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Mr Pusskins and Little Whiskers

This is the second of Sam Lloyd’s Mr Pusskins books.  Having learned his lesson and realised that his life with Emily is something to be treasured, Mr Pusskins is not quite prepared for a new challenge in the shape of Little Whiskers.

Life for Emily and Mr Pusskins is perfect. They are very happy together and Mr Pusskins is especially excited when Emily announces that she has a fabulous surprise for him.  He is less excited, however, when the contents of the enormous box turns out to be a small, white kitten.

Little Whiskers makes Mr Pusskins’ life miserable.  She ruins telly time, meal time, nap time – you name it, she interferes with it.  The final straw comes when she starts dancing on the piano in the middle of the night – and Mr Pusskins gets blamed.  What can Mr Pusskins do to get rid of the pesky kitten?  And will her conscience get the better of her?

Mr Pusskins is a great character and Sam Lloyd’s illustrations convey his personality with style and humour.  By turns perplexed, horrified, angry and distressed, he goes through all the emotions you would naturally associate with welcoming a troublesome new addition into the family: Mr Pusskins and Little Whiskers is in fact a well-disguised new baby book.  The presence of Little Whiskers destabilises Mr Pusskins’ entire existence; not only are his favourite times interrupted and disrupted but his very position in the household is threatened when he is mistakenly banished outside and Little Whiskers steals his place by the fire.  This is an honest and probably therapeutic look at what happens to a young child when they are no longer the only one.  Mr Pusskins’ bewilderment at being asked to look after and play with someone who causes him so much grief will no doubt be familiar to frustrated 2 and 3 year olds.  They may be unable to articulate their feelings but the book permits those emotions and acknowledges them, rather than pretending that this lifechanging event is an unimitigated pleasure.  Older children will identify with the unwanted responsibilty they may feel as a new big brother or sister.  In the end, apologies and forgiveness are exchanged and Mr Pusskins shows us it is possible to make a successful transition from two to three people.

A clever, funny and engaging story; one to give to and enjoy with newly appointed big brothers and sisters.

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Topsy and Tim: The New Baby

Topsy and Tim first appeared in 1960 and there are now over 130 titles.  These were all relaunched in 2003, so although their names now seem outdated the books now look contemporary once more (this bookworm remembers puzzling over Topsy and Tim as a child when they had to put their clothes into wire shopping baskets at the swimming pool, a practice which was long dead even in the 1980s!).

Most of the titles deal with things that children are likely to deal with in real life, such as visiting the dentist, going swimming, or <shudder> “Topsy and Tim have itchy heads”…  This one, clearly, is designed for young children who are about to welcome a new sibling.

In simple terms this is not an exciting book.  Topsy and Tim visit their friend Tony, whose Mum is pregnant.  They bring some clothes over for the baby and feel her tummy.  Later, at school, Tony announces that he has a baby brother called Jack, and a few days after he comes home from the hospital Topsy and Tim goes to visit him.  They witness the basics of baby care, give the little one a cuddle, and then go home.  The simple text is fairly dull and pedestrian.

However, there is much more to this little book than meets the eye, as it creates a great deal of potential for discussion with children old enough to explore ideas.  For toddlers, simple information such as the baby will need feeding, changing, bathing and be likely to cry “a lot” is sufficient.  However, more complex issues are also addressed.  At the beginning, Topsy says “I hope it’s a girl”.  It isn’t – but it gives parents a chance to talk about the surprise of the baby’s gender.   When the baby cries, they talk about why, and Tony’s Mum eventually feeds Jack.  Bottle feeding is still more common in books so it is nice that in this edition Tony’s Mum is actually breastfeeding.  While she is doing this Tony asks for a drink as well, and gets some cartons of orange juice, showing the difference between what babies and bigger children eat and drink.   At bathtime Tony refuses to help, and is drawn looking rather sullen, but when Jack cries he joins in and cheers the baby up by sprinkling water on his toes.  This results in a big hug from his Mum.  As Topsy and Tim leave, Topsy says how lucky Tony is to have a little brother – and Tim replies that Jack is lucky to have a big brother like Tony.

Despite its simplicity, this is a very good book for those looking for something to help their child understand that a new sibling is arriving.  It is both realistic and positive, and allows for a lot of exploratory chat about a momentous event in any young child’s life.