The Mr Men books were created by Roger Hargreaves
in 1971, have been translated into 15 languages, and have sold over 100 million copies, making Hargreaves the second best selling children's author after J.K. Rowling
. The books are short and simple, aimed at youngsters who are just starting to read. Each page is accompanied by a full page picture, drawn by Hargreaves. Big, thick black lines, bright colours - they're simple, look like they've been drawn with normal marker pen
s, and are easy for small hands to copy.
It all started when Hargreaves' son Adam asked his dad what a tickle looked like. Mr Tickle was created, and a legend was born. The books take a basic human characteristic or flaw, like meanness, loudness, greediness, and create a person around it. The character is shown living their life as normal, before coming across a situation that changes their outlook. They then mend their ways, and live happily ever after, giving us a nice little moral to learn. There are exceptions to the rule, of course - some characters carry on doing what they do best, like Mr Tickle. I remember when my mum or sister used to read the Mr Tickle book to me, it ended with a warning that he might be just around the corner, waiting to tickle you. When they read the last line, their other hand, which had been sneaking up, would rush in and tickle me until I screamed with laughter. It got funnier every time they did it. Ah, the joys of childhood...
The Little Miss books came later, created for Hargreaves' twin daughters. I don't know why, but I never liked the Little Miss books - possibly because I was a little boy, and identified more with the male characters, but probably because I just didn't like change. Between 1974 and 1985, there was a great television series based on the books, narrated by Arthur Lowe, and keeping the same, chunky drawing style. When Hargreaves died in 1988, his son Adam took over the writing and drawing duties. In 2001, to celebrate the 30th anniversary, a competion was held to create a new character. It was won by an 8 year old girl, and Mr Cheeky was born, the resulting book written by Adam. There are bucketloads of products, too. Along with the books and TV series, you can buy Mr Men cards, games, clothes, bubble bath, lunchboxes, soft toys, plastic toys, and even an album. I still remember getting a Mr Bump plaster (American translation: band aid) when I was a kid, which cheered me up after nasty elbow scrape.
While they might not be as trendy as Harry Potter, or as easy as the atrocious Spot the Dog "books", if you have a child, or are thinking of having one (for a laugh, or whatever), I strongly urge you to wean them on Mr Men books. Why? I'm not a parent (I'm not a dentist, etc), but I was brought up on these books, and they are the reason I'm such an avid reader and writer today. The Mr Men rule.
They have a knack with language - they're written very simply, but every other page will throw in a big word, in such a context that it is clear what it means. My vocabulary expanded considerably, thanks to these books, as did my storytelling skills. When other kids in the first year of primary school would draw a house and write "this is a house" as their "story", I would do whole pages about talking mice and other bizarre stuff. When I was two years old, my sister found me standing on a table. I looked at her, and asked "Are you totally amazed that I'm standing on this table?" "Totally amazed" was my new phrase that week. One time I asked my sister Sara to "say something remarkably silly". All thanks to the Mr Men and Hargreaves' unique outlook on life. They'd read the books to me so many times, I knew them all off by heart - one day I tried to recite Mr Bounce from memory, just to see if I could - I could. Whenever my mum or sister tried to skip a page to get me to go to bed quicker, I would always know, always, and make them go back. I saw them in a bookshop last year, and spend a whole afternoon re-reading them. They're fabulous. Go and buy them all. If you don't have kids, give them to someone who does, or just keep them to read yourself. They're also great fun to read to kids, you can do the voices and be silly, they love it (note: no, I still don't like kids, this is just a temporary blip, normal service will be resumed soon). Don't buy them bloody Spot goes to look at the bloody beachball, with two words per page, get them something that'll help them to learn. Kids books and TV shows are far too simplistic these days, I know everyone says it was better back in their day, but it's true. Kids read and watch crap, if they read at all. Education standards are falling, but it's that crucial early reading stage where the damage is done - get them reading, and reading quality stuff, early. I love reading. It's the greatest gift my mother ever gave me, and I can never thank her enough for that.
All the Mr Men and Little Miss books are available from most bookshops. The television series are available on VHS and DVD. As for other merchandise, if you can slap a Mr Men face on it, then it's probably on sale in a toyshop near you. If anyone finds a shop selling Mr Men t-shirts, I would like a Mr Funny, Mr Mischief, Mr Nonsense, Mr Impossible, or Mr Grumpy one, please - size about 38, not fussed about the colour. Cheers!
-- Mr RalphyK
Websites to visit:
www.mrmen.com - the official Mr Men site, if I can say the phrase with a straight face. Presumably it's run by Mr Webmaster, or Little Miss Webmistress. Or Mr Lazy at the moment, because it's not working.
Make your own Mr Men character! Go to www.kidstime.com, and click on Make a Mr Man.
There are too many to list here, but plenty of sites offer downloadable Mr Men icons, pictures, cursors, and whatnot. Mr Google should be able to help you out.