on 4 November 2011
"Pookie" the unique, winged, marvelous rabbit!
Ivy L. Wallace was, in the 1950s, a popular British children's author-illustrator. I know of at least one Wallace novel for older children, but Wallace is probably best known for her exceptional large-format flying rabbit and fairies books about Pookie (the flying rabbit).
However she may be better remembered for the British TV-show spin-off (I type this from memory) "The Animal Bookshelf", based on stuffed-toy animal characters who had their own small-format book series, who first appeared in "Pookie and the Gypsies".
This is a vivid circus adventure, in which Pookie is captured by passing gypsies who have a circus with performing animals. The animals include two stuffed-toys, Stripey the zebra, and Getup the giraffe (whose legs have lost some stuffing so he continually slumps down and has to be told to "Get up"). There is also a live mouse, called Kinker, because his tail was once caught in a mouse-trap, and permanently kinked. The stuffed-toys, initially kidnapped like Pookie, are eventually reunited with their rightful owner", a real boy called Timothy. Pookie also escapes the circus, and is reunited with Belinda, the real woodcutter's daughter.
Pookie himself was introduced in this, the first of the Pookie series of books, naturally called "Pookie".
Initially he is a baby rabbit, born into an ordinary rabbit family.
The full-page picture of Pookie and his family in their underground home is a homage to Beatrix Potter's "Peter Rabbit", although more rabbity and less rabbits-as-almost-people than in Potter's books.
But Pookie himself is not ordinary. This is an Ugly Duckling story: for some magical reason, Pookie is born with tiny wings on his back. At first these are seen as something unnatural and shameful. He is forced to wear them wrapped tightly in ribbons. But one special moonlit night Pookie sees fairies (with wings) dancing and flying, and longs to join them.
He decides to leave his family and seek his fortune. This leads him to meet a variety of woodland creatures, including gnomes and pixies, along with ordinary rabbits, owls, and so on.
Just as Enid Blyton's classic character Noddy meets Big Ears, Pookie meets Nommy-nee the Elf, who offers him somewhere to stay.
The full-page picture of the Pixie market is beautifully detailed, along with the narrative explanation of the clothing and food sold at the market. Wallace makes honey buns sound absolutely delicious!
But Pookie is disheartened by the characters he meets who belittle him for his wings -- and he is still unable to fly.
At the darkest moment of "Pookie", as winter approaches, and Pookie faces starvation, still not having found his fortune (whatever that may be -- Pookie is still very young and child-like: he has NO idea what a "fortune", as in "destiny" or "living happily ever after", might be), the sad little winged-rabbit resolves to throw himself off a hillock. But the gentle wind takes him, and by (happy) chance he is rescued by Belinda, the woodcutter's kind daughter.
Nurtured by Belinda, Pookie finds that, when he is loved his wings grow and strengthen, and he is able to fly!
"Pookie" ends, like Hans Christian Anderon's "Ugly Duckling", with Pookie finding a happy permanent home, and a cosy bed by the fireplace, sleeping in Belinda's satin-lined neddlework basket.
If "Pookie" had been the only book by Ivy L. Wallace, she should be remembered as a great author-illustrator for this book alone.
Despite the obvious influence of Arthur Rackham on her vision of the woodland and its animal and fairy folk, Wallace's art (often full-page, in glorious detail and glowing colors -- similar to Australia's Peg Maltby, although Maltby never had a substantial narrative to support her children's picture-book art) avoids the gnarled twiggy spookiness of Rackham.
Despite the obvious influence of both Andersen and Beatrix Potter, Wallace has created a unique, and profoundly moving and lovable creature.
Sadly, during the 1970s and 1980s, the "Pookie" books went out of print.
Years later, when the "Animal Book Shelf" became a TV hit, and it was possible to reprint the "Pookie" books, the original artwork and printing blocks had been lost.
Undaunted, Wallace personally recreated the paintings. But by then, approaching old age, Wallace's hand lacked its earlier precision.
Reprinted and repainted is better than being out of print, but not quite as good as the originals.
Original editions are well-worth searching for, and treasuring.
But if you can't get an original, be happy with the riches of the re-made artwork.
John Gough -- Deakin University -- email@example.com