Aldo is the Harvey-esque imaginary best friend to a little girl. As is often the case with John Burningham a lot of the story is told through the illustrations rather than the text. We learn that she is bullied, her parents argue and that above all she is very lonely. But whenever she is at her darkest Aldo comes to whisk her off on an adventure: playing on the swings, ice skating, tightrope walking across the city at night…or simply to read her a bedtime story when she can’t sleep.
The heroine is never named and I’m only guessing that she’s a she because she wears a skirt (if the main character is actually a cross dressing boy then Burningham gets even more points!) Her gender is not relevant to the story which, as I’ve said, is often my favourite heroine.
I’ll have to wait a few years to see if my son warms to Aldo but I suspect that it is a story that appeals more to adults then children – which is no bad thing, we’re the ones spending our evenings reading them aloud. I also like that it is slightly maudlin, I think that children shouldn’t just read hyperactive fun books (although they definitely have their place.) And it has a wonderful message: that if you have imagination you will never be alone because “Aldo will always be there.”
Heroine rating 4/5
In my past life as an independent adult who knew nothing about children I was familiar with Posy Simmonds in The Guardian and her excellent female characters (Tamara Drewe, Gemma Bovery) so it is wonderful to discover that she has also written lots of children’s books.
Lulu is an independent toddler who, quite rightly, gets annoyed that the family now revolves around the needs of her new baby brother. When she’s taken to the museum (against her will, she wants to play in the snow in the park – top feminist points in her hardiness and desire for rugged play) two cherubs (the flying babies) come to life and together they enter the worlds inside the paintings. And the best bit is that in the end *spoiler alert* we discover that this isn’t just in Lulu’s imagination, the museum usher also sees the flying babies.
She’s a fantastic character and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Lulu and the Chocolate Wedding.
Heroine rating 5/5
In some ways Beegu is my favourite type of heroine. She’s an alien and nine times out of ten these anthropomorphic characters are male. But not Beegu. And there is no special attributes because of her gender: she doesn’t want to be a princess or like ponies. The story would be just the same if she were a he, which is what makes it so refreshing.
The tale is conventional enough – alien crashes to earth, feels alone, befriends children, goes back home – but the familiar narrative is spruced up by arresting illustrations by Alexis Deacon. And the reader identifies with Beegu, even though she in turn has a rather pessimistic view of human beings.
Beegu was named after of a dog of Deacon’s but he says he also likes its alien ‘beep beep’ connotation and that it sounds like bijou – a little shiny jewel. Beegu is a simple creature, drawn with few features (three eyes, two antennae, long ears) which makes her desire to fit in all the easier to identify with.
Heroine rating: 3/5