The favourite books of our childhood hold a special place in our hearts and memories and it is a joy to discover them again as an adult.
So I was delighted to find that some much-loved paperbacks from the 70s had survived numerous jumble sales and were waiting at my parents’ house to be transported down to London and find a new home on our eldest boy’s bookshelf.
“Harry Was A White Dog With Black Spots”
So begins each of the Harry books by Gene Zion; a series I was introduced to, when I was around four or five years old, through No Roses For Harry.
Harry is an instantly lovable dog with short legs and a long expressive face who has a cheeky side to him that gets him into trouble, but he always comes out on top through a mixture of cunning and good luck.
His white and black spotted fur is a key device in his adventures; particularly in this, the second in the series, when Harry is given a new sweater by Grandma, which he takes an instant dislike to as it has roses on it.
When people saw it, they laughed. When dogs saw it, they barked.
And so Harry decides to lose the sweater. Following the rule of three Harry tries to lose the sweater in the pet, grocery, and flower departments of a big store, but each time someone finds it and gives it back to his owners.
Eventually Harry does find a way to dispose of his hated garment with the help of a bird and a loose thread. I won’t spoil the ending but it’s ingenious and satisfying and Harry gets a new look that suits him much better than roses.
Why I Love The Harry Books
After devouring No Roses For Harry! hundreds of times I was also given Harry The Dirty Dog and Harry By The Sea for subsequent birthdays and Christmases.
I can see by how well-thumbed but also well cared for these books are (one even has a forty year old sellotape repair) that they were some of my most treasured possessions.
The stories are simple but full of twists and turns that keep children engaged and Harry is imbued with childlike qualities of mischievousness, innocence, and stubbornness that have you rooting for him while also rolling your eyes at his antics.
The illustrations, by Margaret Bloy Graham, are packed with details that reward repeat reads. I used to spend ages looking at the pictures and getting lost in Harry’s world long after I’d finished the story, especially the street scenes.
The books were first published between 1956 and 1965 so they capture a bygone age and I think children today will be interested by the clothing and vehicles.
Gene Zion was born in the USA so I assume that’s where the stories are set but I think the illustrations also have a European feel that reminds me a little of Jean-Jacques Sempe who drew Le Petit Nicolas (another of my childhood favourites).
I think the stories are just the right length for children aged three to six and take around ten minutes to read (depending how long you spend enjoying the pictures).
Little B spotted Harry as soon as I brought the books home and they soon became a bedtime story regular. I was a bit worried that my tired old copies were not going to last much longer so I was delighted when Mrs B discovered that a bright spark at Random House had republished them in the early 90s under the Red Fox imprint.
So we now have No Roses For Harry and Harry By The Sea in their new format, and my vintage copies can go safely back on the shelf in the sitting room.
I love how Little B refers to the first book as “Harry Hasn’t Got No Roses” – I forgive his terrible syntax as he is very cute and only three years old.
I am sure we’ll add Harry The Dirty Dog to the collection soon, and although I thought they were the only stories I have found a fourth adventure – Harry And The Lady Next Door – while researching the author and illustrator.
About The Author
Gene Zion was born on October 5 1913 and died in 1975. He studied at the New School of Social Research and the Pratt Institute and served during World War II, designing training manuals and filmstrips.
Gene met illustrator Margaret Bloy Graham at Conde Nast publishing, and they got maried and collaborated on all Gene’s picture books. As well as the Harry series these include another of my well-read childhood books The Plant Sitter, which has also survived to entertain the next generation.
Margaret continued to illustrate and write books for children until 1989 and died at the grand old age of 94 in 2015. She won the Caldecott Medal for the “most distinguished American picture book for children” twice, for Really Spring and The Storm Book.
All the Harry books are available in all the usual bookshops and global internet behemoths, but I like Wordery – the alternative online bookshop.
What’s your favourite childhood book and did you go on to read it to your children?