Desert Island Children’s Books: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

childrens

I am very late posting my Desert Island Children’s Book choice for September, but it was a choice that is worth waiting for. September’s choice is a favourite of many, it’s Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, and it is the perfect children’s classic to pick up for an autumn read.

618d0qS3h0L._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_

‘Oh, it seems so wonderful that I’m going to live with you and belong to you. I’ve never belonged to anybody – not really’

When a scrawny, freckled girl with bright red hair arrives on Prince Edward Island, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are taken by surprise; they’d asked the orphanage for a quiet boy to help with the farmwork at Green Gables. But how can you reject a child like an unwanted parcel, especially when she tells you her life so far has been a ‘perfect graveyard of unburied hopes’?

So the beguiling chatterbox stays. Full of imagination, spark and spirit, it is not long before Anne Shirley wins their hearts.

Anne Shirley is one of my favourite characters is all of children’s literature. So fond am I of the Anne who has lived in my head since I first read Anne of Green Gables *cough* years ago, I have never been able to watch any of the adaptations of the Anne books that have been made (despite the fact that everyone tells me how excellent they are) because I really don’t want my version supplanted by someone else’s.

Why do I love Anne so much? The main reason I think is the same reason I love Jo March from Little Women, because she is someone I immediately related to. Not the fact that she is an orphan, I have two loving parents still, or that she lives on a farm on Prince Edward Island in Canada. But Anne is bookish, and a day dreamer and has a vivid imagination and all of these things made her my fictional kindred spirit.

Having reread Anne of Green Gables again, I still love Anne as much as ever, and relish the tenderness of the story of the wild, red-headed orphan who comes by mistake to the Cuthbert farm, but proceeds to melt the hearts of the shy Matthew and prim, gruff Marilla until they cannot imagine what they did before she arrived to light up their lives. She gets into lots of fun scrapes, and maintains a rivalry with Gilbert Blythe throughout the book, until he does something that melts even Anne’s stony heart at the end of the book – you’ll have to read the other six books in the Anne series to find out what happens between them in the future.

The writing in these books is delightful. L. M. Montgomery really brings the community of Avonlea to life, and peoples it with all manner of amusing characters for Anne to interact with. The setting is perfect, and we experience falling in love with the beauty of Prince Edward Island along with Anne, to the extent that it has long been a destination high on my bucket list, and I know I am not the only person who feels this way about the books. My cousin Michelle cites Anne of Green Gables as her motivation for travelling to PEI.

The relationship between Anne and the Cuthberts is beautiful and tender and moving, and I defy anyone not to be moved by it. Following Anne through her subsequent years in the rest of the series is equally enchanting, and I can highly recommend the whole series. Definitely one to have on a desert island for repeated consumption.

You can get your copy of Anne of Green Gables here.

About the Author

download

Lucy Maude Montgomery (1874-1942) was born on Prince Edward Island, Canada, the setting for Anne of Green Gables. She left to attend college, but returned to Prince Edward Island to teach. In 1911, she married the Reverend Ewan MacDonald. Anne of Green Gables, the first in a series of “Anne” books by Montgomery, was published in 1908 to immediate success and continues to be a perennial favourite.

a-little-book-problem-banner

Friday Night Drinks with… Jane Thomas

friday-night-drinks

It’s a lovely, autumn day up here in Yorkshire and I think we might be able to fit in one last evening of drinks outside if we put on a cosy jumper. I’m delighted to be joined for Friday Night Drinks tonight by author… Jane Thomas.

_DSC0070

Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

I think we’ll start with a cocktail – perhaps a grasshopper – and then move onto wine. White, every time… I could happily spend a while discussing exactly which one we should choose but let’s stick with a Pinot Grigio for now! 

download-1

If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

With the magic of imagination, I’ll whisk us away to a bar tucked away on a hillside on Lombok in Indonesia. There are a series of terraces, each draped with hammocks and piles of beanbags, and it’s the perfect place to watch the sun go down over the sea. 

If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

That’s a very tough call…! I think I’ll have to drag Mary Astell out of her grave: I wrote my Master’s thesis on eighteenth century women poets, and she’s one of them. Regarded as the ‘first English feminist’, I’d love to get her thoughts on what we’ve done to the world today. In fact, let’s put her contemporary, Alexander Pope, alongside her. Incredible satirist but, from what I’ve read, someone who needs taking down a peg or two. I reckon it would be fun to set Astell on him… 

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

Right now, I’m working on a pretty interesting project linked to an environmental disaster in Canada. I was approached by a lady who is personally involved in what happened and am creating a children’s book to accompany the museum she’s planning to open. In an ideal world, the book will reach far beyond the confines of the museum – it’s a story everyone needs to hear. 

And I’m working on the third book of my children’s series with my illustrator right now; fingers crossed we can get him out pre-Christmas, but if not he’ll appear at the start of the new year. I was a little distracted for a while, writing some pieces in a sort of Dahl-esque ‘Revolting Rhymes’ style, but I’m determined to keep focussed! 

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing/blogging and what has been your biggest challenge?

I guess one of my proudest moments was receiving my first ‘fan mail’ for my children’s book series. An 8-year-old boy drew me an underwater picture to accompany the first book, and that is a great feeling – to know you’ve reached somebody in any way at all. The biggest challenges are all self-created: I don’t want anything to do with Amazon, and that is a fair percentage of the book market. It’s hard work without falling back on that, but it’s a decision I’ve made and will stick with. 

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I think the best thing any author can get is some recognition, and that comes when a person recommends you to someone else. I love the idea of people talking and the one stopping to say, ‘oh my! Have you read such and such by Jane Thomas?’ and the other eagerly leaping into a bookshop to pick up a copy. If that happened one day, it would be a huge sense of achievement. 

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

So many things are planned for 2022… I want at least three books to come out, all of which are in completely different genres and will exist for different purposes, but they’re books that have been sitting inside me for years. I suppose that’s the one good thing to come out of the last 18 months, in my world at least: I started writing books that I wanted to write. It’s a good feeling. 

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

I’ve spent the best part of 20 years rattling around the world – every time I’m asked for a favourite place, I come up with a different answer. Since in my imagination we’re drinking at a bar on Lombok, I’ll keep us there for now. Specifically, down a goat track that I wandered along and found the perfect view: a peninsula snaking away from me, the sea the deepest blue to the one side and green to the other. I don’t think many people have ever stood there, and it’s a little parcel of magic. As for my bucket list… That has really piled up this past 18 months we haven’t been able to go anywhere! I think at the top, today at least, are the Andaman Islands. Anywhere that elephants go swimming in the sea is a place I want to go.

 

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

This is the hardest question by far. I guess for someone so seemingly practical and rational, I do have an unexpected tendency to defer to superstition sometimes. A single magpie can break a day… And I always travel with a four-leaf clover I found forever ago in my father’s garden. I couldn’t find it in my bag before heading for a flight from San Francisco and genuinely considered not getting on that plane. Some things aren’t worth risking, right?! (Spoiler: I found the clover and took the flight.) 

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

I’m sure you’ve read The Great Gatsby so I won’t recommend that – although it’s my standard go to ‘my word, you must read this…’. Another I’ve been thinking about recently is The Elephant Whisperer, by Lawrence Anthony. It’s a heartbreaking, extraordinary tale. If any part of you likes elephants, it’s a must-read. 

51CqxLrl9XL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of ‘rogue’ elephants on his Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand, his common sense told him to refuse. But he was the herd’s last chance of survival – dangerous and unpredictable, they would be killed if Anthony wouldn’t take them in.

As Anthony risked his life to create a bond with the troubled elephants and persuade them to stay on his reserve, he came to realize what a special family they were, from the wise matriarch Nana, who guided the herd, to her warrior sister Frankie, always ready to see off any threat, and their children who fought so hard to survive.

Yes, I love The Great Gatsby. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

As I get older, I’ve come to accept the inevitability of the hangover. The best cure, though, is always to sink into the sea and float it away… 

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

Anything that involves a beach, a palm tree, and easy access to a cocktail makes for a perfect weekend in my eyes! 

Sounds perfect! Thank you so much for joining me, I have really enjoyed our chat.

Jane is the author of the Jolly Ollie Octopus books, which you can buy here.

Born in the midst of a global pandemic, Ollie is a gentle reminder that kindness and friendship can be found in the darkest times.

Jane Thomas has spent the last 20 years living and working in tucked-away corners of the world, content in a dugout canoe on the Amazon, put-putting along on an essentially brake-free scooter in Laos, or sleeping under the stars in the Kalahari. It turns out a Master’s in Eighteenth Century Women’s Poetry from the University of Oxford doesn’t just lead to the darkened hallows of a library’s archive… 

She’s spent nearly two decades creating materials for teachers to use in the classroom, including projects with the Malaysian Ministry of Education, Nickelodeon, and the British Council. She may have helped Ollie a little with some of the Fun Stuff word games…

Jane lives (some of the year) in her book-lined cottage in rural France at an address that translates to ‘Hidden Place, End of the World’. Her current obsession – for at any time, one should always have a few decent obsessions – is a bright red camper van named Florence, freedom in a locked-down world.

You can find out more about Jane via her website, the Jolly Ollie website, Facebook and Instagram.

a-little-book-problem-banner

Desert Island Children’s Books: Flambards by K. M. Peyton

childrens

I guess this month’s book is more of a teen/YA read, than a children’s book and it is the first book in a literary quartet that was probably my first introduction into the idea of romance. It is Flambards by K. M. Peyton.

51Hk6NfdQ2L._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_

Christina is sent to live with her uncle in his country house, Flambards, and knows from the moment she arrives that she’ll never fit in.

Her uncle is fierce and domineering and her cousin, Mark, is selfish-but despite all this, Christina discovers a passion for horse-riding and finds a true friend in Will. What Christina has yet to realize, though, is the important part she has to play in the future of this strange household . . .

What a fabulous series of books the Flambards quartet was as a bridge for teen girls between the childhood world of innocence and ponies and the adult world of war, duty, class,  money and romance. I absolutely loved this book because I found it when I was at the same juncture in my life as Christina is during the story and through her eyes I explored the more adult world she is thrust in to when she arrives at Flambards.

Flambards is a great book for pony-mad girls because of the life at the house revolving around horses, and I think this is why I first picked it up, but there is so much more going on in the story, some of which I don’t think I ever really understood properly until I came back to it as an adult. The issues of class with which Christina is confronted in her relationship with Dick, the stablehand, and the treatment by the Russells of his entire family, is certainly not something I think I really understood when I read it the first few times in my early teens.

The book is set in the early years of the twentieth century, at a time of great change on many fronts. The world is on the brink of war, mechanical inventions such as cars and aeroplanes are starting to encroach on a way of life that has existed for centuries and is resistant to the threat. And attitudes are changing, with people becoming more aware of social injustice. This ripple of change is what informs the story, and impacts Christina’s life as she is torn between her love for Dick and the impossibility of that relationship, her joy in the horses and life at Flambards but her horror of the brutality and callousness of her uncle Russell, and her attraction to Will, who represents a dream of the future. It perfectly mirrors the turmoil that girls feel in that period of immense physical and emotional change.

The writing in the novel is beautiful, and the author really captures the contrast between the decaying and dying life at Flambards, and the shiny, bright future envisaged by Will and his machines. It is a snapshot of a period in time that none of us have experienced firsthand but can live through the pages of this book and it reminds my sharply and fondly of my own teenage years. I was drawn back in to the romances of Christina’s life, and how much the author makes us care for her, and for Flambards itself. Have re-read it, I now want to go on to read the rest of the series again. Book two, The Edge of the Cloudis even better from what I remember.

Flambards is available to buy here.

About the Author

download

Kathleen Peyton grew up in the London suburbs and always longed to live in the country and have a horse. Although she enjoyed writing stories she wanted to be a painter, and when she left school she went on to study art. At Manchester Art School she met her husband, Michael, and they now live in Essex and have two daughters. Following the success of Flambards, Kathleen went on to write three more books in the sequence, the second of which, The Edge of the Cloud, was the winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal. And since she has made some money from publishing her books, Kathleen has always had a horse, or several!

a-little-book-problem-banner

Desert Island Children’s Books… A Dog So Small by Philippa Pearce

childrens

This month’s pick for the children’s book I would take to my island is probably going to be a surprising one because it is not the best-loved book by this author. Philippa Pearce is most well-known as the author of Tom’s Midnight Garden but the book of hers which I have chosen is A Dog So Small.

51q6sYI+YsL

Young Ben Blewitt is desperate for a dog. He’s picked out the biggest and best dogs from the books in the library – and he just knows he’s going to get one for his birthday. Ben is excited when the big day arrives, but he receives a picture of a dog instead of a real one! But the imagination can be a powerful thing, and when Ben puts his to work, his adventures really begin!

This is the story of a young boy who longs for a dog to be his friend. Ben is the middle child in his family of five. With two older sisters and two younger brothers, Ben doesn’t really fit in with either group and would love a dog to alleviate his loneliness. But, living in a small house in south London with six other people, it just isn’t possible. His only contact with dogs is when he visits his grandparents in the country. However, Ben’s hopes are raised when his grandfather hints that they may give him a dog for his birthday.

On the day, he is disappointed when only a picture of a tiny dog is delivered. However, after his initial disappointment, Ben becomes intrigued by the image of the tiny dog that his great-uncle brought back from Mexico. As he learns more and more about the chihuahua embroidered in the picture, his imagination begins to imbue the dog with life until it becomes more real to him than what surrounds him in real life. As Ben is consumed by his imaginary life, things in the real world take a terrible turn, but then finds sometimes dreams come true in unexpected ways.

The story really captures the power of a child’s dreams, and the disappointment that needs to be faced when the reality which manifests doesn’t match the fantasy. This author really understands the emotions of a child and is adept at expressing them on the page. When I was young and read this book. I could relate to what Ben was feeling and all the range of emotions he went through, and the book is still powerful even now when I went back to it. The way he feels loneliness and isolation in the midst of a big family, and the comfort and love animals can bring is a universal experience that many people share. The thing children want most is to be understood, and this book can make a child feel that way, which is a real skill in an author.

A very unique story that I can still see why I loved as a child.

You can buy a copy of A Dog So Small here.

About the Author

31sS4FPT9WL._SX450_

Philippa Pearce spent her childhood in Cambridgeshire and was the youngest of four children of a flour-miller. The village, the river, and the countryside in which she lived appear more or less plainly in Minnow on the Say and Tom’s Midnight Garden.

She later went on to study English and History at Cambridge University. She worked for the BBC as a scriptwriter and producer, and then in publishing as an editor. She wrote many books including the Modern Classic, Tom’s Midnight Garden, for which she won the Carnegie Medal. She was also awarded an OBE for services to Children’s Literature.

Sadly, Philippa died in 2006, at the age of 86.

A Little Book Problem banner

 

Desert Island Children’s Books: Bogwoppit by Ursula Moray Williams

childrens

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.

41MU3LsmLYL

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

download

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.

A Little Book Problem banner

Desert Island Children’s Books: Five Run Away Together by Enid Blyton

childrens

For my fifth choice of a childhood favourite novel to accompany me to my desert island, I’ve had to bring at least one book from my favourite series. I was addicted to Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series when I was young, reading them all multiple times, but it was the third book in the series, Five Run Away Together, that was my absolute favourite and the one I would snatch from a burning building.

518x5-qDrjL

Summer holidays again, at Kirrin Cottage – and the Five are together again! Could anything possibly be better? And when the children become aware of some mysterious signals from a boat at sea, excitement and curiosity descends! The children suspect it’s smugglers, but then they hear a child scream…

During Aunt Fanny and Uncle Quentin’s absence (following an unexpected illness), the children are left under supervision of the new cook—Mrs Stick and her son Edgar, and as a result of their spiteful and unpleasant ways, the five run away to Kirrin Island, and find themselves in the middle of a breath-taking adventure!

This is the first time I have revisited one of my Desert Island Books and haven’t loved it as much as I did when I first read it. I think this is probably a reflection of the fact that The Famous Five are a product of their time, and that time is long past. The world is unrecognisable from the one Enid Blyton was writing about, and the whole story just seems totally improbable. Plus, I’m now looking at these children through the eyes of a mother, who finds them insufferable, rather than a child who is envious of their adventures!

It was always a strange idea that four children aged mid-teens and under would be allowed to just disappear off for weeks on end, roaming the countryside, chasing criminals that have evaded the police with their wily ways, but prove no match for the fabulous Famous Five, and then the police fall over themselves in gratitude. What a self-satisfied and annoying bunch of ‘prigs’ they are, why did I love them so much that my copies are battered to death?

Well, because I never saw any of this when I was a pre-teen myself, I just envied the freedom and excitement and adventure. This book is the epitome of all that – the Five take off for their own private island, with a castle, a wreck and a cave, no one cares, and they foil a kidnapping so cleverly and smugly that I now just want to look them all in the dungeon in which they imprison Edgar and throw away the key. When I was 11, I desperately wanted to go and live in that cave with them for a week, eat sardines and drink ‘lashings of ginger beer’ (which I don’t think I’ve ever tasted to this day.)

I wonder why other books from my childhood have stood the test of time, despite being set in equally alien worlds to mine, and this one hasn’t. I am no longer surprised that my children can’t relate to these favourites from my childhood as they have others, I no longer can either. I’ll still hang on to them for sentimental reasons though, because no series fed in to my love of reading the way the Famous Five novels did, they are a major foundation stone of where I am today.

You can buy a copy of Five Run Away Together for yourself here.

About the Author

917QKMqiBlL._US230_

Enid Blyton is one of the most popular children’s authors of all time. Her books have sold over 500 million copies and have been translated into other languages more often than any other children’s author.

Enid Blyton adored writing for children. She wrote over 700 books and about 2,000 short stories. The Famous Five books, now 75 years old, are her most popular. She is also the author of other favourites including The Secret Seven, The Magic Faraway Tree, Malory Towers and Noddy.

Born in London in 1897, Enid lived much of her life in Buckinghamshire and loved dogs, gardening and the countryside. She was very knowledgeable about trees, flowers, birds and animals. Dorset – where some of the Famous Five’s adventures are set – was a favourite place of hers too.

Enid Blyton’s stories are read and loved by millions of children (and grown-ups) all over the world.

A Little Book Problem banner

Desert Island Children’s Books: Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

CHILDREN'S

Next up in my nostalgic romp through my favourite childhood books is one of three books that I used to take out repeatedly from Askern Library in my formative years. I had this book out on loan so often that I doubt any other child in the vicinity had chance to read it. The book is the marvellous Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers.

51laQzlmtVL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

When the Banks family advertise for a nanny, Mary Poppins and her talking umbrella appear out of the sky, ready to take the children on extraordinary adventures.

Mary Poppins is strict but fair, and soon Michael and Jane are whisked off to a funfair inside a pavement picture and on many more outings with their wonderful new nanny!

Needless to say, when at last ‘the wind changes’ and she flies away, the children are devastated. But the magic of Mary Poppins will stay with the Banks family forever.

I’m guessing many of you will only know Mary Poppins from the Disney movie and will not have read the original book by P. L. Travers. Whilst I do love the Disney version, Walt’s version of Mary Poppins is a lot more saccharine than the character originally written by Travers. Travers’ literary Mary Poppins is much sterner, much more acerbic and much more vain than the character portrayed by Julie Andrews on screen. One look from the paper version of Poppins and any child, or adult, would be quaking in their boots, and she was extremely quick to take offence. For some reason, this stronger, prickly, complicated character was much more appealing to me as a child, and now still as an adult, than the watered down version we see in the movie.

In addition, Disney appears to have picked out the less exciting escapades the children have than the other ones featured in the book, and taken poetic licence with them too. In the movie – and the blurb above – the children take a trip into a chalk picture and ride the carousel. In the movie, the horses then jump off the carousel and enter a horse race. In the book, only Mary Poppins and Bert jump into the picture, the horses stay firmly attached to the carousel and there are no penguins to be seen in this scene! When the children go to ‘Feed The Birds,’ they don’t bring down their father’s bank, and there is no dancing with sweeps across the London rooftops. I can understand why Disney picked the scenes he did to include, the story in the book is much less linear and does not really form a complete story arc for a movie, but for me, the encounter with Mrs Corry and her giant daughters, and the finale escapade in the nighttime zoo are much more interesting to read. I think my point is, if you think you know Mary Poppins from the movie, you don’t. The literary Mary Poppins is a horse of a different, and much more interesting, colour altogether.

What people also may not be aware of is that Mary Poppins is only the first book in a series. After her initial visit, Mary Poppins returns to the Banks household several times, always arriving by a different method, always taking the children on exciting adventures, before disappearing unexpectedly. I devoured all of the books in the series, and was fascinated by the way the author’s mind worked in coming up with the different stories. Want to take a romp through the constellations? Chat to statues? Find out what Noah’s descendants are up to now? All of these things are described by Travers in the subsequent Mary Poppins books and they are stories that have stayed with me through the years. Although I have not had time yet, I fully intend to revisit the remaining books in the series this year. If you want to know the real Mary Poppins and not the Disney version, you might like to pick them up too.

Mary Poppins is available in a number of different editions but you can buy this one here.

About the Author

download

Pamela Lyndon Travers OBE (born Helen Lyndon Goff; 9 August 1899 – 23 April 1996) was an Australian-British writer who spent most of her career in England.[1] She is best known for the Mary Poppins series of children’s books, which feature the magical nanny Mary Poppins.

Goff was born in Maryborough, Queensland, and grew up in the Australian bush before being sent to boarding school in Sydney. Her writing was first published when she was a teenager, and she also worked briefly as a professional Shakespearean actress. Upon immigrating to England at the age of 25, she took the name “Pamela Lyndon Travers” and adopted the pen name “P. L. Travers” in 1933 while writing the first of eight Mary Poppins books.

Travers travelled to New York City during World War II while working for the British Ministry of Information. At that time, Walt Disney contacted her about selling to Walt Disney Productions the rights for a film adaptation of Mary Poppins. After years of contact, which included visits to Travers at her home in London, Walt Disney did obtain the rights and the Mary Poppins film premiered in 1964.

A Little Book Problem banner

Guest Post: A piece by author Elizabeth Jade to mark Autism Awareness Month

mock-00037

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog, author Elizabeth Jade, who has written a piece to share with us to mark April as Autism Awareness Month.

I was born in North Yorkshire in 1998 and moved to Somerset when I was very young. I started school in 2002 and by the time I was 7, the kids were already bullying me; the teachers said I needed to pay more attention; and I would go home and relate what everyone had been doing in detail but hadn’t a clue what the lessons were about. I waited a term and a half for the teaching assistant I was told I needed, but never received it. By this stage, the stress from being at school was making me physically unwell and my parents decided to teach me at home.

I started writing when I was 14, around the time I started struggling with depression and anxiety. The ideas began flowing faster than I could get them onto paper, and I have boxes of ideas and bits of stories to prove it. I found myself so absorbed in writing that I had to be reminded to eat and sleep.

The inspiration for my stories could come from anywhere – a conversation, a photograph or even a YouTube clip. As a visual thinker, I like to work with a photograph of my character in front of me. It’s as if I can see their personality shining through. On one occasion, I was searching for an image of a dalmatian with a husky for a dalmatian story I was working on. But when I found an image I liked, it felt like the husky was telling me her story, so I wrote that instead, and my first husky/wolf story was born.

For a while, writing kept my mental health in check, but by my late teens I was struggling again and was referred to the children’s mental health team. While I found this an unpleasant experience, it was here the possibility of Aspergers was suggested, leading to my diagnosis when I was 18, around the time my first book was published. As anxiety and depression are often found alongside Aspergers, it’s difficult to say if they are related to my autism or the result of my struggles in school.

Initially, I think I was relieved to know there was a reason for the struggles I had experienced in my life. I had spent a long time trying to fit in and measure up to what behaviour was expected by society. I had spent years wondering what was the matter with me, why everything I did always seemed to be wrong, and if I would ever achieve anything with my life. While I was relieved that I wasn’t alone in experiencing these struggles, I resented the fact that the school’s Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator hadn’t spotted my Aspergers. My school life could have been much easier, and I may not have struggled so much with my mental health if I had received an earlier diagnosis and the support that goes with it. But I guess people weren’t really aware of the signs of this type of autism in girls when I was at school, compared to the level of awareness around the time I was diagnosed.

When I published the first book in my Akea series, I decided to take a gamble and include my autism and mental health diagnosis in both the author’s bio section and any newspaper articles about me. The reaction was better than I could have hoped for. Some people were encouraged because I had spoken about the struggle with my mental health, and one man stopped to thank me for mentioning it in a recent article in the local paper. Others were keen to accept that I had Aspergers and wanted to actively support me. I ended up supplying A5 display stands entitled ‘The Aspie Author’, to be placed next to my books in local bookshops. This turned out to be an effective way to be noticed as people often go into a book shop with a specific purchase in mind, and as a new author it’s easy to be overlooked. But people were drawn to the displays, read the information on them, and then picked up the book to read the blurb. People do seem to be a lot more understanding and supportive than they were while I was growing up.

thumbnail__20181005_162018

An example of a new level of acceptance in schools can be seen in Oldfield Park Junior School in Bath. Last September, they named their classes after literary figures. Some famous names like AA Milne and Dr Seuss were chosen. While other authors, such as Benjamin Zephaniah, were chosen because they had overcome challenges like dyslexia and would be positive examples for the children. As it happens, they also named a class after me. This came as a bit of a shock, and I still don’t know how they even heard about me.

Elizabeth Jade class

According to the teacher of ‘Elizabeth Jade’ class, she would have two autistic children in her class, two who were currently in the diagnosis phase, and one child with severe hearing loss. And I was chosen to be an inspiration to those in the class with additional challenges. They will also be reading my books and using them as a basis for classroom discussion on acceptance. I never imagined my books could be used as a basis for classroom discussions like that, but then I hadn’t realised my stories contained such important lessons until some of my readers pointed this out to me.

In ‘Akea – The Power of Destiny,’ Akea always felt different, even though she didn’t know why, and when she sees a lone wolf by the name of Kazakh, she understands that her true destiny lies beyond the relative safety of her sled dog family. Kazakh’s role is to help her discover her place in the world but doing so goes against the rules and norms of wolf society. Each obstacle that Akea overcomes makes her stronger and brings her closer to her goal, until she finally ends up fitting in where she physically stands out the most and is accepted by both the wolves and the family she left behind.

The themes of belonging, acceptance and overcoming obstacles were not something I had consciously included, it seems my own desire to be accepted and understood had indeed been woven into the story. Discovering this made me look more closely at the second Akea story I had written, and I discovered I had woven similar themes into this one too.

In ‘Akea – His Mother’s Son,’ Akea’s wolf-dog son, Salvador, is captured by humans and taken to a wildlife park where he is shunned as a ‘mongrel’ by the first wolf he meets there. On learning of a threat to his family (I won’t tell you how – that would spoil it) he must convince her and the other wolves to accept his leadership, escape with him, and return in time to save his pack. So, you have the same issues of acceptance and overcoming obstacles. But, of course, it’s not just Salvador that has to adjust to being separated from his family. Akea and the rest of the wolf pack must come to terms with the loss of Salvador. So, this second book has the addition of a dual narrative which allows the reader to see both sides of this experience of loss and change too.

While I liked the idea that learning about me and my books could be a source of encouragement to the children in EJ Class, I wanted to go a little further than that. So, I wrote to the class to personally encourage them to look for what makes each of them different, to celebrate that as a good thing, and to look for ways in which they could encourage and support one another. I was delighted to receive nearly thirty letters and pictures in reply. Sadly, the children have spent more time away from school than in it since September, and as things move forward, they may well need support with their own mental health. Hopefully, those previous words of wisdom will encourage them to look out for each other and speak up when they need support themselves.

April may be autism awareness month, but autism isn’t the only challenge, and awareness is not enough. There is a need for people not only to be aware of the unique individuals that make up this world, and not just to accept the things that make each of us different. We need to move beyond that and celebrate those differences. This applies to all forms of autism, disability, special needs, and so on – Everybody matters!

What an inspiring and heartfelt piece of writing, I am so grateful to have been able to share that with you all. My huge thanks to Elizabeth Jade for writing that for me.

Elizabeth is the author of two books in the Akea Wolf Stories series.

(Book 1) Akea – The Power of Destiny

Akea - The Power of Destiny (BK1)

 

Akea is born into a family of sled dogs and a life that follows a predictable path, but from the day she first sees the lone wolf, Kazakh, Akea knows her future lies beyond the safety of her home. Kazakh is well aware of Akea’s destiny and the pack laws he will break to help her reach it. Regardless of the challenges ahead, he must make sure this young husky will be ready, even if it means his life.

You can buy a copy of Akea: The Power of Destiny here.

(Book 2) Akea – His Mother’s Son

Akea - His Mother's Son (BK2)

Akea is no ordinary husky, and taking her place as Wolf Queen was just the first step in the journey set out for her by the Great Wolf. Akea’s world turns upside down when humans raid their home, scattering the pack and capturing her hybrid son. Salvador struggles to adjust to a life in captivity, quickly realising not everyone approves of his husky mother’s rise to Wolf Queen. And when the Great Wolf sends him warning dreams, Salvador discovers his true purpose for being there.

You can buy a copy of Akea: His Mother’s Son here.

About the Author

Elizabeth Jade

Elizabeth Jade was born in 1998 in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, England, but moved with her family to Wellington in Somerset when she was very young. Her early schooling did not go smoothly, and as a result, she was home-schooled from the age of seven. Her parents soon learned she had a unique slant on life and quickly abandoned attempts to follow the national curriculum in favour of child-led learning.

Elizabeth stumbled into writing at the age of fourteen when she began to suffer from anxiety and depression and quickly found her story ideas pouring out faster than she could get them onto paper. It wasn’t until the age of eighteen that she realised her struggles in school had been due to Aspergers Syndrome (an autistic spectrum disorder).

As an enthusiastic animal lover, Elizabeth volunteered first at the Conquest Riding Centre for the Disabled and then at St Giles Animal Rescue before moving on to the Cats Protection Homing and Information Centre. Her gifted way with the cats quickly earned her the title of ‘Cat Whisperer’ from the staff. Since she had always possessed such a way with animals, it was only natural for her story ideas to revolve around them.

Elizabeth’s personal experience as a young author with the challenges of autism, depression and anxiety, along with her writing theme of acceptance and overcoming obstacles, have led to her having a junior school class named after her.

Connect with Elizabeth:

Website: https://elizabethjade.org/

Facebook: Akea Wolf Stories

Twitter: @AkeaWolfStories

Instagram: @akeawolfstories.author

Pinterest: Akea Wolf Stories

YouTube: Elizabeth Jade

A Little Book Problem banner

 

Desert Island Children’s Books: Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

CHILDREN'S

It’s time for March’s Desert Island Children’s Book and I can see a theme forming in my last three choices. I was obviously obsessed with reading about the lives of other young girls living in other times during my own formative years. This time we have come forward in time and closer to home to read about the three Fossil sisters living in London in the first half of the twentieth century. I am talking about Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild.

download

Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil are sisters – with a difference. All three were adopted as babies by Great Uncle Matthew, an eccentric and rich explorer who then disappeared, leaving them in the care of his niece Sylvia.

The girls grow up in comfort until their money begins to run out and nobody can find Great Uncle Matthew. Things look bleak until they hit on an inspired idea: Pauline, Petrova and Posy will take to the stage.

But it’s not long before the Fossils learn that being a star isn’t as easy as they first thought…

I was never a particularly girly girl growing up. I did have ballet lessons for a while, but it was never a passion for me, so a book about three girls who attend a stage school wouldn’t be the first book you would have picked out for me to fall in love with. I was much more of a tomboy like Jo March or Kate Carr, so I could relate to them much better. But Ballet Shoes is no ordinary book about girls who love to dance, and the Fossils are no ordinary sisters and I absolutely adored this story.

The three Fossil sisters, Pauline, Petrova and Posy are not really sisters at all, they were all rescued by an eccentric explorer on his travels, brought home to London at different times and put in the care of his great-niece in a rambling house on the Cromwell Road (at the very furthest end from the museums of South Ken!) to form their own little, ragtag family. Great Uncle Matthew (or GUM as they refer to him) then disappears for a decade, leaving the family is worsening financial straits, until they are forced to take in lodgers to help make ends meet, and the girls are taken in as charity cases at the local stage school until they are old enough to start making money on the stage (which can happen from the age of 12!), whether they like it (Pauline) or not (Petrova, my personal heroine).

This is what makes this book so marvellous. The eclectic group of people who come to live in their home and help them out (the retired teachers who help educate them, the dance teacher who gets them into the school, Mr Simpson who takes tomboy Petrova under his wing, Nana who is always there with words of wisdom or scoldings to keep their feet on the ground.) It is such an interesting sounding life, full of fun and challenge, that I defy any child not to wish they could be one of the sisters, even for a short while.

Every single aspect of the book charmed me. The descriptions of the plays they auditioned for, their simple holidays, the ‘beavers’ prepared by the two teachers (you’ll have to read it to find out what these are), Pauline’s diva-like behaviour when playing Alice, Posy’s impressions, the vows, the costumes, the descriptions of auditions for the movies, applying for licenses to work. It was all exotic and fascinating and such a world away from what being a child was like for me – it has the truly transportive qualities of all appealing literature, as well as being relatable enough for a child. The fact that this book has remained so popular throughout the years means I was not alone in feeling this way about it.

Having just re-read my extremely battered copy of Ballet Shoes for the purposes of writing this post, I can say that I enjoyed it now as much as I did back then. It has lost none of its appeal for me over the years, and I am still as much in love with the Fossils as I love back then. At the very end of the book, the author wonders which of the girls the reader wishes they could be. My answer remains the same now as it was back then. Petrova every day of the week, but especially on Sunday.

Ballet Shoes is available now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

download-1

Noel Streatfeild was born in Sussex in 1895. Her father, a clergyman, was vicar of St Leonard’s-on-Sea and then of Eastbourne during her childhood. She was one of five children and found vicarage life very restricting. At a young age she began to show a talent for acting and was sent to the Academy of Dramatic Art in London, after which she acted professionally for a number of years before turning to writing. The author of over 80 books, she won the Carnegie Medal for her book Ballet Shoes and was awarded an OBE in 1983. Noel Streatfeild died in 1986.

A Little Book Problem banner

 

Desert Island Children’s Books: What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge

CHILDREN'S

It’s time for my second pick of books I loved as a child and would want to take with me to a desert island for repeated readings. This month my chosen book is What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge.

41JLcb2r8IL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_

Katy has grand plans to be beautiful, graceful and ladylike … one day! But for now she has hair that is always tangled, bootlaces undone, a torn dress and she doesn’t care about being ‘good’.

With a wild imagination and high spirits, she is always up to mischief, but there never has been a heroine as lovable as Katy. Then a terrible accident happens and it takes all her courage – and hard-learned patience – to keep her dreams alive.

Next to Jo March from Little Women, Katy Carr was my favourite heroine growing up. A messy tomboy, she had a vivid imagination which she used to create stories and games for her gaggle of younger siblings, who all run riot over the Carr home and garden, much to the exasperation of prim Aunt Izzie.

I absolutely loved Katy and the Carr children, and was fascinated by their life and games. I wished we had a spiked pole to climb to a hidden den in the loft (although I didn’t think their special drink of ‘weak vinegar and water’ sounded like much of a treat!), and amazing swing that soared to the rafters of the woodshed, and a beautiful, woodland ‘Paradise’ to explore. It all sounded so idyllic.

Of course, Katy then has a terrible accident and is confined to bed which, for an active teenager, is torture and she has to learn hard lessons of patience and forbearance. But, with the guidance of saintly Cousin Helen, she soon becomes good and wise and a confidante and role model for all her siblings. This is the part of the book where it gets a bit preachy, in the same way that Little Women does, with lots of morals about being good and allowing God to guide you and virtue will be rewarded. This is no surprise, as Susan Coolidge wrote What Katy Did only a few years after the success of Little Women and at the request of her publisher, who was hoping to emulate that success. These were themes that were popular in Victorian children’s literature, which would grate with youngsters today, but did not remotely put me off as a child.

Going back to read this now, I can still see why I loved it so much when I was younger. I still enjoyed all the parts that were my favourites as a young girl – the picnics, the games, the Christmas presents (I still covet Elsie’s writing desk), the Valentines cards, the food and drink. All of these things would delight any child. My Macmillan Collector’s Library edition contains an introduction by Jacqueline Wilson, who was also a fan of the book and has written a modern retelling of the story called simply, KatyI agree with most of what she says about What Katy Did in her opening chapter, except that she lost interest in Katy when she started to grow up. I didn’t. I loved the sequels, What Katy Did At School and What Katy Did Next just as much as the first book.

I haven’t managed to persuade either of my daughters to embrace Katy as I did, even in the modern retelling by Jacqueline Wilson, and even though my eldest daughter is name Katie, a moniker I have loved since first reading these books. I think I can understand why, the world has moved on too far since then, but I love her still and plan on reading the sequels as well some time this year.

You can buy a copy of What Katy Did here.

About the Author

220px-Susan_Coolidge._001

Sarah Chauncey Woolsey (January 29, 1835 – April 9, 1905) was an American children’s author who wrote under the pen name Susan Coolidge.

Woolsey was born on January 29, 1835 into the wealthy, influential New England Dwight family, in Cleveland, Ohio. Her father was John Mumford Woolsey (1796–1870) and her mother Jane Andrews, and author and poet Gamel Woolsey was her niece. She spent much of her childhood in New Haven Connecticut after her family moved there in 1852.[1]

Woolsey worked as a nurse during the American Civil War (1861–1865), after which she started to write. She never married, and resided at her family home in Newport, Rhode Island, until her death. She edited The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mrs. Delaney (1879) and The Diary and Letters of Frances Burney (1880).

She is best known for her classic children’s novel What Katy Did (1872). The fictional Carr family was modelled after her own, with Katy Carr inspired by Woolsey herself. The brothers and sisters were modelled on her four younger siblings

A Little Book Problem banner