I love Shirley Hughes' books and my own children did too. They never tired of Alfie and Annie Rose. We lived in a semidetached house when they were little and they knew everyone in the street. They were babysat by a teenager who lived nearby, just like Maureen McNally.
Shirley Hughes is such an astute observer of family life, in particular the family life of very young children. She began her career with Lucy and Tom, then added other brother and sister duos, Alfie and Annie Rose, Katie and Olly. While Hughes may have planned to produce a concept book or a story with a specific theme, it is her characters that make her books. Her characters have lives of their own, and distinct personalities. The reader feels that they know them. Her black-pen outlines and watercolour illustrations have such warmth and her stories such humour that they resonate with the children and the adults who are reading them.
In the Penguin website article on her, Shirley Hughes says, "My books have grown out of real situations with which very small children can identify, perhaps even at an age before they can fully appreciate fairy tales. They are mostly set in a city background - my own part of London to be exact. The domestic details are very local and English, but I hope the themes are fairly universal." Well, they work for me and the children I teach.
In September, Shirley Hughes has a new book coming out, The Christmas Eve Ghost. Like many of her other picture books, this one shows a time gone by, set in the time of her childhood, but still dealing with family life. She talks about it on YouTube.
While Shirley Hughes excels at books for very young children it would be a mistake to think that this is all she does. Don't miss her illustrations in Peter Pan, her book that has a jazz-age Cinderella, Ella's Big Chance, her stories set during the war such as The Lion and the Unicorn and beginning novels such as It's Too Frightening for Me.