Monday, 15 August 2016

Books from my Bookshelf - About Us by May Gibbs

About Us by May Gibbs Published in 1912
About Us, by May Gibbs, London: Ernest Nister and New York: E. P. Dutton, 1912.

I’ve been looking for a copy of this since I saw it in Collecting Children's Books in 2007. My nine-year search came to an end when I walked into a second-hand bookshop in *Salisbury. I had no intention of looking for books or anything else that day. I had a hair appointment, and was anxious to get it done and get home. For once my train arrived on time thus I had ten minutes to spare before my appointment. What were the chances? I could hardly believe my eyes when I walked through the door and there was the book of my dreams. I had to stop myself hugging it to my chest! The bookseller looked slightly surprised by my reaction, but honestly it felt like winning a gold medal. My heart dropped a bit when I opened the cover and found someone’s ‘little darling’ had been busy with the crayons. In hindsight, it was a good thing because it was priced to take account of the damage. Actually, it was ridiculously inexpensive, which meant I could still afford to give the hairdresser a tip. I do like a happy ending!

Collecting children's books About us May Gibbs
Collecting Children's Books published in 2007 with black-and-white image of About Us.

About Us began life as Mimie and Wog their adventures in Australia. Written by May Gibbs under the pseudonym Silvia Hood the story followed the exploits of a girl, a flying kangaroo and a little black dog. British publishers, however, rejected the Australian setting believing it lacked audience appeal. Unperturbed May Gibbs tried again this time changing the setting to Edwardian London. In this new setting, Mimie renamed Mamie, and her dog encountered the Chimney Pot People and a group of flying bat like creatures called Smuts. This was more to the liking of the publishers, and the book came out in 1912. 

The following quote and accompanying image are from the original unpublished version of Mimie and Wog held by The State Library of New South Wales.

Hoppy called out 'Open your eyes', and there they were in a wonderful strange country – very wild with lovely flowers and such a blue sky.
 This is the new and "improved" version now called About Us.

About Us Mimie and Wog May Gibbs

Image from About Us written by May Gibbs



About Us written by May Gibbs




As they walked along crowds of pigeons flew around them. 
About Us written by May Gibbs

"We won't hurt you," cooed the pigeons. "Come with us to Chimney Pot Land," and without waiting for Mamie to answer they lifted her up and flew away.

About Us written by May Gibbs


All around were the funniest little people Mamie had ever seen. She though of poor Wog all by himself, and began to cry. The Chimney Pot King asked, "What's the matter?" "Oh, never mind that," he said, "I'll send my Smuts to find him."

About Us written by May Gibbs


About Us written by May Gibbs


About Us by May Gibbs Published in 1912



About Us written by May Gibbs


About Us by May Gibbs Published in 1912


Books from my Bookshelf - About Us written by May Gibbs


THE END
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I don’t know about you, but I found the story rather odd and wonder if I might have preferred the original version. The illustrations are dramatic and interesting, and I’m thrilled to add it to my collection and to share it with you but it left me wanting more. If you are ever in *Salisbury, Wiltshire (UK), you should pop into The History Bookshop on Fisherton Street, you never know what you might find.  

Although this was May Gibbs’ first published book, it remains largely unknown to Australian readers who are more familiar with her Gumnut babies.

The Gumnut babies. Image credit Australian Children’s Literature

May Gibbs (1877-1969), author, illustrator and cartoonist, captured the hearts and imaginations of generations of Australians with her lovable bush characters and fanciful landscapes. Her iconic children's literature and folklore is still as popular as ever, holding a special place in the Australian consciousness. Best known for The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, she also wrote and illustrated many other children's books, produced long-running cartoon strips and a variety of commercial work. A fiercely determined woman, she was Australia's first full-time, professionally trained children's book illustrator, developing an uniquely Australian fantasy vernacular which is relevant now as it was then. In 1955, May Gibbs was appointed Member of the British Empire (MBE) in acknowledgement of her important contribution to children’s literature. [Source - State Library, New South Wales]

What do you think of the story / images?


42 comments:

  1. Brilliant! Now this is my kind of story...
    Loads of images..(sorry..can't spell illustrations).
    And very few words..Love it! Though l have to confess,
    l've read it three times, l'm off for a cup of lemon tea,
    then back for another read..! And, yes, l do understand it.
    "Willie..with a mentality like yours"?
    And, to think..were not able to use the word Wog to~day!
    Not even as a name..I barely get away with 'Willie'. :).

    The last 4~5 lines made me chuckle....'pulled down all the
    tea things..and there was her little Wog, begging for some
    cake'.
    "Willie..Your away with the fairies". "Yep! Lead on..Lead
    on". :0).

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    1. Hi Willie, I could hear you chuckling all the way down here in Henstridge! I had to include lots of illustrations because I don’t know many words. Actually, I know lots of words; I’m just not sure how to use them. My husband reckons I will be in trouble for including the little dog’s name, but what was I supposed to do?
      I started out writing about the story and then decided it would be safer just to photograph the pages – that way the words were nothing to do with me!! I laughed about the end bit too and made it worse by saying I was left wanting more. :-)

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  2. Dear, dear Barbara, good morning! As your describe the moments leading up to finding this book, I can SEE you. I can see you waiting for the train and anticipating your hair appointment. And I can see you walking into a dark but magical bookstore. Then, your description of that moment when you saw your dream book....I know the feeling! And as I look at the pages you share here, I can see why you wanted this. The artists and story tellers of old really captured corners of a home, a child's bedroom of dreams to the point where still to this day, I feel as if I am in those pages. The elements such as a fireplace, a shelf stocked with books and dolls that come alive, this still touches my heart so. The winding cobblestone streets, this is what I LOVE.

    Enjoy every flipping of the pages, even if they are scribbled with a child's crayon; we all leave some kind of print of our experience in some way, and take it all in. WHAT A FIND!!!!!

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    1. Good morning dear Anita, I felt sure you would appreciate the images – aren’t they just beautiful?
      It was an auspicious day from start to end. The train was on time. My hair looked good, and I felt on top of the world. I’m afraid I had to show my new book to everyone at the hairdressers – I was too excited not to. Luckily, my hairdresser is a book lover, so she understood! Much love.

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  3. Loved it and although I started at Ibstone school in 1946 this was the sort of books that we had read to us by Mrs Britnell, our lovely teacher. We would pass the books round and "Oohed and Ahed" at the illustrations. I cannot say that I saw this lovely book, but certainly similar ones. So pleased you found it after all that time, but have you really retired? You will have to buy a bigger house if you keep all your books. xx

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    1. Hi Sue, I don’t remember books like that at Berryfields but we did have lovely early readers and story books. Mind you, I must have got my love of old books from somewhere – so maybe we did have them, and I just don’t remember.
      I’ve definitely retired and I’m OK for space because I took all my stock to auction. Now I’m just things I want to keep. had masses of empty shelf space at the end of last year but not any more! xx

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  4. Barbara, HELLO AGAIN! I just saw your comment on my blog and thank you so much for visiting and viewing Vicki's interview with me! I BET you were so excited the day you found this book! I love these illustrations, and like I say time and time again, these are the innocent days of childhood. I long for these even in my late 50s, going into my 60s. The cottages, the imagery and suggestion of a simpler life...the animals, ALL OF IT. Yes, cherish this special book and I'm glad your hairdresser also loves books! Who doesn't? And for those who do not, I hope they discover the possibilities of imagination one day! Much love to you, and I hope you find me again on Instagram!

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    1. Hello Anita, I thoroughly enjoyed the interview – you gave such lovely answers.
      I long for those times too Anita and I am very nearly at the end of my 60s. I have happy memories all down the years but somehow those from childhood are very fresh in my mind.
      I don’t know how I ‘lost’ you on Instagram. I’ve followed again and also re-followed your blog so fingers crossed.

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  5. I'm with you, Barbara. The illustrations are beautiful and strange and intriguing. But story didn't do much for me. However, finding a copy to add to your collection, what a treat!

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    1. Hi Bish, I must say I was disappointed by the story. It must be because the author was forced to change it, and it somehow lost its way. I’ve read a couple of other books by her and enjoyed them immensely. Finding it was a treat, and I was rather over excited for a day or two (actually make that a week or two) ;-)

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  6. Isn't is wonderful when a day goes so well? And I know the feeling of looking for something and finally finding it must have felt like the icing on the cake. Enjoy your book, it's a delightful story.

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    1. Hi Alex, it was one of those red-letter days! I know I shouldn’t get so excited over something material, but it felt so much more than that. I wasn’t thinking about books that day. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find that particular book and yet there it was. In my bookselling days, I often searched for particular books for customers, sometimes for months on end but rarely found them. I don’t know if I’m more relaxed about it these days, but something has certainly changed.

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  7. Isn't it wonderful when you come across a book you've been searching for like this. My nana would have said you were fated to have it.

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    1. And your nana would be right! But then nanas are always right. Thanks for calling in Tracy.

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  8. I really love children's books! This is absolutely fantastic, and I love all the illustrations as well!

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    1. Thanks so much Linda, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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  9. That book was meant to belong to you. I loved seeing those illustrations, but I do agree to strangeness of the story. Still it was a nostalgic page turner. Congratulations on finding it.

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    1. You are absolutely right – it was just waiting for me to come along. Perhaps it knew it would be going somewhere where it would be loved!

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  10. I am so pleased for your good fortune in finding the book and my good fortune to read and enjoy your experience and the lovely stories you write on your blog. Thank you again. J

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    1. I really appreciate that John, thank you. I hope your submersible ‘experiments’ are going well.

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  11. What a darling story and such wonderful pictures. I love the name Wog. How adorable is that? I'm so glad you came across this book.

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  12. How cool that you just happened upon it. It seems like fate. And because you found it, you were able to share it with the world!

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    1. Hi Stephanie, the planets were definitely in alignment that day. It doesn’t happen very often so it’s nice to celebrate and share when it does.

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  13. I love that you found this even though you only had a little bit of time before your appointment. I really like the illustrations. Definitely a unique story. :) Thanks for sharing it with us!

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    1. Unique is a very good description Stephanie. I just found it a little odd, but it doesn’t stop me enjoying it for what it is. Thanks for leaving a comment.

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  14. That was meant to be, you walking into the bookshop and seeing that book, things happen like that, and I am a great believer in things come to those who wait.
    Julie xxxxx

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    1. Hi Julie, I think you might be right. Never give up is going to be my new motto.

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  15. I think there's something slightly sinister and creepy about the pictures (although the dog is cute) and the story is a kind of second-rate Alice in Wonderland. I think I would have much preferred the flying kangaroo and the original version - it's a shame she had to change it. But interesting to see how times change - well done on finding this rare book!

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    1. Hello Sue, I don’t find the pictures at all creepy, but I guess I’m biased because I’ve been looking for the book for such a long time. The story, on the other hand, is distinctly odd, and it does have an ‘Alice’ feeling about it.

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  16. Oh,Barbara! I know how you felt ---finding a book you have wanted for so long. It is thrilling! I would love to see the Australian version of the story, it looks enchanting.The revised Edwardian London version is a bit odd. I love the little dog Wog. I also love the cats purring the poor little gutter girl to sleep- keeping her warm. I am so glad you found the book for your collection. Thank you for sharing it with us! I do enjoy your blog and your exchanges with Willie!

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    1. Hi Colleen, it's a shame the Australian version remains unpublished. I can’t understand why the manuscript still languishes in the State Library of NSW. May Gibbs is such a phenomenon in Australia you would think some enterprising publisher would apply for the rights to publish. The story certainly has charm but it kind of losses its way from time to time. The chimney pot people and the Smuts are certainly clever, and I love the way the author suggests the Smuts are dying out. were the days of ‘pea-soupers’ (fog) when smoke and smuts would have been commonplace.
      Willie is hilarious, I always look forward to his comments.

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  17. Don´t you just love it when you find a book you have been looking for, for a long time? It happened to me on the Isle of Wight. I walked in an old bookstore and there it was in the middle of a heap of books. I couldn´t believe it. This book looks adorable but the storytelling is quite different from what we are used to now.Always love the old illustrations!

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    1. Hello Darlene, it’s magical isn’t it? I felt the book was waiting for me, and I suspect you felt the same. Thanks so much for your comment.

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  18. What a great find! I'm with you, the story's a bit odd, but the illustrations carry it. Seems like Gibbs may have been influenced by the success of The Wizard of Oz, as well as Alice in Wonderland. Both books were already popular when this much shorter version of a young girl's journey to a strange land was written. And like many, it probably wouldn't have been publishable by today's standards (editors are constantly rejecting 'it was all a dream' manuscripts and most authors know it's a poor way to tell a story.) BUT, May Gibbs sounds like a fascinating woman and I'm very happy you've introduced us to her. Her illustrations are brilliant!

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    1. Hi Marcia, I think you are right about The Wizard of Oz, even the images remind me a little of those done by Denslow. I must admit I hadn’t compared it to Alice or The Wizard and probably wouldn’t have done so had it not been pointed out to me, but I can see it now. I’m glad you like the illustrations. T are not to everyone’s liking, but I love them and the colours remain just as bright as they must have been when the book was published.

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  19. I love the illustrations, so bright and fun. But like you, Barbara, the story ending left me unsatisfied and I keep thinking about the kangaroo, too. As for the tortoiseshell cat, aha finally! Finally their brilliance is made known to the world (thought this book came out in 1912).

    Lesson here: always be early for your hair appointments. So happy for you that you found this beloved book, Barbara!

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    1. Hello Claudine, you are so right about being early. In fact, I might just catch an earlier train from now on!
      I agree with you about the ending and the kangaroo, such a shame she didn’t stick with her original story, but then it may never have been published.

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  20. Hi Barbara,

    Ah, the wondrous magic of finding a special book you've been seeking. The story, somewhat quirky. The illustrations, exquisite. Thank you for sharing this. A pleasant weekend to you, Barbara.

    Gary

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    1. Thank you so much Gary. I’m a little late in replying to this, but I hope your weekend is going well. x

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  21. Oh how wonderful Barbara. You have indeed found a treasure. I am so happy that your search for the book has ended.
    It has beautiful illustrarions

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    1. Thanks so much Shashi. I was super excited to find it.

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I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara xx

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