This week's book is the Mr. Men classic Mr. Wrong (1978), by Roger Hargreaves. The Mr. Men and Little Miss series are so familiar to anyone who grew up since the 1970s that they have become part of the imagery of childhood.
Perhaps the reason why they work so well is their brilliant simplicity. Children's picture book writers might well spend years imagining a complicated fantasy world, but what could be more basic than a series of short, small, square books, each about a single clearly-defined person whose name tells you everything you need to know about him?
From Mr. Tickle, Mr. Greedy, Mr. Happy and Mr. Nosey (the first Mr. Men) to Mr. Mischief, Mr. Clever, Mr. Busy and Mr. Slow (the last in the original 1970s series), every character is all about one adjective; expresses one personality trait.
It's a bit like a Psychology primer for very young children.
And you only have to look at the drawings of each Mr. Man to see how much fun Roger Hargreaves had imagining what each might look like, using a basic template of a blob for the body, arms, legs, hats and distinctive lace-up shoes, plus the odd moustache (Mr Fussy and Mr Clumsy) or accessory (like Mr Uppity's monocle).
Mr. Tickle has exceptionally long arms; Mr. Sneeze is an explosive pointy creature; Mr. Bump is wrapped in bandages; Mr. Messy is a pink scribble. Most of the Men are round, but some have harder edges, notably square red Mr. Strong and rectangular blue Mr. Grumpy. Mr. Rush is a triangle pointing where he is rushing to go.
It all started in 1971, when Hargreaves' six-year-old son Adam asked his father, who'd always wanted to be a cortoonist: 'What does a tickle look like?' And Mr. Tickle was drawn for the first time.
That year, the first six Mr. Men books were published. They sold over a million copies in the first three years alone and sparked off a classic BBC TV series narrated by Arthur Lowe; after which more Mr. Men books came out.
In 1976, Hargreaves was able to quit his job in advertising and in 1981 he started the Little Miss series (we'll feature a Little Miss classic another time).
Roger Hargreaves died in 1988 and Adam continued writing and illustrating more Mr. Men and Little Miss books, which have been published since, along with all sorts of other merchandise.
Today, a Mr. Men book is sold every 2.5 seconds somewhere in the world.
The books have a cheerfully cheeky sense of humour, while also imparting some solid moral lessons about how to behave and get on with other people. The primary-coloured Mr. Men world is a clear and straightforward microcosm of the real one. The house you keep and the way you talk and the things you do all reflect your character - and when one character meets his opposite, something's bound to happen.
Take the story of Mr. Wrong, for instance. Everything about him is just 'wrong'. His house is all misshapen, he bounces downstairs on his bottom, he wears a daisy in a flowerpot as a hat, his gloves and shoes don't match and he calls the postman a doctor.
"Oh dear!" tuts the storyteller fondly. But then Mr. Wrong meets someone who looks like him - only better. It turns out to be Mr. Right (who else?) And of course Mr. Right takes Mr. Wrong into his nice neat home and teaches him how to be more Right, so Mr. Wrong can live happily ever after.
Except, as Hargreaves says on the penultimate page: "Now. You probably think that's the end of the story. Don't you? Well it isn't!" Of course, now that Mr. Wrong is Mr Right; Mr. Right has become more like Mr. Wrong. And he goes to bed...in the bath. Now that's the end of the story.
Children learn that there are all types of people in this world bumping along together and they may, or may not, have an effect on one another.
For example, in Mr. Busy, there's nothing the busy blue man can do to make Mr. Slow go for a picnic at 6am. And in Mr. Silly, the yellow protagonist with the hat over his eyes is desperate to outdo Mr. Foolish, who's invented a car with square wheels, and Mr. Ridiculous, who's wallpapered the outside of his house.
The child is invited to wonder: "Which Mr. Man am I? What kind of person do I want to be?" There's always a Mr. Man to identify with.
Mr. Wrong by Roger Hargreaves is published by Egmont (£2.50)
The complete Mr. Men collection is published by Egmont (£117.50)
Perfect for summer sports days and the Olympics, Egmont has released two new sporty titles, Mr. Men Sports Day and Mr. Men Sports Day Sticker Book. You can find them both on Amazon.
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