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Friday, 17 February 2017

Miffy's Birthday

Author and Illustrator: Dick Bruna
Publisher: original publication Mercis Publishing bv, 1970, featured edition Simon and Schuster UK, 2015
Original Translation: Patricia Crampton 1995, featured edition Tony Mitton 2014

Today we heard the sad news that Miffy creator Dick Bruna had died, promoting my daughter and I to revisit a book she used to love about a year ago, Miffy's Birthday. She still enjoyed Miffy ( at 3 and a half) but was a little more critical than before, 'why doesn't Miffy smile?' Yet this very point, the emotional void, was why Edie seemed to enjoy Miffy books aged two in the first place. They're very inclusive books at this age because there's no expectations or need to read faces and guess the emotion, and with Miffy, you'd draw a blank anyway, she always looks like this:

Now interestingly, Miffy's Birthday is all about emotion, namely how Miffy is feeling at  various points in the day. This disjuncture between the emotionless but iconic Miffy illustrations and the, at times sugary sounding, emotion-filled text does strangely work, and even make sense to very young children, whose emotions 'catch them up' in unexpected toddler outbursts. A good example of this disjuncture in the book is, 'She choose a pretty dress to wear, the prettiest she had. For it was Miffy's birthday and it showed that she was glad' - cut to Miffy with her characteristic non-expression 'x' mouth. Perhaps on the same principle then, Miffy might prove non threatening, so useful as a character, to introduce to children with a wide range of additional needs. (She wouldn't work for all - the flip side is that to others, her emotional vaguarity might be considered confusing).

Miffy works in a very similar vein to the Meg and Mog Series Jan Pienkowski, and it's no coincidence that they come from the same literary era. Both are simple to their core, slightly psychedelic in their colour scheme, thick bold colour background mattes with black outlines. Miffy has become her own trademark, a global image brand; she is safe, sellable, and translatable. She always looks the same, the rhyme is dependable (simple 4-line rhyme), she goes about doing simple things, like seeing her grandparents, receiving birthday presents, having a birthday tea. For a toddler this predictability is comforting, controlled, calming even. As an adult is gets very tiresome. Miffy books are reliable bedtime material for two year olds, and Dick Bruna deserves his place amongst children's literary legends, but I'm not so sure Miffy captures and keeps an adult audience as well, well at least not his one!

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