by V.H. Drummond
Interests: birds, travel, London, adventure, chase, royalty
Faber & Faber: 1957
Also by this author: Mrs. Easter’s Parasol, Tidgie’s Innings, Lady Talavera, Miss Anna Truly, Mr. Finch’s Pet Shop, The Charming Taxi-Cab (the romance of a yellow taxi-cab and a Thames water-bus)
While little Billie Guftie and his aunt Mrs. Easter are vacationing in “a charming country called Denmark”, one of the two storks nesting on their host’s roof suddenly disappears. Sally, with the very rare luminous beak, is missing and her mate Sam is heartbroken. Billie discovers she’s been captured by a zookeeper and they are boarding a ship bound for London. Through a series of mishaps Billie finds himself on Sam’s back flying after the ship. Thanks to a sudden gust of wind and a sturdy parasol, the unflappable Mrs. Easter is able to join Billie on the bird’s back and the chase is on. The storks are eventually reunited in London on the roof of the royal palace, and the King himself is delighted when they build a nest upon one of his chimney pots. A splendid tea party ensues.
An old-fashioned story, full of whimsy and typically British understatement – on the bird’s back, it is said simply that “Billie Guftie’s position was perilous”. It is told in a more formal style than children’s books are typically written in today, but this just adds to its charm, and children will be delighted when little Billie Guftie shouts at the zookeeper: “Drop that bird, Sir! Drop her I say! Let her go free!”
There is a lot of text on each page, but the story moves along nicely. The loose pen and ink illustrations reminded me of Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline books. (The general loopiness of the plot is also very reminiscent of Madeline.) The full-page drawings are wonderful, particularly the one of them flying over London by night and another of the royal table filled with goodies. (As in every good children’s story, special care is given to describing the treats.)
Unfortunately this book is currently out of print, but second-hand copies can be found on the internet.