Jeanne Willis has written a book of ‘nursery rhymes for feminist times’, What are little girls made of?, with delightful illustrations by Isabelle Follath depicting a diverse range of cheerful children. Traditional nursery rhymes are given a fresh twist, with positive and proactive role models for little girls (and little boys). As a light-hearted celebration of International Women’s Day, here is one of the shorter rhymes:
Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
in a shower of rain.
She fell in a puddle right up to her middle,
and fixed the broken drain.
Jeanne Willis has been writing for children for many years and has many much-loved books to her name. Probably my own favourite is one of the very early ones, The tale of Mucky Mabel, illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain. I read this book to my own daughter when she was young, so many times that we could both recite the hilarious rhyming text by heart. For us, the story was less a fable on conformity and table manners than a celebration of an independent-minded little girl who ate her food with gusto and was determined to live life on her own terms.
This author has worked with some terrific illustrators, notably and often with Tony Ross, and dealt with a wide variety of topics, from the tiniest terrestrial bug-life to the far frontiers of outer space. Her books may be varied, but all feature her characteristic positivity and panache, a quirky look at life, exuberant rhyme, and uproarious humour. Jeanne Willis’ own life demonstrate these traits, too, as shown in this droll photo-montage of her life and influences from her website.