Thursday, January 30, 2014

Move over Knufflebunny and Velveteen Rabbit.

There are a whole slew of new kids in town.

Much Loved : photographs by Mark Nixon is a wonderful book that I'm very pleased to add to the Doucette’s collection.

This is a photo album showcasing 65 beloved ‘stuffies’ ranging in ages from 104 to 5 years. The portraits of bears, bunnies, puppies and one giraffe are accompanied by stories that gives varying accounts of the toys’ arrivals, departures and missing-in-action adventures. 

The real power of the book lies in the love that comes across for each toy no matter how brief the narrative is.  It is so easy to make an emotional connection, either through our own childhoods or through those of other children, with these VBFsF (very best friends forever).  And I do mean forever.  Apparently, there are some very indulging husbands who let their wives bring their childhood stuffies to bed.

The portraits are simple, unadorned with only a grey background that lets us enjoy each of the stuffed creatures in all their ugly-beauty.  And some of them really are not much more than tattered bits of cloth, knitting, bandages and fake fur tenuously being held together with thread and memories, I think.  If you’re going to lose your fur, then having it kissed or rubbed away are probably the better ways to have it go.

The actor who played Mr. Bean, Rowan Atkinson also included the bear used in the Mr. Bean series, Teddy, describing the significance the toy had to the character. 

One of stories that made me chuckle was about a newborn being joyously brought home by proud parents, ensconced in his crib and unbeknownst to the mother, tucked in by dad with a ‘manky Ted’ (a handmade teddy bear the husband got when he was born, now very grubby and badly stained by who knows what and I suspect, maybe a little smelly to boot) “beside my pristine newborn! I banished Ted to a shelf in the bedroom, where he now happily stays.” I love it.  I can see how the whole thing played out.

There’s Patsy and Floppy who are two very bedraggled animals, indeed. But the wear-and-tear they've endured is the testament of being well loved and are all the cuter for it.  These stories bring a tear to the eye easily enough.

One of the stories I found very touching was about Johnny’s bear, Mr. Ted.  Johnny was immediately besotted with the bear and went with him everywhere.  Unfortunately, Johnny died just before his sixth birthday.  His younger siblings were born after his death but played with ‘Johnny’s bear’ while growing up.  He too, bears evidence of being loved well with patchy fur, a couple of tears and replacement eyes.  This story is accompanied by a poem Johnny’s mom wrote about Mr. Ted and his place in this family’s lives.

I can’t say I’m exactly clear on how I will introduce this book to student-teachers or which workshops I will bring this to, but rest assured that I will be trotting this one out every opportunity I can.  The artistry of the photographs combined with these narratives is too powerful to pass up.  Children will want to tell of their own beloved stuffies as well as adults.

Check out Mark Nixon's website to view some of the pages and images from the book.


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