Yet another of my beloved children's writers has died. Elisabeth Beresford was perhaps not one of those Really Great, or was she? I remember reading her Wombles books in Moscow in the 70s. It was behind the Iron Curtain, and I had no idea that the figures came from a television show. I had a vague notion of Wimbledon. The books were displayed at an exhibition arranged by the British Council, where many of my acquaintances with modern British children's literature started. The Wombles were lovely, and their adventures were so simple and so touching. It didn't have the poignance of Winnie the Pooh, but it had all the qualities of a good children's book, including the fact that it appealed to me, a grown-up, admittedly one interested in children's literature. By the time I came to the West, the Wombles were more or less gone. During my first professional visits to the UK, nobody recommended them to me. I don't even remember now whether I included them in my PhD (and I don't have the book at hand to check) because the Wombles were not magic, and they were neither animals nor toys, something in between. What are they, actually? Bears? Dogs?
I wonder what today's children would make of the Wombles. Children's books have become much more sophisticated. They have to be clever, postmodern, challenging. Yet there is still room for kind and fluffy stories like the Wombles. According to Amazon some of them have just been reprinted, and more to come in early 2011. Give a Womble to a child as a Twelfth-night gift!