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A Topical Title?!
The Queen's Knickers - Nicholas Allan
Member Name: Verbena
The Queen's Knickers - Nicholas Allan
Advantages: Amusing story with a hint of naughtiness that is bound to appeal to children
This children's story was first published back in 1993. With the Jubilee Celebrations imminent, I've been wracking my brains for ways of making it relevant to 2, 3 and 4 year old children whose concept of Royalty is somewhat restricted to Disney Princesses and the like. We have a very small copy of this book at preschool, but I needed a larger one to read to the whole group and was delighted to find a copy in my local charity shop - the bonus was that I only paid £0.75 for an 'as new' copy!
I couldn't remember any other books by Nicholas Allan, so out of curiosity I did a little research and discovered his website at
The home page has a rather delightful washing line with illustrations from the book under review - you are asked to 'click on the knickers to explore the site'! It seems that he wrote his first book at the age of 14, and went on to study painting at the Slade School of Art, so it's easy to see why he illustrated this book as well as writing it. He went on to complete an M.A. in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, which I believe has a very good reputation as a course. He has been Chairman of the Society of Authors' Children's Group and is a member of the Brotherhood of Magicians. He regularly speaks and runs workshops on a range of topics, including 'How to Become a Children's Writer Extremely Quickly' - I think a few of us on this site would be interested in that one!
The Book and Illustrations
In size my current copy is slightly smaller than A4 in landscape, shorter in width than height, if that makes sense. The cover has a violet border and the main colour is a pale lemon, with a crown adorning each corner. The title is in bold capital letters in the top centre, with the author's name directly underneath it. The Queen herself is positioned centrally beneath his name, complete with crown, pinkish-coloured long gown, pearls around her neck, white gloves and handbag. Her court shoes match her dress. The Queen has curly brown hair, and her face is smiling with rosy cheeks. Behind her is that washing line, with 5 pairs of knickers on it! From her posture it looks as if she's showing them to us, which I find quite appealing and humorous. Instantly you get the feeling that this is going to be a rather tongue-in-cheek [no pun intended there!] treatment of the subject; well, you wouldn't be too happy if it was totally serious, would you?
I bet by now you're itching to know what her knickers are like! Well, in shape they're pretty much like a triangle with rounded-off edges, which makes them look a bit like hearts on the line. The Official H.M. Knicker Guide, which is approximately in the centre, includes examples for At Home (small, reddish brown dogs on leads!), State Funerals (black with a white border), Garden Parties (very floral), Horse Riding (this one creases me up - 'with extra padding'!) and Balmoral (woollen).
The illustrations seem to be painted in watercolours, using pastel shades in the main, the only real exception being when black is used, as on the guards' boots. Simply but well drawn, I find the pictures engaging and they do enhance the story by holding your attention.
It's no surprise that it's a simple story. The basic premise is that The Queen naturally likes to dress smartly, so she has lots of clothes to choose from to make sure her outfit is 'just so'. Of course that includes the royal undergarments. A lady called Dilys is in charge of these; she has a special trunk for when the Queen travels. One day the trunk goes missing and Dilys is panic stricken, there's a national crisis and they only just sort it out in time to stop it being announced on 'News At Ten'! Without spoiling the story line too much, I have to say that I love the knickers with a parachute: 'just in case' and especially the Christmas pair, which explain why her speech is short!! Then the question is posed 'I wonder what she'd wear if she came to our school?' This causes the Queen a bit of a problem, and I felt the resolution offered would both interest and amuse children.
I'm an Early Years person, not a qualified teacher, so my comments should be read in that light. I am passionate about children experiencing a wide range of good books in a variety of styles because I believe this will help them want to read, and give them ideas for stories of their own. Even in preschool we hear children 'talking out' their own (new) versions of favourite stories.
I believe that the humorous approach is really important and effective in gaining and maintaining children's interests. Children love to talk about things that are slightly 'rude' and delight in even finding a word like 'knickers' in a story. Any discussion of bottoms usually has them in fits of giggles.
Good use is made of vocabulary; words like 'wardrobe' 'trunk' 'crisis' and even 'Scandinavia' and 'traditionally' show that children can cope with larger words if introduced in a meaningful and interesting context. Here we also have use of adjectives like 'enormous' and 'baggy.'
The story reads well - it's the kind of text that makes it easy to read with expression, which adds to the enjoyment. There's a limited amount of text per page, which does seem to allow time to explore each page at leisure. Some pages have more text, but I think this helps vary the rhythm of the story. I'm thinking particularly about the page about the opening of Parliament. Allan has occasionally used alliteration 'caused a great crisis' and assonance 'the poor Queen would feel' which I feel enhances the literary style.
I don't know at what age/stage a child might be able to read this alone or with support. We don't have repetition of familiar phrases in this story, which is a device used by many authors to encourage children to join in the 'reading'. The font used is a large one, and clear. I feel that it's the kind of book where a child might join in on an occasional page like 'just in case!'
Literary content isn't the only level at which this book scores highly, for me. From the examples I've given you'll probably have picked up that it introduces a lot of information about the activities of the real Queen, the opening of Parliament, the Christmas speech, Queen Victoria, the protocol of 'Your Majesty' and so on. This book tackles some significant events of our cultural heritage, albeit in an amusing format. This gives plenty of scope for discussion with children, and particularly after seeing the Queen, celebrating the Jubilee and so on.
This is a bit tricky. I think it's a bit over the heads of some of our youngest children, but I have to bear in mind that I'm usually reading to a group; it's different when reading with individual children. I feel that children from the age of 3.5 years upwards will enjoy it. The references to the Queen visiting a school indicate to me that it's probably aimed at Reception and Key Stage 1. [England]
5 stars from me. I think this is a valuable book in many ways. It's one to enjoy together and its humour is gentle but engaging. The illustrations are complementary. It reads well aloud - well, if the reader is good, it does! It introduces some useful, extending vocabulary and may encourage children to think 'what if?' which is a good starting point for a story. It also introduces a lot of our cultural heritage around the Monarchy in an accessible way. I'm really glad I found this copy and I'm looking forward to sharing it with the children more frequently before very long!
Getting a Copy
ISBN 0-09-941314-0 Nicholas Allan Books published by Red Fox 
Available from Amazon UK for £4.49 paperback- currently with Free UK Super Saver Delivery. Please note this is an edition published in 2000, and the cover illustration is different from the one I described, but using the 'view inside' feature I can see that it looks the same. Used copies may be available for much less, as mine was. Worth looking out for!
Thank you for reading my review. It may also appear on other sites.
Summary: A good story to share with yong children, particularly with the forthcoming Jubilee Celebrations.