I was a very talkative child. I was often called a chatterbox – and it wasn’t always meant in a positive way. But then I read Little Miss Chatterbox by Roger Hargreaves. Even though I was very young, I remember it as a profound moment. I thought: being a chatterbox is not just my problem, it’s something other people are, too.
In the story, Miss Chatterbox tries several different jobs that she’s not very good at: when she works in a bank nobody gets served because she keeps talking to the customers until it closes. But at the end she gets a job as a speaking clock, happily spending all day talking on the phone. It shows that you don’t have to change who you are, you just have to find the right fit – which is something I say about once a week in my job.
I’m a clinical psychologist, working predominantly with children and families. Engaging children is not easy – often I’m trying to communicate with them around complicated concepts or ideas – and the use of stories, narratives and toys has always been very important in child psychology.
Roger Hargreaves’s Mr Men and Little Miss books are ideal. There are so many of them that there’s a book to suit every mood: if a child chooses Mr Grumpy to talk about, it’s usually not a coincidence.
What is so important about the Mr Men books is that they are the only children’s series that takes complicated psychological concepts and builds a whole character around them. Of course, we’re all a mixture of different components – we can all be nosy or silly sometimes – but distilling one characteristic and building a narrative around it puts it in isolation and makes it easier to understand and to relate to. It’s making something beautifully simple out of something complex.
There’s something aesthetically soothing about the graphics, and the bright colours appeal to children. The text is very accessible, with short sentences, so they’re not daunting to read, but although they’re succinct and they get to the point, they’re not impoverished in terms of imagination or the journey the story takes you on.