The Growing Summer by Noel Streatfeild

The Growing Summer cover

The Growing Summer by Noel Streatfeild was first published in 1966 but my copy is a 1973 Puffin reprint and has illustrations by Edward Ardizonne. It was serialised for children’s TV in the 1970s.

If you’re a children’s author the first thing you have to do is get rid of the parents quickly because as we all know parents put a dampener on adventures. In no time flat the four children of the Gareth family are dispatched to Ireland to stay with their Great-Aunt Dymphna. Their father had gone to Australia for a year and had become seriously ill there so their mother went out to join him. Dymphna is a complete stranger to them but they have no other relatives to look after them and Dymphna feels it’s her duty to take them in.

They soon discover that she’s very odd, in fact the locals think she’s a bit of a witch. It’s just that Dymphna is really just a wee bit ‘away with the fairies’. She’s steeped in a certain type of children’s literature – Alice in Wonderland, Edward Lear, Kipling, G.K. Chesterton and such and enjoys quoting bits from them.

Dymphna’s house is a big ramshackle place full of broken furniture and ornaments, she loves nothing more than a sale of stuff that nobody else wants, but she thinks that by taking the children in she has done her bit, she expects them to look after themselves, wash their own clothes, buy and cook their food – and as their mother had done everything for them at home they were pretty clueless apart from being able to boil eggs. An unexpected visitor that they have to keep quiet about causes them even more problems.

I enjoyed this one and wish I had seen the TV serial of it which was made by London Weekend Television in 1968.

One of those strange coincidences that crop up amongst readers is that the poem below also featured in the Angela Brazil book (For the Sake of the School) that I read just before reading this one, and I had never come across it before.

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a hunting,
For fear of little men.

by William Allingham

Apple Bough by Noel Streatfeild

Apple Bough cover

Apple Bough by Noel Streatfeild was first published in 1962 and it’s about the Forum family which consists of two boys and two girls. Their parents are quite feckless really where the children are concerned as they’re both more interested in their own lives, the father being a musician and the mother has taken up painting – to the exclusion of just about everything else. Money is always a problem, but when it turns out that the eldest boy Sebastian is a gifted violinist Miss Popple is employed to teach all of the children as an ordinary school is of no use to Sebastian.

Apple Bough is the name of the family home and they all love it, but Sebastian’s talent means that they end up travelling the world in his wake, something which seems exciting to begin with but soon palls as far as the other children are concerned. The parents are far too busy enjoying themselves at all the parties involved and being the parents of a child prodigy that it never occurs to them that the three other children are losing out on having lives of their own. The children are more mature than their parents are as quite often happens in some families. Eventually it all ends well though. This was an enjoyable read albeit a bit unlikely and far-fetched at times.

Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine

 Madame Doubtfire  cover

Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine was first published in 1987 and I can’t remember where I got our copy from (I think it was Jack who bought it) but it’s signed by the author. This is of course the book which inspired the film Mrs Doubtfire which starred the talented and much missed Robin Williams.

It’s a long time since I watched the film but I think the book is a bit more serious than the film was, but no doubt a comedy was better for the box office.

Daniel is a father of three children and he and his wife are recently divorced, but that hasn’t stopped the animosity, in fact things are getting worse between him and his ex-wife. He’s an out of work actor, living in a town which only has one theatre, so he has very little opportunity to find stage work. His ex-wife Miranda has a very well paid job and it’s because of her work that they’re living in the small town instead of London where Daniel would have a better chance of finding work.

Miranda is determined to keep Daniel away from the children as much as possible, and constantly flouts the judicial access agreement despite the fact that she really needs help with the children. When Miranda decides that she’s going to get a nanny/housekeeper Daniel decides to use his acting skills to pose as an elderly lady and applies for the job. Madame Doubtfire is definitely a one off, but the children very quickly realise who she is but they miss their father so are happy to play along with the situation. So begins a sort of double life for them all, duping Miranda who it seems is having to work such long hours and is always dashing off, she never really pays much attention to anyone.

This was a good read, the first that I’ve read by Anne Fine. It’s probably aimed at children of about 12 but is entertaining for any age. In the film Mrs Doubtfire is Scottish which I think worked really well but Anne Fine didn’t write her as a Scot, it was probably Robin Williams’s idea to do that. However Fine did live in Scotland for a while and I recalled that she got the name of Doubtfire when she spotted it painted above a shop in Edinburgh. You can read about it here.

Sadly this was before my Stockbridge visiting days as I would have loved to have a rake around that shop, if I could have withstood the cat pee smell!

Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken

Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken is the second book in this series and was first published in 1965.

This book features some of the characters from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Simon travels to London with his donkey, he’s determined to become an artist and has a letter of introduction.

This is an alternative history, the setting is London in the 1830s, and King James III is on the throne which means that the Stuart dynasty is still on the throne which of course didn’t happen. But the Hanoverians are plotting against them and planning to grab power. There’s a group of Londoners willing to help and they’re stock-piling guns and ammunition.

But people are disappearing, including Simon’s friend Dr Field. Will Simon be able to track him down?

I enjoyed this one but I’m really looking forward to reading the third book in this series Nightbirds on Nantucket, which is the first one I bought, purely because the blurb sounded absolutely crazy.

The Children Who Lived In A Barn by Eleanor Graham

Mobius Dick cover

The Children Who Lived in a Barn by Eleanor Graham was first published in 1938. My copy is a Persephone reprint. The author is probably better known as an editor for Puffin and Penguin books, and as such she obviously knew better than anyone that the best way to write a book for and involving children is to get rid of the parents as fast as possible, which she duly does in this book.

The Dunnet family consists of the parents and five children who range in age from thirteen to seven. Susan is the eldest and luckily she’s a very level-headed and competent girl, she has to be because their rather feckless parents take off for Switzerland where Mrs Dunnett’s mother has taken ill. They’re completely confident that Susan can look after everyone until they get back, but they don’t return and even worse the children are evicted from the family home as the landlord wants the house.

The villagers are mainly helpful and a farmer offers them the use of an old barn to live in. They set to work making it habitable and as the summer approaches they make a decent job of looking after themselves although the bulk of the work has fallen on Susan who has to learn how to wash and sew. She’s at her wits’ end trying to make ends meet.

Susan has become a little mother figure with help from a local teacher, the baker and some others, but the local district visitor is determined to get them all put into a ‘Home’ for orphans. She’s a thoroughly despicable character, but to be fair nowadays there is no way that ‘home alone’ children would be allowed to look after themselves, they’d all be taken into local authority ‘care’ immediately.

This is a charming story even although the reader has to suspend disbelief, not only when the children are allowed to stay in the barn, but also the reason why the parents haven’t returned is fairly pathetic and totally unlikely. It’s well written otherwise although I have to say that it always annoys me when the youngest girl in a family is portrayed as spoiled and whining as is Alice in this book – such nonsense as I should know!

There’s a preface by the author Jacqueline Wilson in which she explains that when she was growing up it was normal for children to be given a latch key and to be by themselves at home – until their mother got home from work. All quite true, there were millions of us growing up like that, really bringing ourselves up, I don’t know when it was decided that children had to be chaperoned all the time, possibly around the late 1970s.

I’m fairly sure I didn’t read this one when I was wee, I think I would definitely have remembered it as it would have been right up my street. Have you read it?

This one is on my Classics Club list – another one bites the dust.

The endpapers are taken from a 1938 screen printed design by John Little.

Arrowhead

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.

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

Mary Poppins cover

At Christmas I watched the film Saving Mr Banks which is about the terrible amount of wrangling that Walt Disney had to go through to get P.L. Travers to allow him to turn her Mary Poppins books into a film. Actually it’s about the only film that I’ve liked with Tom Hanks in it, I’m not a fan. I didn’t really know much about P.L. Travers- beyond that she hadn’t been at all happy with what had been done to her books, anyway the film Saving Mr Banks was enjoyable and it made me think that it was about time that I read at least one of the Mary Poppins books.

Luckily I found a paperback copy of the first book at the Oxfam bookshop in Morningside, Edinburgh. The book was first published in 1934.

It was an enjoyable read and I was surprised that it was really quite similar to the Mary Poppins film, well the bits of it that they used anyway.

Mary Poppins herself comes across as being less prim and snooty than her film version. Presumably Walt Disney thought it would be a good idea to make her ‘posh’ English. I have heard that all English accents are seen as being upper class in America though – or they were in the past.

This was just a good light read that I embarked on when I was in the midst of a heavy cold, and it filled in one of those gaps that I have in children’s literature, I think I went on to adult books too early really.

At the same time I bought this one I also bought a book called The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett. I hadn’t even heard of it but it’s apparently a children’s classic and it won the Carnegie Medal. Have any of you read it?

Doctor Dolittle’s Post Office by Hugh Lofting

Doctor Dolittle’s Post Office by Hugh Lofting was first published in 1924. I’ve enjoyed a few of the books in this series but this one just didn’t hit the mark somehow. The pushmi-pullyu was homesick for Africa and asked Doctor Dolittle if he would mind taking him to Africa for a few weeks holiday so he could walk around his old grazing grounds once more.

Doctor Dolittle is happy to oblige him and so he buys an old boat and off he sails with some more of his animal friends. After enjoying a good holiday they set sail for home but when they find a weeping woman in a canoe they have to stop and help her.

The woman Zuzana is weeping because her husband has been taken captive by slavers, so Dolittle and his animal friends track the slave ship down with the help of a British Navy ship which is also trying to put the slavers out of business.

So – job done, all’s well that ends well – except Doctor Dolittle has the idea of using the world’s birdlife to run an airmail postal service, thus enslaving all birds! Bizarre, as if they don’t have enough to be getting on with themselves.

I usually only read one or maybe two books at a time although I will put quite a few books on my Goodreads reading list and work my way through them, this one has been weighing on my conscience as it has been languishing on Goodreads for ages – awaiting me finishing it, whilst I started and finished umpteen other books in that time.

It did get better towards the end but it isn’t a great idea for a children’s book. Doctor Dolittle has learned to speak to animals of course and I was interested to read in Wendy Moore’s biography of the anatomist John Hunter that it’s thought that Hugh Lofting took Hunter as his inspiration for Doctor Dolittle.

If you’re interested you can have a look at lots of Dolittle images here.

More Flitting and Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden

It has been a very busy week for us as we’ve been helping Gordon and Laura move into their new home, until now they’ve had to rent, like so many people nowadays but it has been worth waiting for and not only do they have a lovely house, they have a beautiful view of rolling green hills from their front path. I’ll get a photo of it soon, I was too busy humphing stuff to stop and click. The next time they move (not for a long time I hope) they will definitely be employing a removal company, we’re getting too old for it all!

Apparently everyone where Laura teaches was saying to her – are you flitting tomorrow? – and she had never heard the word before as although she has lived in Scotland for years she is from what she calls the grim North, meaning the Manchester area – which is definitely the south to us.

Anyway it’s great to see them settled at last. I have been reading although you wouldn’t think it because I’m way behind in my Goodreads Challenge updating. I hope to get back to normality, or what passes for normal here anyway – soon.

One book which I finished recently is Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden. It’s a Puffin Modern Classic and when I saw it in a charity bookshop in Edinburgh I thought it was about time I got around to taking a squint at it. Some parts of it seemed quite familiar though and I think I’ve probably heard snatches of it on the radio over the years. The BBC has also adapted it for TV in the past and you can watch it on You Tube.


The book is an enjoyable read, you probably already know that it’s about a young brother and sister from London being evacuated to Wales to avoid the Nazi bombs. I can only wonder what I would have done as a mother in that position, somehow I just can’t imagine packing my children onto a train and waving them off to an uncertain future with strangers. But then – there were all those bombs to contend with …

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Just after somebody in the blogosphere mentioned reading these books I saw this omnibus in a charity shop, so I thought it was the perfect time to see what they are like, better late than never as I missed out on them as a wee girl. I think that Judith Reader in the Wilderness said that she particularly enjoyed On the Banks of Plum Creek.

The writing is quite simple and repetitive (apparently that’s the secret of Agatha Christie’s success) so it’s perfect for young readers. I suppose I really mean girls because I can’t imagine boys being interested in the books. The Ingalls family consists of Ma/Caroline, Pa/Charles and their three daughters Mary, Laura and baby Carrie.

Little House in the Big Woods is set in Wisconsin in a very remote area where there are no other houses, roads and people but the place is teeming with animals, including wolves and bears and life is good for the Ingalls family although it has to be said that their diet is meat heavy! But Pa isn’t happy when more people move into the area and he decides to move his family West. There’s a lot to learn from this book – how to make and colour butter, make cheese, make a straw hat – all sorts.

So in Little House on the Prairie the wagon rolled and they crossed the Mississippi and headed across the prairie to Indian country and after some adventures Pa eventually decided on what he thought was a good spot to build the new house. In no time flat that house was built and if only I had the logs, the land and the strength I think I could build one too, I’ve certainly learned how to do it! Unfortunately Pa has built the house right beside an Indian trail. The locals aren’t happy and they let the Ingalls know about it with nights of war whooping and dancing. Before they lose their scalps Pa decides to move on again when he hears that the government won’t help to move the Indians away. So they have to leave that lovely house with real glass in the windows. It was at this point that I decided that Ma must be just about the most placid wife and mother in fiction. I might have killed Pa/Charles.

In On the Banks of Plum Creek the family has travelled across Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and a long way into Minnesota and at the end of the journey they end up living in a house which was dug into the creek bank, a bit of a come down and thereare hard times ahead for the family.

If I had read these books when I was about 9 or 10 I think that I would have inhabited the pages. I really identified with Laura which I hadn’t expected because I had remembered her as being an annoying whining character in the tv series. In fact I think that’s the reason that I didn’t read the books originally. She’s a feisty tom-boy, happy playing in the creek and I laughed when she finally decided to sew a patchwork quilt, because she wasn’t happy doing a simple nine patch one like her sister Mary. She had to go for a more complicated design, and I know that feeling so well, and then I get into a fankle and wish I had started off with an easier thing and worked my way up to the difficult one.

As an adult the whole make-do-and-mend way of life really appeals to me and I like to think I would have coped with being a pioneer. But then again there were the Indians, wolves, bears, grasshoppers, heat, snow – so maybe not then. The howling gales from all directions I do cope with!

I think there are more books in the series so I will read them if I can. Has anyone read any others?