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?

Just William on CBBC

I’ve been catching up with the new Just William adaptation on the iplayer. Although the programme is on Children’s BBC I think it probably has a large amount of middle-aged viewers. Set in the 1950s the whole thing has a very nostalgic attraction for people of a certain age, even without the entertaining and well acted stories.

The Brown family home has been so well kitted out. They even have the same antimacassars (chair back covers) still in the 1960s, but for some reason I really love the low tech 1950s kitchen. All of the characters have been well cast, including Jumble the dog.

Sadly Violet Elizabeth Bott doesn’t have red hair but otherwise I think she was very good and seemed to enjoy being covered in mud. At that time kids tended to be skinny due to rationing which continued well into the 1950s and the fact that they were allowed to run wild all over the place and use up their excess energy and burning off calories all the way. Unfortunately Daniel Roche who plays the part of William doesn’t quite fit the bill because his bones are quite well upholstered and he would definitely have had the nickname of Fatty or Podge or something similar and un-PC – in those days. But I can see why they wanted to have him playing William Brown after his success in Outnumbered. Douglas, another of The Outlaws, is even tubbier but I don’t suppose they could put them on a starvation diet just to make things look even more authentic.

They seem to have made just 4 episodes but I’m hopeful that they have more planned for the future. Martin Jarvis is the narrator, he seems to have cornered the market on Just William stories, amongst other things, but he does have a lovely voice.

Niranjana, I know that you won’t have much time to watch tv but I really hope that you’ll be able to see this new series of Just William on Canadian TV at some point in the future.

Just William by Richmal Crompton

This book was perfect bed time reading when we got in from crazy jaunts across the country in the snow. William is a lovable character just 11 yers old and up to all sorts of naughtiness from a more innocent era. It was first published in 1922.

Chapter XI begins:
‘She’s – she’s a real Botticelli,’ said the young man dreamily, as he watched the figure of William’s sister, Ethel disappearing into the distance.
William glared at him.
‘Bottled cherry yourself,’ he said indignantly. ‘She can’t help having red hair, can she?

I know, I know – it’s daft, but just what I needed.

Thanks again to Niranjana (Brown Paper) for pointing me in the direction of Richmal Crompton.

If you slide your gaze over to my Library Thing thingmyjig on the right, you’ll see that I’ve started reading Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue. I thought I would probably go back to the beginning of the Rebus series but decided to start on this one as it’s in an omnibus edition of three which I’ve borrowed from the library. When I’ve finished with those ones I’ll start at the beginning.

What I’m really supposed to be doing at the moment is reading War and Peace and I can’t avoid it any longer so I’m planning to start that tomorrow, during the day time, I don’t think it’s bed time reading, somehow.

Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner

Moonfleet cover

A classic tale of mystery and high adventure in a Dorset smuggling village.

Well that’s what it says on the back of the book and I wouldn’t argue with the description. I enjoyed this book, but I must admit that I’m drawn to smuggling tales anyway. Probably because I like the thought of the poor down-trodden souls getting one over the tax-man at a time when they were being taxed even more than we are now.

John Trenchard is 15 years old at the beginning of the book and he is living with his aunt in the village of Moonfleet, which is just half-a -mile from the sea. Both his parents are dead and his aunt has obviously taken him in as an obligation which she would rather not have.

The village has always been full of spooky tales of the ghost of Blackbeard, who haunts the churchyard looking for his treasure – a huge and perfect flawless diamond, which of course is said to be cursed.

When John discovers a secret passageway leading under the church he thinks he will find the diamond there but ends up being embroiled with a smuggling gang.

First published in 1898, Moonfleet is a classic adventure tale, suitable for young and old.

Moonfleet was made into a film in 1955, starring Stewart Granger and that lovely wee Scottish child actor John Whitely.

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.
by J.M. Barrie.

I’m lucky enough to have my mother’s 1925 copy of this book, which has the lovely Arthur Rackham illustrations. Obviously this book comes under the category of a book from childhood but I’ve read it a few times since then and I always enjoy it. It is the very beginning of the Peter Pan story and is actually the middle section of The Little White Bird which was published before Peter Pan and Wendy.

The book starts with The Grand Tour of the Gardens, in which the gardens and some of the characters to be found there are described. Sexism is rife as you would expect from something written so long ago and by a Scottish man, but it is all quite tongue in cheek.

J.M. Barrie had a wonderful, fantastical imagination and a beautiful way with words.

Babies were birds before they were human and have to think hard to remember the time when they could fly.

Peter Pan escapes from being human by flying from the nursery window ledge when he is only 7 days old and flies to Kensington Gardens.

He knows that it must be past lock-out time as the place is full of fairies who are too busy to notice him. When he meets with Solomon Caw after flying to the island in the middle of The Serpentine he realises that he has lost faith in his ability to fly and so is stuck on the island. Solomon declares him to be a Betwixt-and-Between.

Although he is happy on the island for a while, he misses being able to play the way children do and begins to plan how he can escape from the island. Eventually he pays the thrushes to build him a nest big enough for him to fit into and he sails over to the gardens again, but he can only leave the island at night after the park is closed.

The girl in this book is called Maimie and when she is locked in the gardens overnight, the fairies build a little house around her so that she doesn’t die of the cold.

If you have read Peter Pan you might find it interesting to read the book which it developed from.

When Barrie was just 7 years old his 14 year old brother died in an ice skating accident and it is thought that this tragedy was what prompted Barrie to write about a boy who didn’t grow up.

J.M. Barrie is one of the few authors who made up a name for a character which became popular with parents. He came up with it because a wee girl of his acquaintance who couldn’t pronounce the letter ‘r’, described herself as his little ‘fwendy’.

You can visit the Barrie family home in Kirriemuir and the original Wendy house, which is the old wash house in the back garden. Kirriemuir is about 40 miles from where I live. It is quite a pretty small town which differs from most Scottish towns in that it was built from red sandstone instead of the usual grey.

When J.M. Barrie died in 1937, he chose to be buried in Kirriemuir with his family instead of in Poets Corner in London.

I reviewed this book as part of the Flashback Challenge.

Here is a video from 1937 showing some places of interest around Kirriemuir.