Ant And Bee

Ant And Bee

When I started writing Kids' Book Club for Parentdish, the Ant and Bee books were near the top of my list of nostalgic must-reads of childhood.

But when I tried to find out who published them now, I was saddened to see they were out of print and had been for years.

In fact, vintage copies from the 70s and 80s were selling for more than I could afford on Amazon and Ebay - they had become collectors' items.

So I was thrilled to discover recently that children's publisher Egmont has started reprinting the Ant and Bee series.

The little books look the same as ever - perfect for small hands, with seriously quirky illustrations of the loveable stick-legged main characters - Ant with his bowler hat and walking stick; and Bee with a jaunty red hat and an umbrella.

Angela Banner's pictures capture a childlike view of the world - they are very two-dimensional and simple, with no worries about perspective, primary colours, and tons of symbolism. This is a world where Ant and Bee can be the size of a man's head, and that man is carrying them and a dog in a hat in a wheelbarrow.

The whole point of the Ant and Bee books (which I never noticed as a child but obviously do now) is to teach the ABC and simple words - hence Ant and Bee for A and B. The first book in the series, Ant and Bee, links 26 three-letter words in alphabetical order.

What I love about it is that by the end of the alphabet Angela Banner was obviously hard put to get suitable three letter words out of U and X - so she uses umbrella for U, only because it's got too many letters, she puts a picture of an umbrella in the text instead. And for X, she explains, 'when xxx is drawn on paper then xxx is kisses'.

These curious little books got right inside my head as a child - I remember being inspired by them to write and illustrate my own stories when I was five; and sitting with my friend, turning over the pages of Around the World with Ant and Bee, Ant and Bee Time, and Ant and Bee and the Rainbow, in total fascination.

So far only three of the books have been reissued by Egmont, but three more will come out later this year.

Angela Banner started writing and illustrating the 13 Ant and Bee books in the 1950s when she was teaching her own son how to read. She is a mysterious author - Google her and you'll find next to nothing about her.

So who was she?

Well, she's now 90, and doesn't appear to have wanted to become famous; she hasn't done any press with the recent reissues. Her publishers can't tell me much about her, but do say that she is in a nursing home, and yet she did re-illustrations for the new editions of the books.

She is clearly an extraordinary woman. If only we could know more about her.