I realised that I haven’t talked at all about any of the picture books that are listed in ‘1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up’, so I have decided to start with one of my favourites: Eloise, written by Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight.
Have you ever read Eloise? If not, you are in for a treat. Eloise is six years old and lives in the Plaza Hotel in New York with her nanny, her pug and her turtle. She doesn’t seem to ever see her mother or father, or anyone of her age, but she doesn’t mind because she loves hanging out (see annoy) everyone who works at the Plaza. Like Eloise, who is kooky and rawther unusual, the writing of the book, as well as the subsequent titles (Eloise in Paris, Eloise in Moscow, and Eloise at Christmastime), races around, jumps about, and is sometimes just crazy. It is incredibly fun to read.
When my family went to New York in 2000 for Christmas, my mum, who loves Eloise almost as much as I do, took me to the Plaza to see the portrait of her that is hanging in the lobby. Eloise has reached almost cult status – the Plaza was already famous before Eloise was written, but now, people will often think of the Plaza because of its association with Eloise.
Kay Thompson, however, started to dislike Eloise’s fame, and forced all the books except the original Eloise out of print during her lifetime. In fact, she blocked publication of the fifth book in the series, Eloise Takes a Bawth, which was only published posthumously in 2002. All her books have obviously been reprinted since then, to great acclaim, and their popularity has led to Simon & Schuster creating new titles in the Eloise range, written and illustrated by people other than the original creators. I have mixed feelings about this. I feel like this is almost like betraying the spirit of Eloise – Eloise is so bizarre, so quirky, such an original, that replicating her and her world in new books not written by Kay Thompson feels like taking away from her originality. However, I think that it is great that Eloise is so popular that there is a demand to recreate her in new books. I just wish that they were written by by Kay Thompson – the new books seem to lack that brilliant spark that glowed in the original books.
(I cannot find my original copy of Eloise, which I think must be in my sister’s bookcase at my mum’s house. However, I have Eloise at Christmastime and Eloise in Paris at my house – the first was given to me for Christmas from my parents in 1999, and the second was actually given to my sister for her sixth birthday from my Nana and Pa (as written on the title page). I must have inadvertently stolen it when I moved out! Oops.)