Nicholas and William

by Harry on June 24, 2006

My daughters gave me Nicholas Again (U.K.) for Father’s Day (an institution of which I faintly disapprove for no reason that I can articulate) and promptly, if rather ungracefully, asked me to read it to them. It is fantastic. Short, tautly written stories, translated beautifully (into American, not British, English), every single one of which made us all laugh outloud (the 9 year old and I for slightly different reasons than the 5 year old, I think). Everything is told from Nicholas’s perspective, but of course your child knowlingly sees it in part from an adult perspective, and can just see the problems he can encounter before he encounters them. I suspect my wife gave permission for the gift because the author is Goscinny, who is responsible for the success of my kids’ and my campaign to persuade her that comics can be literature (via Asterix). Yesterday my 9-year-old had a brainwave — she pointed out that if the book was called Nicholas Again that probably means that there is a Nicholas. So we’re onto that next.

Now, Nicholas will only make you laugh out loud. If you want to read the kids a book which will, at least on occasion, make you laugh uncontrollably you might want to try Just William. William is 10, and the stories are, again, beautifully constructed and tersely written, and not infrequently achieve the level of high farce. William’s failure to become popular in America (though successful everywhere else) has always bemused me — I have yet to meet an American who didn’t love the books once they’ve been introduced to them, and I’ve met enough 10-year-old Americans to know that William is not a uniquely English type. (So I find it much easier to understand why Enid Blyton has not been successful here, and I used to find it easier to understand why Jennings has not made it big until the Harry Potter phenomenon made it clear that portraying minor English public school-life was no barrier to success in the American market).



yabonn 06.24.06 at 5:23 pm

There’s a type of authors you feel you know and like from their works – Goscinny is one of these. Truely one of the reasons (and maybe a good way) to learn french.

Can’t resist (in french, i couldn’t find a good sounding english translation) :

“Les piles, ça s’use, alors que les croissants, c’est bon”

– Alceste, the always hungry friend, on the superiority of investing in croissants over batteries.


Dan Simon 06.24.06 at 6:26 pm


You mean, pedantically?


harry b 06.24.06 at 6:31 pm

No — I mean tautly (corrected now, thanks — good grief, my spelling is nothing to write home about, but you’d think I could have got that right first time!)


Stuart 06.24.06 at 6:33 pm

It would be hard to consider comics as anything other than literature if exposed to works such as Yunagi no machi, Sakura no kuni (Town of an Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms), although it certainly isn’t a work for children.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.24.06 at 8:02 pm

Our son, now 24 and our daughter having just turned 18, I’m nonetheless tempted to go out and buy these books (perhaps for someone else’s childeren…or in slightly apprehensive anticipation of grandchildren–the former is engaged after all)! I have fond (nostalgic?) memories of reading stories to them that I may have enjoyed as much or more than they did. And maybe that’s one reason we’ve held onto a handful of their old books (not a few of which are worthy of the Arts & Crafts movement).



y81 06.24.06 at 8:09 pm

We don’t celebrate Father’s Day. As the Puritans said, “Those for whom all days are holy have no holidays,” and, in our house, every day is father’s day.

Articulate enough?


Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.24.06 at 8:45 pm

The Puritans were, on occasion, quiet insightful with regard to the spiritual life, but what is quoted here, while true–ideally, in theory–fails to account for human frailty and features of (spiritual) moral psychology. For instance, while all Buddhists should at all times observe the ‘Five Precepts’ (refrain from harming living creatures, etc.) special days–holy days–are set aside for their ‘observance.’ In effect, this serves as a reminder, an opportunity to renew or enhance one’s resolve or commitment to the precepts. It does not mean that their observance is literally confined to this special day. One might understand holidays like Mothers’ or Fathers’ Day in a similar fashion: the really unfortunate aspect of such days is of course their thorough commercialization, the suffusion of Arnoldian sweetness and light with rather crass cultural commodification.


fatwhiteduke 06.24.06 at 10:57 pm

Just William? God help me, I helplessly loved Jennings and Darbyshire as a child. Event though I was horrified by the idea of ever being sent to a boarding school. Even now, I can’t quite admit they weren’t as good as William… :)


fatwhiteduke 06.24.06 at 10:58 pm

… should be Derbyshire, of course…


ingrid 06.25.06 at 3:35 am

I agree with Yabonn (at 1). When I was about 13, and failed an exam in French, my parents bought me a pile of Asterix & TinTin books — a rather effective way to make a child (more) interested in French !

Would you still disapprove of father’s day if it didn’t come with this commercial circus ? We celebrate these days wihtout buying stuff – except perhaps buying pencils and paper with which children draw their most beautiful portrait of their father, or something else.


Chris Bertram 06.25.06 at 3:56 am

Father’s Day (an institution of which I faintly disapprove for no reason that I can articulate)

I think I can guess at what it might be. When I was a child (shortly before, but not long before Harry) there wasn’t really a Father’s Day in the UK. There was either Mothering Sunday or Mother’s Day (depending on which class fraction you belonged too). I think Father’s day in the UK is both a US import and the result of commercial promotion and it certainly doesn’t have the long history that Mothering Sunday has. So anyone with a dislike of newfangled fake traditions is going to feel a sense of disapproval.


Cian 06.25.06 at 4:30 am

The BBC tapes of Just William are quite excellent (Martin Jarvis reading).


harry b 06.25.06 at 8:45 am

Yes, the Martin Jarvis tapes of William are terrific; and the adaptations he made have been published as shorter, easier-to-read, and still (despite the amazon reviews) excellent versions for younger children; eg here.

I think CB has articulated my disapproval for me.

NO, fatwhiteduke, you were right the first time; Darbyshire it is. I think Jennings might merit a follow-up post. Like you, I was obssessed with Jennings, but not only had no desire to go to borading school but thought they should be abolished (as, to his credit, did Buckeridge, a lifelong socialist).

Tintin is the other comic to receive the spousal seal of approval!


Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.25.06 at 8:54 am

‘newfangled fake traditions:’ delightful expression that…of course the ‘invention’ of traditions is rather commonplace (hence the volume edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger: The Invention of Tradition, 1983). What is of particular interest is the sort of criteria one might employ to determine the ‘authenticity’ (i.e. the extent to which a tradition is ‘not fake’) of a given (invented) tradition. So, for instance, while Father’s day in the UK may be a product of US export and the consequence of commercial marketing, one wonders if the passage of time might serve to ameliorate the effects of such ‘newfangled fakery,’ thereby assimilating Father’s day to Mothering Sunday in the sense that the mere passage of time somehow serves to ‘sanctify’ that which, owing to its ‘newfangled fakery,’ was heretofore profane. This might be analogous to the manner in which the internal structure or content of a ritual may remain relatively constant, but its ‘meaning’ may dramatically change owing to changes in the nature of the surrounding context. Lord knows I cringe when thinking of how Labor Day (an exquisite example of a ‘newfangled fake tradition’) in the states is thought to have supplanted international May Day (1889). This is all-the-more intriguing in light of the fact that the Abrahamic religions often appropriated festival days of agricultural/seasonal/lunar provenance….


Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.25.06 at 9:17 am

By way of confession I might have said that any vague sense of disapproval I’ve also entertained for Father’s Day (in addition to the commercialism) is owing to the fact that, comparatively speaking, I deserve little recognition for having played the role of ‘father’ so poorly. In our household Mother’s Day is rightly seen as the more significant and celebratory of the two days. Alas, I suspect I’m not alone in this regard.


double-plus-ungood 06.25.06 at 3:01 pm

William’s failure to become popular in America (though successful everywhere else) has always bemused me —I have yet to meet an American who didn’t love the books once they’ve been introduced to them, and I’ve met enough 10-year-old Americans to know that William is not a uniquely English type.

I’ve recently been buying various Williams in paperback, although I retain several of the hardbacks from my youth (the oldest is an extremely battered 1951 reprint of William The Bad, inscribed to “Heather Roy, with love from Uncle Jimmy”, and then “Form III” inscribed beneath that, making me wonder if I swiped it from Form III).

I tried reading several stories aloud to both children and partner (all Canadian), and was pleased to find that they hold up well, both across time and culture.


Doug K 06.26.06 at 1:58 pm

Ingrid, my son drew me a painstaking portrait of Tintin for Father’s Day.. actually the day after, as on FD we were on a canoeing trip in darkest Wyoming. He always wants to run the canoe through the wildest part of the rapids, but on FD he told me, “today you can run any part of the rapid you like”.

I have a my childhood copy of Just William loitering on the bookshelf, haven’t opened it in decades. I’ll try it again.


Tassled Loafered Leech 06.26.06 at 7:54 pm

I favor Nigel Molesworth, Esq.


harry b 06.26.06 at 10:04 pm

molesworth is unifying CT theme. As, I now suspect, is stephen potter. If you do a serarch you will find that CB does a pitch perfect impressian of molesworth..

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