shows up unexpectedly with his cement truck, and begins pouring the load of cement in the street!  Yikes!  The entire family springs into action, grabbing buckets, fetching wheelbarrows, summoning neighbors, trundling cement in the street-side door, through the house, and out the back door, as fast as they possibly can!!

Well.  The foundation gets finished after all.  Phew!  And a little bit of cement that remains in the street gets put to good use as well!  And all the neighbors enjoy a lovely party when the extension is complete.  Such an exciting, fun story, perfect for little boys who love Construction Sites!  The Trotter Street stories feature children slightly older than the Alfie stories, all with excellent plots.


Shirley Hughes has also created a young pre-school age girl and her baby brother Olly.  They charm the socks off of us in some of her older titles for toddlers and in a series of newer titles with names like Bouncing, Giving, Hiding, Chatting.  These are books for children as young as 18 months, with no real story line, just concepts presented in clever, interesting ways.

With scads of cheery pictures and little text, Bouncing is a joyful look at this happy aspect of a young child’s life.  Certainly colorful balls bounce, but children also bounce on the beds, babies bounce on older siblings, grandpa plays bouncing-on-his-knee games, and when Mom isn’t looking, the sofa provides good bouncing, too!

This little girl with her red buckle shoes and tousled hair, and her baby brother with chubby bare toes and hard-working overalls, sproing and splot and dance and twinkle-toe their way through these pages, spreading sunshine everywhere…and then they go to sleep.  Simple. Lovely. 

Ella’s Big Chance: A Jazz-Age Cinderella

This is one of Shirley’s newer books, published in 2003, and it is fantastic!

Hughes studied costume design at the Liverpool School of Art and Design in her younger days, and the fabulous Roaring Twenties attire in this rendition of Cinderella show off her amazing talent.  Hats and flapper gowns, spangles and fur collars, dropped waists and strings of pearls, dazzle us, while the jazz-age hotel, chauffeur and automobile provide the Cinderella elements of palace, footman and coach-and-four.

In Hughes’ spin on the traditional story, Ella is a dressmaker’s hardworking daughter and a new character — Buttons — is a kind, good-natured delivery boy who works for them.  When Ella’s dad remarries, her dreadful stepmother and stepsisters push the business to new heights, creating a ton o’work for Ella and her brow-beaten father.  The only sunshine in Ella’s life is Buttons. 

When the Duke plans a ball, of course the sisters scoff at Ella’s desire to go, but the appearance of a fashionable fairy godmother who makes a bit of magic with her amethyst umbrella provides the limo, ball gown, darling hat and glass slippers necessary.  And, just as expected, the stunning Ella captures the fancy of  the duke, dashes out of the hotel at the last minute, drops a glass slipper along the way, and has the only foot in the town which fits it. 

But, will Ella marry the dashing duke?  If you have a romantic bone in your body you will not have forgotten about the loyal, dear Buttons who has faithfully supported Ella through all her dark days.  What will Ella do?  This is a sweet, delightful version of Cinderella, especially for those of us who love the styles of this era.  Great for slightly older girls who already know the standard fairy tale backwards and forwards!

After all that, if you want to know a bit more about Shirley Hughes, here’s a link to a 2008 article in The Telegraph, out of the UK, where you can get started:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3559843/Shirley-Hughes-conjuring-up-halcyon-days-of-childhood.html  Here’s hoping you discover and treasure her work as millions of us already do…