This is Edinburgh by Miroslav Sasek

This is Edinburgh cover

This is Edinburgh by Miroslav Sasek was first published in 1961 but my copy is a 2006 reprint. I swithered about buying this one, I already have so many books for children but the illustrations are so charming and as I flicked through it I saw the iconic Jenner’s department store building – that swayed me to definitely buy it. I’ve been told that Jenner’s is going to be shut as a store and converted into posh apartments, so it’ll be nice to have it still as it was within the covers of this book.

This is a lovely volume which features many of the places that tourists want to see when they visit the city – Edinburgh Castle, St Giles’ Cathedral, Greyfriars Bobby and Holyrood Palace, but also the more out of the way places such as Dean Village, which I love. The famous penguin parade at the zoo is depicted, although since the pandas took up residence the penguins haven’t been the main attraction that they once were, much to their chagrin, but they started getting their own back by aiming their poo at the waiting visitors!

From The Times, 2011: Penguin poo hits the fans in panda queue


They arrived at their new home in a police cavalcade, having touched down in a private jet, so it was perhaps inevitable that the UK’s only pair of giant panda would ruffle the feathers of their neighbours at Edinburgh Zoo.

According to keepers, the penguins who live upstairs may be suffering from “monochrome jealousy” of Tian Tian and Yang Guang. Eschewing traditional housewarming gifts, the rockhopper penguins are targeting the visitors queueing up to see the pair with droppings.

There is a news video from 2011 about the jealous penguins here.

Of course the pandas don’t feature in this book as it dates back to 1961 with just a few wee updates at the back of the book.

You can see a lot of the illustrations in this book here.

The author first wrote This is New York and This is London before turning to Edinburgh. It’s a children’s book to be enjoyed by all ages.

The Mousewife by Rumer Godden

The Mousewife cover

The Mousewife by Rumer Godden was one of the books I got for Christmas, it was first published in 1951 but my copy was published in 1958. It’s such a cute wee book with just 39 pages and lots of illustrations which are by William Pene du Bois. This is ostensibly a book for children but in reality it will probably be appreciated more by adults, or maybe I should say by women.

A mouse couple live in an old house belonging to a spinster. They’re house mice and never venture beyond the walls, they think that the house is the whole world, but when the mousewife catches sight of the garden and woodland through a window she’s entranced by what she can see. The seasons come and go and she sees all the flowers and then the snow, but all her husband thinks about is cheese.

She’s a good mousewife, taking care of her husband when he over-indulges on currants and wrapping him up with tufts of carpet wool behind the fender. By this time she has a family to look after too and she’s the breadwinner so to speak and she has no time for thinking. But a boy brings the spinster homeowner a dove in a cage and the dove is pining for the great outdoors, it has lost the will to live, the peas which the dove is given for food are just what the mousewife needs to feed her growing brood and she makes friends with the dove.

This is a lovely tale with the dove and the mouse helping each other. The dove tells the mousewife about the hills, corn, stars and clouds.

It has been given to few mice to see the stars: so rare is it that the mousewife had not even heard of them, and when she saw them shining she thought at first they must be new brass buttons. Then she saw they were very far off, farther than the garden or the wood, beyond the farthest trees. “But not too far for me to see,” she said. She knew now that they were not buttons but something far and big and strange. “But not so strange to me,” she said, “for I have seen them, and I have seen them for myself,” said the mousewife.

Ladies or mousewives – please beware of neglecting your husband, as if you don’t give them your full attention, they might just bite your ear! You can see some of the illustrations here.

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston

The Children of Green Knowe cover

I’m still catching up with children’s classics that I missed out on when I was a child and someone in the blogosphere mentioned The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston as being one of their favourites, so when I saw a copy of it just a week later in a secondhand bookshop in Ellon, Aberdeenshire it seemed like serendipity. This book was first published in 1954.

I have to say though that I don’t think I was in the right mood to read this book as other people seem to rave about it and I thought it was just okay. I will continue with the series though as the fourth book in the series won the Carnegie Medal and I’m trying to work my way through that lot.

Green Knowe is an old house and it belongs to Tolly’s great grandmother. Tolly’s mother is dead and his father and step-mother are in India. Poor Tolly is at boarding school and doesn’t even get to see any family over the holidays, so visiting his great grandmother for the first time is rather nerve-wracking. But she’s a lovely old lady and tells Tolly all about the previous generations of children who have lived in the house. The spirits of the children – and a horse – still inhabit the place, Tolly can hear them and eventually he can see them too and he’s able to play with them.

Green Knowe is based on Lucy M. Boston’s own home in Hemingford Grey, a village in Cambridgeshire and I believe it and the garden she created are open to the public. She was a student at Somerville College, Oxford in 1915 but left to become a nurse at the front in France. She didn’t begin her writing career until she was over 60. I think her memoirs might be a lot more interesting. She wrote Perverse and Foolish about her wartime experiences and Memory in a House is about her renovation and restoration of her house.

You can see images of The Manor at Hemingford Grey, the original of Green Knowe here.

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?