A reprehensible rodent

The two Naughty Nancy picture books

John S Goodall:
Naughty Nancy, The Bad Bridesmaid
Macmillan 1975

John Goodall:
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.

20 thoughts on “A reprehensible rodent

    1. Agreed! The bride’s mother — you can just spot her on the back cover — is the most showy, almost overdressed individual of the lot, the kind you can still see too at many church weddings.

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  1. Adorable. It’s like you can go inside that world. We love mice books. We have some, and they remind me of this one you share here. And, yes, the problem of them being out of print, raises their prices. I’m glad we have the ones we do have. I plan to pass them to my girls, (they’ll have to decide how to split the treasures, LOL) when they leave the house, or maybe keep them for future generations, who knows?

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    1. There’s good reason why some picture books become classics: they have qualities which transcend the period and artists that produced them, and that catch an indefinable feeling or human quirkiness that has perennial appeal. These two little books and I’m sure others by this author are of that order. I happily expect your daughters will venerate the picture books as much as you do!

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  2. The art in these is great – as you say, so much detail to hold the attention of even jaded adults. I love the bows on the mice’s tails and I must say if I had to wear a dress like that Nancy’s blue one, I’d be scowling too. Thanks for introducing me to Nancy! 😀

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    1. We have a couple of young granddaughters who share some of Nancy’s propensity for impetuosity tempered by a heart of gold; I suspect they’d scowl too at having to wear a dress like that! 🙂

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    1. I don’t think you’ve mentioned how old they are, but this would appeal to ages 3 to 5, even 30 to 50 and beyond (not that I’m suggesting they’re ‘beyond’ or anything like that!).

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      1. buriedinprint

        You should get buttons made for her campaign! Hee hee. The one book here reminds me, as well, of Margery Sharp’s stories about the mouse rescue society, Lady Bianca and the Bridesmaid, i think it was called. They’re good fun too (but not so many lovely illustrations of course).

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        1. I see Miss Bianca and the Bridesmaid is the title you mention, one of the Rescuers series of course — I’ve neither read the books nor seen the Disney movies, but the Naughty Nancy are the equivalent of silent films (albeit in full colour!) and so very different. Even if they share a wedding theme. 🙂

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          1. buriedinprint

            That’s a great way of describing them! But don’t cut Miss Bianca short just because Disney grabbed hold. They did that to Dodie’s Smith’s dalmations too, after all. And it doesn’t change the fact that the original stories had a distinct and unDisneyfied charm. 🙂

            Of course if one is not fond of middle-brow stories, with or without mice (Sharp wrote mostly for adults), and isn’t a fan of either Smith or Sharp, then that might impact one’s enjoyment whether Disney got their grubby little paws in there or not.

            I’ve requested a copy of the School story from a branch library. It’s not a nearby branch, so it could take a bit of time to arrive, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it! (Unfortunately, they don’t have the wedding tale/tail.)

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