When I found out I was pregnant, I started reminiscing about the childhood books I'd loved which I wanted to introduce to my son. And one of the first memories I had was of a book - or was it two books? I couldn't remember their titles, or the name of the author. All I knew was that these were picture books - and not just picture books, but perfect picture books. Ones with no words at all. Just pictures telling the story of a family waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night. It didn't need to be anything more than that. Those simple family rituals were a beautiful story unto themselves.
I remembered as clear as anything the little girl in the story and her loving parents, and the era they were drawn in, the era of my own childhood, because it was all so sharply portrayed. The girl and her mother had early 1980s bowl-shaped haircuts, and the father, a typically 'of its time' beard.
Were they called something like 'Dawn' or 'Sunset', those books, I wondered? And started to Google. I knew I'd recognise them as soon as I saw them. And there they were - yes that was it, the author was Jan Ormerod and the books were called Sunshine and Moonlight, published in 1981 and 1982 respectively. And when I ordered them from Amazon, they were exactly as I remembered them.
Sunshine tells the story of a little girl of maybe five, who wakes up one morning and finds her parents still asleep. She forces her daddy out of bed and he sets fire to the kitchen while making her breakfast. They wake the mummy up (she puts on fabulous 1980s square glasses). Mummy goes back to sleep. The girl gets dressed and ready for school, then watches amused as her parents dash around getting dressed themselves. And they all leave for the day, looking smart.
In Moonlight, the family are eating dinner. Daddy washes up (clearly he's a good old 1980s new man). Bath time, and the little girl puts her toys to bed. Daddy reads her a story and says goodnight. Little girl can't sleep and comes into the living room for some milk and a cuddle, twice. Finally daddy falls asleep and the girl and her mummy sit on the sofa quietly reading. Mummy falls asleep. Daddy wakes up. Girl falls asleep. She is put to bed again. Mum and dad fall asleep on the sofa.
They are such a sweet and likeable family - these are the parents any child would want - loving, intelligent, beautiful. It's the sort of book that makes you glow and almost cry to look at as an adult.
I also love the way this is a happy modern family. Dad does lots of childcare; mum isn't some perfect housewife, but a working woman who's allowed to fall asleep while Dad takes the strain.
It's a little optimistic - even a feminist ideal, from an early 1980s perspective. But it shows how modern life can work at its best and doesn't try to put mummy in the kitchen.
At the end of January this year, Jan Ormerod died of cancer at the age of 66. These had been the Australian-born artist's first books; she had two young daughters herself at the time, who were the basis for her inspiration.
I hope Sunshine and Moonlight will always be fondly remembered.