Welcome to the world of “Something To Do”. I have a massive weakness for this sort of book. Anything that is full of Handy Hints and Useful Tips and Exciting Things For Girls And Boys pretty much gets an instant pass with me. Published in 1966, written by ‘Septima’ and illustrated by the divine Shirley Hughes, “Something To Do” is lovely.
Covering an entire year, it goes through each month and presents a list of things for children to do. Each month starts with a little frontispiece and a poem. I absolutely love the little look of the June girl. She looks so unimpressed with the entire situation!
Following the introduction to the month, we then get to see a range of activities. I’ve picked out some of my highlights below. February, for example, is brilliant: “Because February seems to be the month when we catch most colds, or get all the infectious diseases, it seemed a good idea to suggest things you can do in bed. Of course, you don’t have to be ill to do them…” The little boy in the bed is so spectacularly Shirley Hughes (and perhaps the father of Alfie?) he just sparks with repressed mischief and a sort of “I’m faking being ill so I can stay in bed and miss school” attitude. He’s the sort of boy who I could definitely see drawing red dots on his cheeks with crayons…
Some of the other ideas in the book are very much of their time. They recommend pets for each month (which cracks me up no end), and the April pet is a Muscovy duck: “…only possible if you live in the countryside”. January’s pet on the other hand is a Golden Hamster that comes with the pointed warning: “Hamsters’ lives are gay and short. They live only about two year. So, when he dies, remember him happily and choose another pet quickly.” It’s the careful addition of the word ‘quickly’ here that pushes this straight into pure brilliance.
One of the other moments I particularly adored was the ideas of how to keep yourself entertained on a long car trip: “Ask mother to make up a surprise basket for you … into the basket she will put some small surprise packets to be opened at half-hourly intervals. Inside there might be a coloured pencil, potty putty, a padlock and key, a little puzzle, or something to read.” My favourite part of this section is the careful warning: “don’t ask her until the day before you leave or she will be too busy”. And the fact that the things in this surprise basket sound like the beginnings of a murder mystery… (She was in the car! With the potty putty and the padlock!)
The final thing about books like these that makes me love them so is that quite often they have the mark of the previous owner. This copy is no exception. Stuck into the front cover is a carefully notated list of ideas taken from the book (“Sue’s book” as it says on the side). Things left in books are spooky and inherently thrilling. These books are stories in their own right. Forget what happens in the pages – whenever I find things like this, I can’t help but wonder who held it first.