These fun, vibrant and engaging tales have delighted little readers since 1971. What is it that has made them so popular, and where should you start if you'd like to read them?
The bright and colourful Mr. Men and Little Miss books star a diverse variety of quirky protagonists, whose dominant personality traits shape their individual stories. Simply designed in vibrant colours, these characters have delighted children for decades, and the characters' stories - written in straightforward, engaging prose - have captivated little imaginations. By 2011, 40 years since the publication of the first six books, over 120 million copies of these treasured tales had been sold worldwide. But what is it that has made these books so popular?
In the 1970s, the British children's book market was filled with quaint, idyllic stories, including the delicately-illustrated Beatrix Potter series, the charming tales of Paddington Bear, and the adventurous quests of the Famous Five. Whilst these books have also endured admirably, the Mr. Men stories offered something very different from these realistically-illustrated and more complex tales. They presented bright, bold pictures; simple, funny storylines; unsophisticated yet engaging characters; and a pocket-sized format, perfect for children to carry in schoolbags and for parents to read as short stories. These books could engage even the littlest reader whose attention span might not quite manage a longer book, but who could delight in the short, amusing and lively tales of the Mr. Men and Little Misses.
Additionally, children of all ages (and adults, too!) can relate to each and every one of the characters, who each represent a universal human emotion. Adam Hargreaves, the author and illustrator of the books since 1988, comments in an article for The Telegraph: "Most people can identify with [the books]. They're about human emotions." This relatable quality means readers can understand the characters' actions, envisage analogous situations in their own lives, learn lessons from the characters' mistakes and be reassured when things go right. Craig Lines writes for Den of Geek: 'For as long as we remain human and have emotions... the Mr Men stories will remain popular and much-loved because they are all of us... we may not be perfect, but more importantly, we're not alone.' In this way, the books are both relatable and reassuring, and perfect for sharing with little ones to show them that it's okay to have these feelings, and gently teach them how - and how not - to act on them.
This element of morality and how to behave is an important feature of the books. "[Roger Hargreaves] always wanted his characters to have a strong sense of morality balanced with fun," Adam goes on. The way the characters' recognisable behaviour is corrected in a fun and humorous way is both hugely entertaining and teaches children about morals in a light-hearted manner. In most of the books, there's something to be learned. In Mr. Small, we learn that even the smallest individual can find their place in the world; in Mr. Nosey, we learn that sticking your nose in other people's business doesn't end well; and in Little Miss Naughty, the mischievous protagonist's behaviour is quite literally tweaked when a mysterious individual (an invisible Mr. Impossible) keeps tweaking her nose just before she does something naughty. These stories don't preach morals in a boring or sanctimonious way, but demonstrate how best to behave through funny and engaging tales, making them beloved by children, parents, caregivers and teachers alike.
Where to Start
You may wish to read the books in the order they were published. The first six Mr. Men books, published in 1971, include Mr. Tickle, Mr. Greedy, Mr. Happy, Mr. Nosey, Mr. Sneeze and Mr. Bump. Some of the first Little Miss books, published in 1981, include Little Miss Sunshine, Little Miss Naughty, Little Miss Bossy, Little Miss Greedy, Little Miss Helpful and Little Miss Magic. These original tales would make a great introduction to the series.
Alternatively, you and your child might be interested in particular characters and their stories. There's now an extensive variety of Mr. Men and Little Miss titles, so be sure to check out the whole range of Roger Hargreaves books.
A Brief Biography of Roger Hargreaves
Roger Hargreaves was born on 9 May 1935 in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire. From an early age, he displayed a natural gift for drawing, and his ambition was to become a cartoonist.
In 1957, he began work in advertising as a copywriter. He was very successful in this profession, writing adverts for everything from cars to chocolate, but once he'd married and had children, he started to dream of writing and illustrating children's books.
When Roger's eldest son, Adam, was 8 years old, he asked his father what a tickle looked like. This stirred Roger's imagination and led to the creation of Mr. Tickle, the first of many Mr. Men characters. The first Mr. Men books were published in 1971 and were immediately successful, selling a million copies in just 3 years.
Throughout the 1970s, Roger would create 38 more colourful, quirky Mr. Men characters. In 1974, some of the books were brought to life on television by the BBC, narrated by Dad's Army actor, Arthur Lowe. In 1977, Roger's comic strips would be published for a couple of years by The Daily Mail and The Mirror.
In 1981, the first Little Miss books were published, including Little Miss Bossy, Little Miss Naughty and Little Miss Sunshine. In 1984, inspired by his twin daughters, Sophie and Amelia, Little Miss Twins was published.
Sadly, in 1988, Roger Hargreaves suddenly passed away following several strokes, aged 53. His son, Adam Hargreaves, took over the Mr. Men and Little Miss franchise, and continued to create new stories and illustrations for the series.
In 2004, the rights to the Mr. Men and Little Miss characters were sold for 28 million pounds to an entertainment company, but Adam remains the face of the franchise and continues to create new characters. For example, in 2011, he created Little Miss Princess in time for the royal wedding.