I am very predictable in my choice of gifts. I always give books for Christmas, birthdays, or just for fun. There is nothing nicer than being able to share a good book with a good friend. And there is nothing more exciting than when that person loves the book you’ve chosen just as much as you do.
One of my favourite people to buy picture books for is my great-nephew Miles. Miles is four years old and loves a good story. He also loves big machines – dump-trucks, diggers, trains, and front-end loaders. He’s a junior engineeer already. Over the past few years, some of my most sucessful book-presents to Miles have been Digger Man and Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel.
So I was a little nervous of how he would receive Shirley Hughes’ Dogger. I’d already given him a number of Shirley Hughes’ other books but this one was different. This one was my favourite and I wanted him to love it as much as I do. I think it’s a perfect story in every sense. It won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 1977 and my own kids loved it when they were little but there is nothing in it about wheels or machines. Only a small, battered toy dog.
Miles is a quiet kid. Though he can be a good conversationalist face-to-face, I’ve never heard more than a few words out of him over the phone. So when he called me up, with the help of his mum, just to tell me what he thought of his new book, I knew my latest present had had an impact. ‘I love him,’ he said, in his small, shy voice. ‘I love Dogger.’
It was such a good moment, that thrill of knowing we’d shared something special through the love of a book. Yay!