Until I picked this book up in an Aberdeenshire secondhand bookshop recently I had no idea that Bedknob and Broomstick had been written by Mary Norton (of The Borrowers fame). It was first published in 1945 and although I’ve only seen short excerpts of the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks, I think it’s fair to say that it must be very loosely based on the book. It was obviously written in wartime although it doesn’t really come into the story, the three children Carey, Charles and Paul have been sent to live with an old aunt who lives in Bedfordshire. This must have been a normal experience for many children in those days as fathers were off in the services and their mothers were also doing war work. It fits the perfect children’s book scenario, get rid of those annoying parents.
The house is old and square with a large hall and the children are quite intimidated by it. They’re also rather shy of their aunt and the old housemaid, but the garden is wonderful and even has a river running through it. The children have a whale of a time, they’re well behaved and all their days are alike – until they meet Miss Price. She’s an elderly lady who gets about on her bicycle, she’s very ladylike and teaches piano for a living, but in her spare time she’s a bit of a white witch. She’s really just a beginner at it and when the children find her in pain lying on the ground in local woodland it transpires that she has sprained her ankle as she has fallen off her broomstick!
She obviously needs more practice. Miss Price needs the children to keep quiet about her witchcraft, the locals wouldn’t understand, so she puts a spell on Paul’s bedknob so that when he twists it the bed will wheech them all anywhere in the world – or even into the past.
This book is aimed at children over the age of eight – I think I fit that description!
Flame – Coloured Taffeta by Rosemary Sutcliff is a Puffin book which was published in 1986. It was probably aimed at pre-teen children, but I intend to work my way through all of the author’s books – eventually.
The setting is the mid eighteenth century and the coastal south-west of England between Chichester and Selsey Bill. It was a time of on and off war with France and just five years after the failed attempt by Charles Edward Stewart to get the Jacobites back on the throne of Britain.
Damaris is a twelve year old girl who lives with her father and aunt on a coastal farm, an area which sees lots of smuggling activity, not that they call themselves smugglers, they’re known as Free Traders. Damaris is sure that she heard a gunshot during the night and she’s afraid that one of her local friends might have been shot, so she goes out searching her father’s farmland and discovers a young man, a stranger who has been shot in the leg.
She needs the help of her friend and neighbour Peter to get the wounded man draped across her horse and they take him to their hideout in a tumbledown cottage nearby. He’ll have to share the place with the wounded fox that they’re nursing back to health.
But have they done the right thing, is he a smuggler or is he perhaps a spy from France?
This is a very quick read with just 120 pages and it also has well detailed illustrations by Rachel Birkett.
I enjoyed this one, but then I do like stories featuring smugglers as many people do. I’m not sure if that’s a particularly British penchant/weakness or if it’s more universal. What do you think? Pirates are another weakness of course, maybe it’s just that ‘bad guys’ seem more interesting!
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.
I’m making my way through this Joan Aiken series featuring Dido Twite. This was the first of the series that I picked up at a secondhand bookshop, an original Puffin book which cost all of 25p when it was published in 1966, but as it comes third in the series I had to find and read the first two before getting around to this one.
I was attracted to the book because of the back cover blurb:
Here is a new adventure for Dido Twite (the enchanting heroine of Black Hearts in Battersea), waking from a long sleep to foil Miss Slighcarp, the wicked governess, in her plan to assassinate King James III by long-distance gun – and her greatest ally is a pink whale called Rosie.
Who could resist that craziness?!
Dido has been rescued from the sea by a whaling ship and slept for ten months, being fed on whale oil and molasses while she slept. When she wakes up the sailors have just caught a whale and are dealing with it (not a pleasant description) and Dido is sorry to hear that they can’t take her back to England immediately, they’re going in the opposite direction. The ship’s captain has a daughter on the ship, Dutiful Penitence is about the same age as Dido but is pining away after the death of her mother on board. Dido succeeds in making Pen take an interest in life again and together they get mixed up in another Hanoverian plot to kill King James III.
The long distance gun is so powerful it will blow Nantucket back as far as Atlantic City – a horrific thought apparently!
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.