The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon – 20 Books of Summer 2024

The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon was first published in 1955, it is illustrated by Edward Ardizzone. It’s one of my 20 Books of Summer. This book won the Carnegie Medal.

There’s an Author’s Note at the beginning of this book, she explains that the house she grew up in was filled with books everywhere but there was one room which was called The Bookroom which housed ‘a motley crew of strays and vagabonds, outcasts from the ordered shelves below’. There was so much dust in that room it made her eyes smart, but it was still her favourite place to be. I must say that the whole house sounds like a wonderful place to grow up in.

Anyway, this is a book of charming short stories, suitable for children of all ages. some of them feel quite traditional in the fairly tale mode, and others are really different. I can see why it won the Carnegie Medal in 1955.

I’m doing well with 20 Books of Summer. I’ve read 14 so far, but still have four or five to review.

October, October by Katya Balen – 20 Books of Summer 2023

October, October by Katya Balen was published in 2020 and it won the Carnegie Medal  in 2022.

October is 11 years old and she’s named after the month she was born in as after trying out many names October was the only one which didn’t bounce off the walls and hit the floor with a thud – according to her father.  October and her father live in a wood, it’s an alternative way of life with no frills, but as October has only known that life she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on anything. They do a big shop in a nearby town once a year for the things that they aren’t able to grow themselves. The woman who is my mother, as October refers to her mother decided that she couldn’t live that sort of life any more and went to live a ‘normal’ life in London, leaving October with her father.  October refuses to have anything to do with her.

Although October doesn’t go to school and has no friends except her father she is being educated by her dad, she even helps him with the solar panels that provide their electricity and of course she knows a lot about the wildlife in the woodand, they’re living a wild life themselves. After a storm October finds a dead owl and when they find a tiny baby owl alive on the ground her father tells her to leave it alone to let its mother pick it up, but the next day it’s still there and October decides to rescue it, her dad isn’t happy about it but sets about getting food for the baby owl.

When October’s father has an accident it leads to October having to communicate with her despised mother and what seemed like a disaster eventually has a silver lining.

This is a lovely read which is illustrated by the artist Angela Harding, the illustrations are all small and they’re all of Stig the owl, but she also designed the book cover, I really like her style.

 

The Stronghold by Mollie Hunter – 20 Books of Summer 2023

The Stronghold by Mollie Hunter was first published in 1974 and it is a Carnegie Medal Winner.

The setting is the Orkneys at a time when the islands were often being raided by Romans (around the middle of the first century BC) who were searching for people they could drag off to enslave. This meant that the islands were being deprived of the strongest and fittest members of their society. Somthing had to be done. When Coll was a child he had witnessed a violent Roman raid which had culminated in his mother being dragged away and enslaved, Coll was thrown on the rocks by a Roman, breaking his hip badly, and now as an 18 year old cripple he’s left behind as a look-out while other males of his age are taking a more active role in the defence of their island.

Coll has spent a lot of time thinking about how things can be improved and eventually in desperation the leader agrees to allow Coll to organise and direct the building of a huge defensive structure, called a broch. It will be big enough to house the whole community and they can safely fight against the Roman Navy from the top of the tower.

In reality nobody knows how brochs came about, there are the remains of over 500 of them in the north of Scotland and the islands to the north of the mainland. It’s thought they originated on Orkney and they have all been built to the same design. They are drystone roundhouses with outer and inner walls with a stone staircase between the two walls.

Mollie Hunter took this information and developed a plausible and entertaining tale around it, featuring some great characters, both good and evil. The Stronghold won the Carnegie Medal in 1974.

You can read a bit more about brochs here.

 

 

 

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge was first published in 1946 and it won the Carnegie Medal for that year. I wee while ago I decided to start a personal project to try to read as many of the Carnegie Medal winners as I can get a hold of. This literary award was set up in 1936, to be awarded to the best book for children or young adults each year.

The setting is Moonacre Manor in England’s west country where 13 year old Maria Merryweather has been sent after the death of her parents. She’s accompanied there by her governess Miss Heliotrope and is welcomed there by her cousin Sir Benjamin Merryweather whom she had never met before. He’s rather large and old and wears a ‘cauliflower’ powdered wig, but he’s very kind and in no time Maria feels completely at home despite there being many mysterious goings on at Moonacre. It’s all a bit fairy tale-ish as to begin with Maria never sees anyone, but clothes and food appear in her room mysteriously.

But not everything is perfection at Moonacre. The people in the village are being menaced by strange dark men living in the woods who steal their sheep, won’t allow them near the beach and trap rabbits and hares which they know is illegal and gets Sir Benjamin into trouble as the traps are on his land.

This is a charming read with lots of lovely unusual characters, including the dogs Sir Wrolf and Wiggins and a mysterious white horse.

I think that the author had a whale of a time thinking up all the unusual names of her characters, the writing is silvery with descriptions, and like most British books written during WW2 and up to the mid 1950s when the country was stuck in strict and punishing food rationing, the book is just full of descriptions of food and feasts. I suppose if you couldn’t actually get the food to eat, reading about it was the next best thing.

The Wool-Pack by Cynthia Harnett

 The Big Music cover

The Wool-Pack by Cynthia Harnett was first published in 1951 and it won the Carnegie Medal which I think it definitely deserved.

The setting is the English Cotswolds in the late 1400s. It’s a very rural area and sheep and wool are the mainstay of the local economy. Nicholas is in his teens and he’s the son of a successful wool merchant, but he mucks in with the other boys helping out with the sheep. When some men from Lombardy make their way to his family home to do some business with his father Nicholas is worried. He had seen the men earlier and there is something he doesn’t like about them. But his father pays no attention to Nicholas. He is convinced that he can make a good deal with the Lombards.

This is a really good read which is aimed at older children I suppose, but is well worth reading whatever your age. There’s a lot of history in it but it never feels like a history lesson and the author also illustrated the book which adds interest. Her drawings are charming with details of the fashions of the day, weaving looms, dyeing cloth, spinning and all sorts. The author had studied at the Chelsea School of Art, she wrote six books of historical fiction and I will definitely look out for the others.

# 1936 Club – Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome

 Pigeon Post cover

I read Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome as my first book for the 1936 Club, it’s the sixth book in his Swallows and Amazons series and I can’t say that it was a favourite of mine. To be fair the the Swallows and Amazon children aren’t enjoying themselves much to begin with. It has been a dry summer and the ground is parched so there’s no water near the camping ground they intended to pitch their tents. This means that they’re having to camp out in the back garden and because of the fear of a camp fire setting the whole area on fire they aren’t even allowed to cook for themselves.

Nancy and Peggy’s Uncle Jim is on his way back home to the Lake District, he’s been having an adventure of his own in South America, searching for treasure unsuccessfully. The children hear a rumour of a long forgotten old gold mine in the nearby mountains and set about looking for it, they know it is in a cave with some heather nearby. But they’re upset by the appearance of a suspicious man that they name Squashy Hat. He’s roaming all over the hills and daubing paint on stones, they’re sure he’s also looking for the gold.

Things improve when Titty discovers that she’s able to dowse for water and they manage to dig a well which gives them good water, so they are able to camp out after all, and they can communicate with Mrs Blackett by using some carrier pigeons.

Other readers seem to have really liked this one, and it did win the Carnegie medal, but I was never going to enjoy the subject as the children went off every morning, all armed with their hammers, merrily attacking the Lake District mountains with them and crushing up loads of quartz. Even as a child I had an aversion to mines and quarries, especially quarries due to my beautiful local mountain being completely hollowed out for use as hard core for road building! I’m looking forward to reading the next one in the series though.

The Machine-Gunners by Robert Westall

The Machine-Gunners cover

The Machine-Gunners by Robert Westall was first published in 1975 and it won the Carnegie Medal.

We’re back at the Second World War in this book, the setting is the fictional town of Garmouth on Tyneside where the children were enthusiastically seeking out war souvenirs in the shape of spent machine-gun bullets, shrapnel and the tailfins from incendiary bombs. They’re vying with each other all determined to have the best collection. Chas McGill has the second best collection, the best is owned by the local school bully who takes great delight in bashing everyone up but of course he is really a coward.

Chas hits the jackpot when he discovers the wreckage of a downed German aeroplane deep in a local woodland. With the help of some friends he manages to free the machine-gun from it and with the help of a tremendously strong mentally challenged neighbour they all set about building an underground shelter for the gun – which expands and expands until it’s a large air raid shelter. The children become adept at nicking anything they need so it’s a real home from home. In fact as one of them lost both his parents in a recent Tyneside air raid the shelter has become his home, the authorities think he also perished in the raid.

At one point an escaped German prisoner of war stumbles across their hide-out and as they’ve somehow managed to jam the machine gun they realise that he can help them fix it. The prisoner is exhausted and ill and the children look after him, well they can’t turn him over to the authorities, he would tell them about their machine-gun.

This is a great read which at times has elements of ‘Dad’s Army’ about it with the Home Guard featuring and local enemies being much more annoying than the German prisoner who isn’t at all like a Nazi, he seems like a decent chap.

This book is very autobiographical, the author dedicated it to his father and mother who were the father and mother in the book.

He says: The bombing raids on Tyneside during the despairing winter of 1940-41 were appalling and relentless and The Machine-Gunners is a tribute to the endurance, courage and humour of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett

The Family from One End Street cover

The Family from One End Street and Some of Their Adventures by Eve Garnett was first published in 1938 and it won the Carnegie Medal that year. That must have been particularly sweet for the author, who also illustrated the book, as it was rejected by at least eight publishers.

Those publishers were probably put off by the fact that the book is so unusual in that it is apparently the first book to feature an ordinary working class family. The Ruggles family is a large one – seven children with mum Rosie taking in washing and ironing and the dad Jo being a dustbin man. They live in a small town in Sussex – as did Eve Garnett.

With so many children around there’s always something going on but to begin with we’re told how all the children appear and how they get their names.

The neighbours pitied Jo and Rosie for having such a large family, and called it “Victorian”; but the Dustman and his wife were proud of their numerous girls and boys, all -growing-up-fine-and-strong-one-behind-the-other-like-steps-in-a-ladder-and-able-to-wear-each-others-clothes-right-down-to-the-baby, so that really it was just two sets, girl and boy, summer and winter, Mrs Ruggles had to buy, except Boots.

I found this to be an entertaining read and as until it was published children’s books always featured very middle class children with ponies, bikes and boats and no thought to the clothes that they wore, it must have been a bit of an eye-opener to some people to realise that there were others who couldn’t afford to buy a school uniform for a child who was bright enough to get into the grammar school, and who were constantly taking their shoes to the cobblers to have them mended.

The author herself had a very comfortable upbringing but when she was asked to illustrate a book called The London Child by Evelyn Sharp she was appalled by the conditions that she saw, presumably when she was doing research for her illustrations. It led to her writing this book about an ordinary family struggling to make ends meet, but they’re a happy bunch and I’ll be looking out for the other books detailing their further adventures.

The Edge of the Cloud by K.M. Peyton

The Edge of the Cloud cover

The Edge of the Cloud by K.M. Peyton is the second book in the Flambards series and was first published in 1969.

Christina is now eighteen and she has been living with her uncle and her two male cousins who are a bit older than her. Her uncle is determined to marry Christina off to her eldest cousin Mark and so keep Christina’s money in the family. Her uncle and cousins are cash poor but do have a large house and estate where horses and hunting are the only things of importance. Christina is in love with the younger cousin Will, and unlike the rest of the family he is terrified of horses and riding, flying aeroplanes is his obsession.

Christina can’t get her hands on her money until she is twenty-one and she and Will can’t get married until then either, as Uncle Russell will never consent to their marriage, so they run off to stay with Aunt Grace where Christina has to help her with the sewing by which she earns her living. Meanwhile Will has managed to get a job as a mechanic at an airfield and is living in a shed, it’s not what he wants, he dreams of becoming an aeroplane designer and flying them. Eventually he does begin to teach other people to fly and earns much needed money by taking part in air displays, looping the loop and such like.

Christina is terrified of flying and of course lives in fear of Will being involved in an accident, neither of them can understand the other’s fear of riding/flying. Inevitably accidents occur.

This book is set in 1913 when flying was all new and wildly exciting. A note at the beginning of the book states that the first loop the loop was demonstrated in England by Pegoud in September 1913. The first British pilots to loop were B.C. Hucks and G. Hamel later in the year. Forty-eight British pilots were killed in various accidents from the beginning of flying in 1910 up to the outbreak of war in 1914.

The Edge of the Cloud won the Carnegie Medal in 1969 and the trilogy won the Guardian award in 1970. It was published by Penguin as a Puffin Book so was meant to be read by older children, but it’s a good read for children of all ages.

I loved the Flambards series when it was shown on TV years ago, that was aimed at adults. There isn’t much in the way of horse riding in this book but if you’re keen on early aviation you might find this one interesting.