I hate Johnny Squelchnose, the star of A Pig's Book of Manners. He is exactly the kind of boy that I never want to see even approaching my house. He grunts, he burps, he farts - all loudly and with extra feeling. Food spews out of his mouth as he shouts his favourite word "Gimme".
On the other hand, I love the stars of The Bad Good Manners Book. The spindly-legged girls and boys are brilliantly drawn, and Babette Cole has by no means painted them as little angels as she shows them bunging the loo up with paper and having a shampoo with a big tube of glue. The pictures are clever, the messages direct and funny. This, then, is my favourite manners book of the lot and this was the book that I wanted to read again to my five-year-old.
The only problem was that the five-year-old had other ideas. What did she want? "You know, the one about the guy with things coming out of his nose!". Ah yes, she must mean the page in which Johnny Squelchnose picks his nose (we see lots of green things streaming out). Was she sure? She was sure.
I then proposed Contrary Mary. I liked this character. When she gets up in the morning, she puts her cap on back to front and her shoes on the wrong feet. She wants roast potatoes and gravy for breakfast and rides her bicycle backwards. Her mum gets contrary, too.
Could we read that book again? No, the five-year-old was not going to be fobbed off with a cute little mousette and her inventive mummy mouse. She wanted the boy with green stuff coming out of his nose who pees in the pond during the picnic. But I did not want to read about Master Squelchnose and so I reverted to the parental weapon of reason.
For starters, there was the storyline. It was difficult. Johnny is a bad boy who can't behave himself at parties. So bad, in fact, that his sister calls him a pig and then the very same animal moves in next door: but Claude Curlytail is the cleanest and nicest and politest of pigs. Even Johnny's anti-pig behaviour (he keeps shouting "But he's a PIG!" whenever anyone praises Claude's manners) can't move Claude to be anything but polite to Johnny. Suddenly - and inexplicably - Johnny sees the light and starts to behave himself. Isn't that too complicated?
What about Gracie Growler? Now here was a good character. Gracie Growler is a cat whose parents dote on her new baby brother Tommy.
Nothing Gracie can do can compete. She walks on walls; she walks on clothes lines; she rides upside down on swings. But no one notices until Tommy himself gives credit where credit is due.
The five-year-old relented. Yes, we could read Gracie Growler. But when we were through with Gracie, it was Johnny Squelchnose again. The five-year-old won (are you surprised?). The storyline may be complicated and the drawings basic. The humour may be scatological (training for Viz, perhaps) and the dialogue difficult. But the message is memorable. Don't stick your finger up your nose. Don't make fun of pigs and others who are different from you. Say thank you and share your chocolate cake.
Oh yes, I forgot the one about not always wanting to read your favourite book and letting others have favourites too.