If you want the complete series you'll probably have to go for the 10 book paperback boxed set. This hardcover set has the first four william books (annoyingly the books mention that a fifth 'William at war' is available but it's not here - although that one isn't a `proper' William title). The set is nicely boxed and the books are 5.5" x 6.5" x 1". They are well bound, but not with the little pretty cotton coloured binding, just glue & paper. There's no dust covers. All the original illustrations are present. Text size is large - I don't need glasses to read the stories to my son (9). My son hasn't gone for these stories yet - he prefers 'Captain Underpants' and 'Astrosaurs' - but I'm working on him. I won't bore you with reviews of the stories, any child of the sixties like me will be very familiar with these. I suppose these stories aren't dissimilar to the beginning of Mark Twain's 'Tom Sawyer'. They share the witty humour of cheeky boys pushing at adults set boundaries, although, fortunately for him, William never has to face the likes of 'Indian Joe' in the English shires. William stories aren't 'coming of age' either (girls are for dipping pigtails into inkwells). His charm is that he steadfastly refuses to grow up, and he is always a typical roguish but lovable preteen boy knocking about with his outlaw mates - although being born in the era of the school cane he is well aware of the risks of offending adults. Young William's family life reflects a typical middle class English upbringing in a 'semi-detached' sub-urban/rural setting, and it was one I could easily identify with during my surprisingly similar 1960s childhood 40 years later. I don't know whether today's youngsters would take to these books, although I'm sure there's still plenty of 9 to 12 year old lads today who also share William's slight disdain for girls and his perpetual wish to be off larking about with his mates. Plus 1920s William lives on in the likes of the new millennium's Horrid Henry - boys will always be boys.
I suppose the language of these first four William books isn't a very easy read for younger preteens with words like 'epicurean', 'apoplectic' and 'discoursing', but I guess I just ignored these tough words when I read the books as a boy (most of the words aren't that difficult). For younger children its probably best to read to them, particularly as you also have accents as well (e.g. "Ad your tea ?" and "Well, why shan't I jus' speak to her"). The books are also a little dated I suppose as these books are really a facsimile of those produced in 1922 to 1924 (although the cover pictures are from the 1940s), and the stories here are populated with household servants and straight-laced Victorian aunts. Mind you an original first edition of these books costs serious money. These first few books collected together the short stories a young Richmal wrote for `Home Magazine' and were aimed far more at adults than later books (e.g. the first story in Just William, `William at the pictures' was actually the fourth one published - `Rice Mould' being the first). Young William moved with the times though, and his books were written right up to the 1970's - although naturally the boisterous mayhem he inadvertently creates around him remains constant throughout the series. Many will remember the Armada paperback books from the 1960's that mixed his stories together. At the time of her death in 1969 Richmal had written 39 William books and sold over 8 million copies. So overall a good value hardcover set of four classic children's books, nicely packaged. I paid a tenner for this hardback set [retail was about £15], which I thought was good value.
on 12 February 2009
It must be 30 years since I last picked up a William book, and what a treat this boxed set turned out to be. This was a birthday present that actually made me feel younger. As a child, I probably did not appreciate quite how exceptional a writer was Richmal Crompton. But as I re-read each of the short stories in the collection, my memories of the original readings came flooding back to me. Lovely choice of gift for all 11 year old boys, especially those in their forties.