Ambitious, a rather singular cheaply produced children’s book from the 50’s is a real head scratcher. The kind of book that can throw you off balance, and force you to re-asses some ideas you had about the 50’s and a few that you have about now. The title betrays a thoroughly modern concern with the premature development of a child’s abilities, although few modern parents would rate the feeding of a cow with a bucket of slop as an ambitious act.
That shouldn’t concern us here however, lets just enjoy this colourful scene of sedate(d) cross gender co operation and long for a time when boys wore ties with short trousers even when they weren’t at school. Instead lets reserve our concerns for within the pages of Ambitious, where the narratives play themselves out beneath an oppressive indefinable sense of disquiet.
The story ‘Happy Birthday’ for example features an uncle so unsettling in his countenance, that the reader skips nervously to the end (barely noticing the splendidness of the two colour illustrations), seeking to reassure themselves of a happy conclusion. Indeed, I’m pleased to report, the story ends with the good uncle surprising the two children with toys that he has made in his workshop, like any good, handy 1950’s man would. But surely somethings terribly wrong when one feels such a great sense of relief.
Worse is the story ‘Blackberries for Mummie’. Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m not one of those people that see a sexual content in every innocent image, but there is a unnerving sophistication in the hips of the female protagonist whose skirt rides suggestively aloft as she reaches for another blackberry. It’s slightly reassuring that a peek at the contents page make clear that the inventor of this nymphet was a woman. But only slightly.