Our house is somewhat divided over The Large Family – a family of elephants who feature in a series of books by Jill Murphy. ‘Mr Large in Charge’ is one of those books that Miles greets with dread and would happily condemn to the charity shop pile, finding it overly long and repetitive (“It’s like she only had eight pages but they told her they needed 20.”). I think it’s a sweet and nicely observed story, although I have a bit of a problem with the gender stereotyping at the heart of the plot – Mum has a day ill in bed so Dad attempts to take over household duties and chaos ensues. But Arthur loves it so it doesn’t really matter what we think. Occasionally I try to insert a bit of gentle feminism by explaining that men and women (or male and female elephants) can and do have equal roles in and out of the home, but I know he’s not really listening. He’s waiting for the bits when Mr Large burns the lunch and trips over a rake.
So he was thrilled to discover that there were more books about the Larges when he found ‘All in One Piece’ on one of our frequent trips to the library. This is a Large story that I can definitely get on board with – Mr and Mrs Large are going to a posh evening do, they just need to get out of the door without getting smeared with paint or food. I love the fact that Mr and Mrs Large are unapologetic about putting their desire for a good night out above pandering to their children’s whims. When little Luke charge sneaks into the bathroom where Mr Large is shaving and tries to join in, his father is having none of it: “Go away,” said Mr Large. “I don’t want you ruining my best trousers!” Similarly, when the children start messing around with Mrs Large’s make-up and clothes she unceremoniously orders them downstairs. And when the baby starts to cry as they say goodbye Granny tells them “Just go” – and they do.
The book was first published in the 1980s, which probably explains its refreshingly bracing take on parenting. The modern approach too often seems to be all about putting children’s needs and wishes first at every turn and being there for them every second of the day. Admitting that, actually, you’d like your children to keep their sticky hands off you while you prepare to escape from them for the night seems almost blasphemous. But I doubt if the Large children ended up in therapy because their parents left them with Granny while they went out on the town. And of course Arthur isn’t remotely disturbed by the idea of adults wanting some time away from their children either. In fact he’s rooting for Mrs Large to get out of the door all in one piece too (spoiler alert: I’m afraid she doesn’t – but Mr Large thinks she’s a smasher anyway).