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 Book Shops > Moko & Koko in the Jungle

Moko & Koko in the Jungle

I have always stocked children's books, albeit a rather arbitrary, if not eccentric selection. I'm certainly not a specialist and have little interest in 'Children's Fiction' as a genre. It's picture books that do it for me, in particular, pop-up or movable books.

My first memory of this type of book is as a hospitalised five-year-old. Dame misfortune had recently smiled on me, and as a result of measles, I was left with one 'wall' and one 'wandering' eye. A less common occurrence today than in the 1950's and nowadays easily rectified by outpatient laser surgery.

No so for me. Back in the good old days, they had to pop out your eyeballs and wire up the muscles. Weeks of bandaged blackout followed by what seemed like a twilight eternity. The consultant allowed nothing small or pointy to enter my half-lit life, effectively banishing most of my playthings. Cuddly toys and wooden bricks were meagre fare to feed the imagination of a small boy doing solitary.

My parents were desperate for something to amuse and divert me and luckily, history was on their side. Pop-up books were still enjoying a renaissance, due partly to the necessities of rationing and wartime shortages. Perfect! Not so small as to strain the eye and evidently acceptable to the pointy police. I could be read the story and when left alone, I would enter their cardboard world...

Of course most of this was long forgotten by the time I started collecting moveable books for my young daughter and I to explore together. And it was a customer's obsession with his past that helped me to reclaim this part of mine.

Booker's interest in his childhood had certainly become obsessive, although as I recall, it had started as an academic exercise. His premise was that reunion with childhood possessions would trigger long forgotten or suppressed memories, and that this was cumulative. It certainly seemed to work for him, judging by his enthusiastic purchases from an ever increasing 'wants list'. As a bookseller I was only too pleased to oblige, but it seemed to me that his quest had become the anorak-clad trudge of the completist.

For years I remained a sceptical supplier of fixes for Booker's habit, but one morning, I experienced my own small shiver of recognition. I had bought a motley collection of well-loved children's books, including an oddly familiar Silly Symphony pop-up book. Oddly familiar because I didn't think I'd ever handled this rather scarce 1930's Disney publication before.

The third pop-up in the book is ‘King Neptune’ and on opening it, I experienced a sensation that anyone who has misused mushrooms will be familiar with. A spine tingling recognition of something not quite real, a feeling of suddenly being elsewhere.

How could I ‘know’ this book which must have been twenty years old at the time when I might have seen it as a child? Yet as I thumbed through its browned pages, fragmentary memories and impressions tantalised. I could ‘see’ a Mickey Mouse book and one that opened into a seemly huge, curious, cathedral-like structure. I asked my mother about this and she told me the hospital story, but couldn't remember the individual books

It was several more years before Mickey Mouse's Circus called to me across a crowded book fair. There it was and there was I, momentarily five again. So when Moko and Koko in the Jungle just leapt out from the catalogue page, I knew they were also my elusive twilight companions.

I always experience a small thrill of anticipation when unwrapping books bought through the post, and this was no exception. Nothing, however could have prepared me for my reunion with Moko and Koko.

A slim, tall folio with a picture of two small boys atop a huge elephant, emerged from the wrapping. Lost in timeless space, I gingerly opened the covers, past the thin story and on to the end of the book.

As I opened the back cover the jungle home of Moko and Koko erupted into life. A huge pop-up world stuffed full of exotic animals stared back at me. I cannot begin to describe the emotional flood that engulfed me, as I sat there with the book on my knees, lost again in my forgotten childhood world.

This was the place I had escaped to in the half dark, while the other children in the main ward watched television, played with their toys or fought. I'd been reunited with friends I'd forgotten I'd had, from a time that had been too painful to remember.

Mike Goodenough

I now know this amazing book to be the work of the Czechoslovakian designer Voitech Kubasta, whose large format - single pop-up books - are rightly regarded as masterpieces of twentieth century paper technology.

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