Smaridge, N. (1970). The big tidy up. New York, NY: Golden Press Book.
I loved this book as a child, especially if one of my parents was reading it to me. It’s physical condition today shows that it was obviously in the “high rotate” pile; despite being mended several times, the pages are no longer attached to the cover.
From memory, the main reason I loved this book was that Jennifer, the protagonist, was not your stereotypical, neat little girl (probably why George was my favourite character in the Famous Five too!). Jennifer lived in squalor and was quite happy to do that even after she had been told off by her mother – who doesn’t love a rebel? I also loved the illustrations, despite never having been a fan of the colour pink; I liked the bright colours, the chaos of Jennifer’s bedroom, and finding where the cat was hidden amongst her mess. There is also a humour in the illustrations that matches that of the text. The story is told with rhythm and rhyme, which is why it makes such a great read-aloud. And I can still remember the first page verbatim (as can both parents!), even though I have read this book only five or six times in the last 30 years. I also remember being extremely disappointed when Jennifer gave up her life of scruffiness and turned into the neat little girl her mother wanted her to – the first half of the book was always my favourite! And who could resist those endpapers?!
I think the humour, rhythm and rhyme of the book still work today. I do wonder about the illustrations though. They are sort of an odd mix of stylised people, and accurate and detailed objects. I think if the style was more consistent, with all objects being more stylised, the illustrations would probably work better for a modern audience. I’m also quite torn about the themes of the book. Yes, it’s important for children to know that they have the security of being loved and accepted in their homes, and that there comes some responsibility with being a member of a family. But the way that Jennifer is turned from a messy, active, jean-wearing girl into a tidy, dress-wearing girl who waits patiently on the end of her bed just doesn’t sit well with the adult me. And I don’t even know if changing the genders of either the parent and / or the child in this story would fix that feeling.
I got my copy of The Big Tidy Up from my bookshelf.
It’s not available from the library – way to make me feel old!