Childrens’ books

by Henry Farrell on January 30, 2007

Harry’s post below reminds me that I’ve been meaning for years to recommend Michael de Larrabeiti’s Borrible trilogy (“Powells”:, “Amazon”: ) to parents of young ones with a certain disposition. Borribles are

generally skinny and have pointed ears which give them a slightly satanic appearance. They are pretty tough-looking and always scruffy, with their arses hanging out of their trousers. … The only people likely to get close to Borribles are ordinary children, because Borribles mix with them to escape detection by ‘the authorities’ who are always trying to catch them. … Normal kids are turned into Borribles very slowly, almost without being aware of it; but one day they wake up and there it is. It doesn’t matter where they come from as long as they’ve had what is called a bad start.

A section of the London police, the ‘Special Borrible Group,’ (the resonance is surely intended) is devoted to hunting them down and clipping their ears so that they turn into normal children. The best of the three books in my opinion is the first, _The Borribles_, in which a group of Borribles raid the warrens of the ‘ratlike’ and rather thinly disguised Rumbles, who live on Rumbledon Common, fight with pointed ‘rumble-sticks’ and are fearfully posh (‘you wevolting little stweet-awabs … how dare you tweat me in this fashion?’). The scene where a Borrible executes Great-Uncle Vulgarian by tossing an electric fire into his fancy bath-tub isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Also warmly recommended, although very different, is Ysabeau Wilce’s _Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog_ (“Powells”:, “Amazon”:, ). Well written, light and dryly funny, but (like Harry’s recommendation) with a considerable degree of psychological depth (the heroine’s relationship with her two, very different parents is touching and complicated).



patrickg 01.31.07 at 12:44 am

Those books were a revelation to me when I read them last year.

It’s such a shame de Larrabeiti didn’t write more. I love the angry politics to the books, the unabashed violence, death and strong emotion.

I felt like de Larrabeiti – like all good childrens’ lit authors – understands that childhood is not something that children themselves view as nostalgic, but rather a time of intense emotions, fear, violence and love, etc. So much more resonant than watered-down vision of childhood a la famous five or what-have-you.


dipnut 01.31.07 at 5:01 pm

Hm. I never thought of The Borribles as a class-struggle allegory before (perhaps I’m reading too much into this post and the solitary comment so far). Just enjoyed the books.

To the extent there’s “angry politics” in The Borribles, it seems to me to be, uh, libertarian or something. Certainly the upper-crusty Rumbles are not the most fearsome or hateful villains in the book. Dewdrop and Flinthead, each a vile authoritarian in his own way, vie for top honors in this category. I suppose you could wedge Dewdrop into the capitalist robber-baron category, whereas Flinthead is a perfect Fascist.

And then there’s the cops.

Younger readers will thankfully be spared consideration of possible socio-political commentary when reading the books. They are really good.

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