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?

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.