My pick for the book I would take from my childhood favourites to read and reread on a desert island for June was Bogwoppit by Ursula Moray Williams.
When Aunt Lily marries the lodger and goes to America, orphaned Samantha is packed off to her Aunt Daisy, who lives in a grand house at the Park. Snooty Lady Daisy Clandorris has no time for children.
Lucky for Samantha, then, to discover the small, furry creature living in the cellar; a bogwoppit – believed extinct – up till now…
Many people will know Ursula Moray Williams for her more famous books, Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat and The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse, both of which I loved, but my favourite of her books was always Bogwoppit. The story is basically about three misfits – Samantha, Aunt Daisy and The-One-and-Only-Bogwoppit-in-the-World – finding happiness and companionship in each other, but of course they start off hating each other and have to work their way to the end point through a series of misadventures.
The appeal of this book is the humour and the sheer level of imagination that has gone into the story. There are host of well-developed and hilarious characters here, all interacting in madcap ways, to make an entertaining and fulfilling story. Firstly we have Samantha, an orphan who has been living with one of her aunts after her own mother died. however, Aunt Lily and Samantha have never really got on, and Samantha does not feel wanted or loved. She certainly is not wanted when her aunt gets married and wants to move to America, so she gets palmed off on yet another aunt, who wants her even less. Samantha is no cowed and bashful wallflower, she is feisty and demanding of attention. She fights for what she wants, and what she wants more than anything is a family, a home and a pet.
Daisy Clandorris is just as feisty as Samantha. She has been abandoned in a decaying old house by her aristocratic explorer husband, fighting the creeping damp and the encroaching bogwoppits and it has made her afraid and bitter. The last thing she wants is the responsibility of her brash niece, but Samantha isn’t taking no for an answer, and they are going to have to learn how to rub along together. The way the relationship develops between these two spiky and independent characters, who we can see are lonely and actually need each other, is fun to read and I think all children secretly dream of being able to speak to adults the way Samantha does and getting away with it!
Finally, there are the bogwoppits. I’d like to be able to describe them to you, but they aren’t really like anything you’ll every have seen and you need to read the book to understand them. En masse, they are quite annoying, but The-One-and-Only-Bogwoppit-in-the-World is different and becomes the star of the show. It is amazing how much love and emotion can be expressed by a small creature who can’t talk! I think this is the genius of the writing, how the author manages to create a strong personality in a creature that has no language to communicate. You will definitely fall in love with the bogwoppit if you read this book.
Shirley Hughes has created some beautiful illustrations to accompany the text which really enhances the story, and I loved repeatedly reading this tale of an ordinary girl who has an extraordinary adventure and ends up with everything she ever wanted. It used to make me think amazing things can happen to anyone, which is always the best kind of children’s book.
You can buy a copy of Bogwoppit here.
About the Author
Ursula Moray Williams (19 April 1911 – 17 October 2006) was an English children’s author of nearly 70 books for children. Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse, written while expecting her first child, remained in print throughout her life from its publication in 1939.
Her classic stories often involved brave creatures who overcome trials and cruelty in the outside world before finding a loving home. They included The Good Little Christmas Tree of 1943, and Gobbolino, the Witch’s Cat first published the previous year. It immediately sold out but disappeared until re-issued in abridged form by Kaye Webb at Puffin Books twenty years later, when it became a best-seller.