I began writing a tweet on Friday when I saw the news about Jill Murphy’s death. That tweet soon rambled on beyond any kind of sensible sort of brief celebration, condolence or commemoration and so it became this post instead…
On Thursday, we went to a wedding. Peapod had the longest, busiest day imaginable filled with new scenarios and people.
Fast forward to Friday morning, which saw us sat in a busy hotel reception, snuggled onto a chair sharing A Quiet Night In, completely in our own world, completely absorbed, completely happy. It was lovely.
Fast forward again to just a few hours later. We’re travelling home and I see the sad news that Jill Murphy has died from cancer aged 72.
It felt weird that we’d been reading her book only hours earlier, but it wasn’t really; after all, we’re often reading one of her books! Peapod loves the Large family, as I did too when I was growing up reading them with my mum, who also loves them.
And while Peapod loves seeing Mr and Mrs Large fall asleep before the children in A Quiet Night In; or Mrs Large going out for the night blissfully unaware of the paint on her bottom in All in One Piece (I cannot tell you how funny he finds this!); or the children tailing her round the house and taking over her bath in Five Minutes Peace, it’s as an adult, and even more so as a parent, that I’ve found a whole new level of love for these books.
Jill Murphy wrote with such knowing and such warm understanding of the life of both child and parent, and her books (especially the Large family and the Bears in Peace at Last) are hugely relatable to both adult and child, specifically from a parental point of view those moments of exhaustion, frustration; that complex mix of fierce love and loyalty but desperation for a break.
Never do we doubt their devotion, but we’re always allowed to see them as a real family, not some unattainable perfectionist idea of one. A rare thing indeed.
So, we’re all big fans of the Large family and the Bears (and even my sister who never really caught our Jill Murphy bug returned to The Last Noo Noo over and over again), but it is Claire who really holds our hearts.
My mum and I read On the Way Home over and over again when I was little, from a repeatedly borrowed library copy to our own much loved one later. It remains one of “our books” to this day, and one of my all time, absolute favourite picture books.
So of course it’s one I was thrilled to see Peapod take a shine to as well. He is frequently to be found ‘being’ Claire and getting us to ask about his bad knee…!
And then, of course there’s The Worst Witch. Mildred and Maud were childhood favourites (I can’t lie, Tim Curry, Fairuza Balk and Diana Rigg helped); I devoured the Worst Witch books – a perfect mix of humour, under-dog-ness and spells!
Ethel Hallow being turned into a pig remains one of my finest literary moments, and my mum’s annual outing as Miss Hardbroom for World Book Day is a find memory (as is the year she branched out and went as Maud instead!)
Are you a Jill Murphy fan? Did you read these growing up? Which is your favourite of her books?