Defacing books is a deplorable habit, though I’m sure I wasn’t the first child to take a pencil to Dick Bruna’s deceptively simple illustrations. Miffy the rabbit made her debut in print in the mid-1950s, but it was 1967 when I received a copy of Miffy in the snow. I know this because my mother helpfully inscribed my name and the date on the inside front cover – a practice she continues to this day.
My own rather haphazard scribblings haven’t done much to improve my now battered copy of the book. (Of course it might have been my brother, then aged two, who did the damage.) No wonder one of the illustrations depicts Miffy with two huge tears rolling down her face.
Bruna’s now instantly recognisable style remains hugely appealing to all ages. Animal characters – rabbits, birds, pigs – are outlined in reassuringly firm black lines and presented against solid colour backgrounds with few adornments. (Plenty of room there for infantile doodles.) How does he manage to instil so much character into a rabbit face that is little more than an oval, with two currants for eyes and a flattened x for a mouth?
Many years later, when I started buying Miffy books for other kids, I realised that Miffy had undergone a bit of metamorphosis over the decades. In the more recent books her face appears more circular and the ears less pointy; Miffy’s mouth is smaller too.
In 2006/07 the V&A Museum of Childhood in London held a celebration of Dick Bruna’s work, where I discovered that the prolific Dutch illustrator had also designed hundreds of book jackets, including a range for Georges Simenon’s Maigret series. I’d love to get my hands on one of those, but in the mean time I’ll enjoy my vintage books, Miffy bookmarks and Miffy fridge magnet.
Miffy in the snow was first published in Holland in 1963 – the same year I was born. Happy birthday!