Tuesday, September 1, 2020

*Not* a Bed of Roses

"Just One of Those Days" by Jill Murphy

(Macmillan, 2020) 

Life is not always a bed of roses. 

In fact it's more like the untidy, strewn-with-crayons, home-to-half-drunk-cups-of-coffee bed that presents itself on the cover of Jill Murphy's truthful and honest picture book, Just One of Those Days.

You may already know the family who are seen waking up in that bed. In fact, the story that began in Peace at Last all those years ago here continues straight away with the ominous words: 'It had been a long night...' as dad stretches wearily to turn off the alarm while mum can barely open her eyes. The sky outside is grey, the trees bare, the light gloomy. 

Mum and Dad sleepily get themselves ready for work. Baby Bear is allowed a few moments more of his dream of dinosaurs but all too soon even he has to face the reality of day. 

And what a day it turns out to be: miserable weather, upsets in the nursery, coffee upsets in the office...even Mum's blueberry muffin treat can't be properly enjoyed. The whole family experience a lot of problems that we're all familiar with...and would equally prefer not to have to face!

But there is comfort to be found in family. After all the troubles that Life has thrown the Bear family that day there's a pizza treat and comfy pyjamas and flaking out on the sofa: Life's simple pleasures that are often forgotten. The wonder of this picture book is its invitation to slow down and think about the things that our own lives offer that are sometimes taken for granted. As much of the book is about the little joys as it is about the down-sides: this symmetry is so important to recognise and the structure of the book reflects it beautifully. 

Murphy's illustrations engage us in making time to consider the everyday in new light, rather as Janet Ahlberg's do: there is the same warmth and realism. In both artists' work the fairy-tale fantasy acts as a foil to what is ostensibly very real and very familiar - ultimately what fairy-tale is all about, in fact - while the tiny domestic details they include make for instant appeal. Look at how Baby Bear's salad differs from mum and dad's at the end of Murphy's book, for example: What does that tell us? How do we relate? 

It's been forty years since Peace at Last, but here the bears wake up to reveal their story as fresh, timeless and as universal as ever - Life may not be perfect; but what we make of it can be just that.

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