John S Goodall:
Naughty Nancy, The Bad Bridesmaid
Naughty Nancy Goes to School
André Deutsch Ltd 1985
John Strickland Goodall (1908–1996) is an artist best known for his children’s picture books with Edwardian or Victorian themes, lovingly embellished with the paraphernalia of those eras, and all no doubt a nostalgic harking-back to the author’s own childhood straddling the reigns of Edward VII and George V.
The two Naughty Nancy books — both great favourites with our own children, and now their children — are typical of one of his approaches, that of using animals in period dress (mice, in this case).
These narratives, told entirely in images, without words, are laced liberally with the humour that comes from youngsters behaving badly but somehow getting away with it.
Nancy’s misdemeanours are got across to the viewer by means of a simple storytelling device: a double-page spread proves illusory, for in reality a half-page on the right hand side folds over to the left to reveal a similar scene but with one difference — Nancy getting up to one of her tricks.
In The Bad Bridesmaid Naughty Nancy is seen scoffing from the punch bowl in the wedding marquee, rolling up the red carpet in the church porch just after it has been rolled out, and riding the bride’s train instead of carrying it. In Naughty Nancy Goes to School the reluctant nursery student at the Dame School throws the teacher’s papers off her desk and scampers out the door, or while on a school outing buries her sleeping instructor in sand. The delight is in seeing how far the mischievous mouselet will go and yet escape the retribution that is her due.
But of course picture books work their magic with pictures, and Goodall is masterful in the way he puts in as much as is necessary to tell the story while also including details which the eye, if it chooses to, can linger over. These colourful details might range from the bows on mice’s tails in the church scene to the boys looking at the notices in the playground, Nancy scowling or the distant view of the seaside resort.
How can one not be charmed by such incidents, reprehensible though Nancy’s actions may be? And though Goodall appears not to have continued with the infant rodent’s adventures, there are his other publications either being republished or still available secondhand. Should we wait for the excuse of future great-grandchildren appearing before acquiring some of these, I wonder.