Age guide: 2 to 6
The Alfie books by Shirley Hughes are a bit like an antidote to perfect-minimalist Mommy blogs. Not that I don’t love reading a good Mommy blog!
But in the Alfie books there’s a very real family – they’re not especially rich. The house is not styled, it’s functional and beautiful as a result – there’s plenty of clutter (of both the physical and social kinds) and plenty of pushing aside clutter to make room for the next activity.
In this one, there’s a Harvest Fair coming to a local school and Alfie determines to enter one of the competitions. Painting is chosen and Mum clears a space on the table for Alfie to paint his picture. He paints a Motorbike Man which eventually wins third prize.
But Shirley Hughes never fails to find the human dimension in an everyday story. In this case there’s just enough conflict to make a young reader ever so slightly nervous (Alfie’s friend Bernard is jealous and Louise who won the consolation prize is grumpy and wants Alfie’s prize instead).
Alfie’s life is carefully situated in a larger world. Alfie’s life still matters to Alfie, to his parents, teachers and friends and to us, but there's so much else going on that doesn’t revolve around or need Alfie. There are competitions that he didn’t enter, people that he doesn’t talk to milling around, a pet competition that goes on even though his cat isn’t in it and so on. Alfie is clearly safe and secure in the bustling world of the fair, and he is still the focus of our interest.
But by combining all of these elements instead of producing a one dimensional story that allows only Alfie and his concerns to be considered, Alfie gets a Prize helps to reassure young minds as they too step out into a world where they matter but are not essential to everything that happens.
There’s more – Alfie wins third prize not first and he also looks at some of the other paintings and notes how good they are - his friendship with Bernard is given a gentle nudge and then recovered - his sister Annie Rose is inspired to try painting too and the family values her work, not just Alfie’s prize winning work - both children and adults sometimes look frazzled and a bit worn in the illustrations, and so on.
Classic Shirley Hughes.
Others in the series are -
Names in this book: Alfie, Annie Rose