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One From the Archive: ‘The Bucket: Memories of an Inattentive Childhood’ by Allan Ahlberg ****

From ‘The Bucket’

I couldn’t wait to read The Bucket: Memories of an Inattentive Childhood after I spotted three copies in Waterstone’s Piccadilly.  I was fully set to purchase one until I noticed that they were so grubby and bent that I didn’t in the end.  Instead, I checked a copy out of the Cambridge Central Library on a trip there in April.

As I am sure they did with many children, Allan and Janet Ahlberg formed a large part of my early bookishness.  When I saw that Allan had written an autobiography of sorts therefore, I was so very excited.  He is the author of such treasures as Each Peach Pear Plum, Peepo! and Burglar Bill, as well as Please Mrs Butler! and the stunningly adorable The Jolly Postman and The Jolly Christmas Postman, all of which I adore.  The work also begins with a quote from William Maxwell, another author whom I love. 

The Bucket is Ahlberg’s recollection of his childhood, a memoir told in both prose and verse.  It details his ‘early enchanted childhod [which was] lived out in a Black Country town in the 1940s’.  His little introduction to the volume is darling.

Each memory which he presents is vivid; he writes of such things as sheltering beneath the kitchen table during bomb raids, of the butcher who dealt ‘in meat and menace’, searching for worms to sell on to fisherman in compost heaps, playing games beneath the clothes horse, his Christmas presents being presented to him in a pillowcase, reminiscences of going to the barber’s, and childhood pageants which he attended.  Each memory is presented as a random fragment, and each little essay is interspersed with a poem.  Ahlberg writes so earnestly.  His prose is lovely, and it continually feels as though he is personally telling each of his readers each story.  The retrospective wisdom which he has made use of works wonderfully.

The book, as one might expect, is filled with the most wonderful illustrations by Janet and Allan Ahlberg and their daughter Jessica, and it also features photographs, photocopies of school reports and documents.  The Bucket is absolutely lovely, and it has made me want to go and revisit all of the Ahlbergs’ work once more.  (Incidentally, I met up with one of my University friends in early April and we read Each Peach Pear Plum together in Waterstone’s, which was great fun!).  Any fan of Allan Ahlberg’s should rush out and purchase (or borrow!) this book, curl up in a comfortable place and enjoy its charm.

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‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett *****

This review was first published in 2013, but after recently dipping back into the novel, all fangirling about it still stands.

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Colin, Mary and Dickon in the 1993 film version

There are many tales from my childhood which I absolutely adore (The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Madeline, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc.), but The Secret Garden is my absolute favourite.  I watched the VHS of the 1993 film so often when I was younger that I managed to wear it out.

The story in The Secret Garden is lovely.  On the surface of it, the plot seems rather simple – a young girl is sent to England after the death of her parents during a cholera epidemic, and is forced to stay in the middle of nowhere (rural Yorkshire, to be precise) with a mysterious uncle whom she does not know.  At first Mary Lennox, the young girl in question, is lonely, but her inherent stubbornness allows her to make the best of her situation.  Those who persevere with her – the kindly maid Martha, for example – alter her personality, and she begins to care about those around her in consequence.  Mary finds out about a secret walled garden which belonged to her aunt, and which has been shut up since her death.  She vows to resurrect it with the help of kindly Martha’s lovely brother, Dickon.

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‘The Secret Garden’ Penguin Threads edition

What complexities there are creep into the plot almost immediately.  Hodgson Burnett weaves ever such a lot of different details into the story – life in colonial India, disparities between different societies around the world, cholera, disability, death, suffering, the bleakness of surroundings, loneliness, the building of relationships and an appreciation of the natural world.  I absolutely adore all of the characters in their own ways.  Mary is headstrong – amusingly so at times – and her determination is often rather inspiring.  Mrs Medlock is nowhere near as awful as the film makes her out to be (Maggie Smith’s portrayal of her did used to frighten me a little, I admit), and she does have compassion for her charge.  Colin, despite his petulant nature and obsession with having a lump on his back like his father’s, is rather adorable.

I adore Hodgson Burnett’s writing style.  With it, she has crafted a beautiful and memorable tale which gets better with every read, and she has introduced me to some of the finest literary characters I could ever hope to meet.  The Secret Garden is an utterly enchanting novel, and the story and its characters will always have a place within my heart.  I love the way in which they grow and develop as the story progresses, and their interactions with one another have been portrayed so well.  A truly heartwarming tale, and a perfect summery read.

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Favourite Books from my Childhood: Four

The concluding part of my childhood’s favourite books.

‘Whatever Next!’ by Jill Murphy

Whatever Next! by Jill Murphy
The Large Family series by Jill Murphy
The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy
Bedknobs and Broomsticks by Mary Norton
The Borrowers series by Mary Norton
The Tom and Pippo series by Helen Oxenbury
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
All of Beatrix Potter‘s Tales

‘Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’ by Beatrix Potter

The Mrs Pepperpot stories by Alf Proysen
Witch Child by Celia Rees
You Can’t Catch Me! by Michael Rosen
Poems for the Very Young by Michael Rosen
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen
Much of Doctor Seuss’ work
Learn with Elephant by Ted Smart – I insisted that this was read to me every single morning when I was tiny, and I would apparently make my parents start from the beginning again if they tried to miss out pages.  I liked to ‘count the bees’.
Many of Vera Southgate‘s fairytale retellings

‘Owl Babies’ by Martin Waddell

Winnie the Witch by Valerie Thomas
Owl Babies by Martin Waddell
All of Jacqueline Wilson‘s books

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Favourite Books from my Childhood: Three

Following on from my first and second instalments of my favourite childhood books, I bring you an enormous list.  Rather than add the same gushing comments to each and every book here, I have decided to make a beautifully illustrated list which encompasses more of my favourites.

‘The Minpins’ by Roald Dahl

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, or What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll
Five Minute Bunny Tales
by various authors
Revolting Rhymes, The Witches, The Twits, Matilda, The BFG, The Minpins and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
The Magic Roundabout by Serge Danot

‘My Naughty Little Sister’ by Dorothy Edwards

My Naughty Little Sister series by Dorothy Edwards
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Dolls’ House by Rumer Godden
Complete Fairytales by the Brothers Grimm
The Mr Men and Little Miss books by Roger Hargreaves
Where’s Spot? by Eric Hargreaves
The Old Bear and Friends series by Jane Hissey
The Kipper series by Mick Inkpen
The Teddy Bears’ Picnic by Jimmy Kennedy
The Mog and Meg series by Judith Kerr
The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ by Judith Kerr

The Sophie series by Dick King-Smith
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
The Pippi Longstocking series by Astrid Lindgren
Mouse Tales by Arnold Lobel
The Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel
Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

‘Little Bear’ by Else Holmelund Minarik

Kirsty Knows Best by Annalena McAfee
The Elmer series by David McKee
The Winnie-the-Pooh series by A.A. Milne
Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik
Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo

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Favourite Books from my Childhood: Two

Following on from my first childhood favourites post, here are some more of the treasured books which I adored when I was small.

Noddy

Noddy by Enid Blyton – Even my younger sister, who categorically does not read, enjoyed these books when she was little, so that says a lot about how adorable they are.  The cartoon was a favourite of ours.  There are many books in the series, and I am sure that they are likely to charm adults just as much as children.

The Magic Faraway Tree, Up the Faraway Tree and The Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton – It goes without saying that these books are absolutely delightful.  The pleasure and peril within the tales has been wonderfully balanced, and I still absolutely love them now.  The same goes for Blyton’s marvellous Wishing Chair stories.  All of the books are filled with the most wonderful characters which a child could hope to meet.  Favourites of mine are the lovely Silky and the marvellously grumpy Moon Face.

The Famous Five and Secret Seven series by Enid Blyton – Filled with adventure.  A lot of my copies of the Famous Five date from the 1930s and 1940s, and I have had the greatest fun of late re-reading the lovely Secret Seven boxset of books which I received for Christmas.

Paddington Bear

Paddington Bear by Michael Bond – Paddington, that marmalade-loving, macintosh-wearing ball of fluff, is one of the most charming bears in literature.  He is always off having adventures, and each story in the series is written to be treasured.  I don’t think I will ever grow up when there is children’s literature like this in the world.

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs – So delightful, and a story which I happily revisit every Christmas Eve.

Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley – I was always enchanted by little Millicent-Margaret-Amanda (you can see why she has a nickname, can’t you?) when I was little, and I loved reading about the lovely things she did in her little village.

Babar

Babar by Jean de Brunhoff – My Mum loves these stories just as much as I do.  Babar is the loveliest of elephants, and his family is absolutely adorable.  The illustrations and tales which de Brunhoff has created are an utter delight.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – This is one of the first films which I ever remember watching, and it has remained my favourite ever since.  I think I have read this book about a dozen times already, and I still find it absolutely enchanting.  You can find my full Secret Garden review here.

Hushabye by John Burningham – I was a little too old for this book when I read it, but I did so to a baby cousin of mine, and was absolutely charmed by the simple, lullaby-esque story and the beautiful watercolour illustrations.  I did love Burningham’s work when I was little myself, and he was lovely to revisit when I was a little older.

Percy the Park Keeper by Nick Butterworth – I absolutely loved these tales and the accompanying cartoon.  A particular favourite of mine was One Snowy Night.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle – To say that I was obsessed with this book when I was small is not an understatement.  I absolutely loved it, and now, quite a few years on, I own a lovely Hungry Caterpillar mug and set of badges.

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Favourite Books from my Childhood: One

I thought that it would be a good idea to create a blog post about all of the books which I adored as a child, and naturally, there are many of them.  I have used my Library spreadsheet (a big list of all of the books which I’ve read during my lifetime) as inspiration.

Topsy and Tim

The Big Surprise (Topsy and Tim #2) by Jean Adamson – I used to read the Topsy and Tim books religiously when I was in infant school, and they were the first books I got to when I moved myself up a reading group, much to my parents’ amusement.  In my infant school library, we had a series of wooden boxes on legs, and each of them was painted in a different colour.  The books within each had a corresponding coloured sticker upon their spine.  When I had made my way through the colour which I had been assigned, I would move myself up so that I had more books at my disposal.  I think, in this way, that I reached the books for the most advanced readers when I was still in the middle of Year One.  I also learnt recently that Jean Adamson is a relatively local author to me, and I would have found such a fact terribly exciting when I was younger.  Topsy and Tim is a lovely series of books, and this was my particular favourite.

Funnybones

Funnybones by Allan Ahlberg – This book had an accompanying cartoon, which I am sure that many people of my age still remember the opening rhyme to.  The concept was quite simple: in a dark, dark town, in a dark, dark street, in a dark, dark house, in a dark, dark cellar, lived three skeletons – Big Skeleton, Little Skeleton, and their dog.  Each story featuring the trio was so fun, and I loved the illustrations.  Even though the very idea of living skeletons who enjoy playing tricks on people seems a little odd to me as an adult, something about it really worked, and for this reason, Funnybones and the rest of the books in the series will definitely be read (and the cartoon shown) to my future children, who will hopefully find it as amusing and memorable as I still do.

The Bear Nobody Wanted by Janet and Allan Ahlberg – Janet and Allan Ahlberg were my literary heroes when I was small, and I loved reading all of their books.  The Bear Nobody Wanted is one which remains vivid in my mind.  The story begins as a sad one, but it has a delightful ending, and it certainly made me treasure my soft toys all the more. 

‘The Jolly Postman’

The Jolly Postman, or Other People’s Letters, The Jolly Pocket Postman and The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg – I still remember these books with such fondness.  Each had a plethora of small envelopes inside, in which there were tiny letters which the Jolly Postman was delivering all around town.  I am certain that the stories would still absolutely delight me as an adult, and I am very excited about the possible prospect of re-reading them far into the future.

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg – Definitely one of the most adorable simple picture books that there is.  I vividly remember reading it over and over again before I could even read its words.

Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen – I still absolutely adore these tales, and was lucky enough to drag my boyfriend around the Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Copenhagen last year.  I cannot pick a favourite story as I did love so many of them, but as it is still essentially wintertime, I shall say that ‘The Snow Queen’, and its beautiful television adaptations, is at the very pinnacle of my treasures list.

‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch’ by Ronda Armitage

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda and David Armitage – Such an absolutely charming book, which I remember adoring.  I found out last year that there is an entire series of these books, and am hoping that my library has them all in stock so that I can joyfully discover the Lighthouse Keeper all over again.

The Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker – It goes without saying that I absolutely adored these books.  Which little girl didn’t?  I would happily gaze at the illustrations for hours, and read the lovely accompanying rhymes.

Brambly Hedge

The Complete Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem – Surely the most adorable series of books, Brambly Hedge centered around a group of woodland creatures who wore the most adorable clothing, and were real characters in themselves.  I am longing to rediscover these lovely tales once more.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – Quite honestly, I could gush about this charming book for hours.  If you haven’t read it before, please, go and do so.  It is beautiful, magical and filled with adventure – for me, the very cornerstones of marvellous children’s literature.

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans – Everyone who knows me tends to know how much I absolutely adore the Madeline books, and Madeline herself as a character.  These tales are all told in rhyme, and centre upon a children’s orphanage in Paris, in which Madeline lives with eleven other little girls and their guardian, Miss Clavel.  Bemelmans’ illustrations are utterly charming, and he effortlessly captures the excitement and adventure which his little heroine encounters along the way.

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Childhood Favourites: Extras

I thought that giving myself thirty choices for books which shaped my reading as a child would be plenty, but there were so many which I couldn’t squeeze onto the list that I felt they deserved a post of their own.  The following are books which I adored as a child (and as an adult!), and ones which I feel that any child will love.

Funnybones by Allan Ahlberg
Burglar Bill by Janet Ahlberg
Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J.M. Barrie
My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards
Meg and Mog by Helen Nicholl
Hairy Maclary by Lynley Dodd
Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell
Dogger by Shirley Hughes
Peace at Last by Jill Murphy
Slinky Malinki by Lynley Dodd
One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth
Adventures of the Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton
Percy the Park Keeper by Nick Butterworth
Owl Babies by Martin Waddell
Kirsty Knows Best by Annalena McAfee
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Five Minutes’ Peace by Jill Murphy
The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson
Double Act by Jacqueline Wilson

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Sunday Snapshot: Childhood Favourites (#5-#1)

The final part of my childhood favourites countdown is here at last.  Below are five books which had a profound impact on me as a child, causing me to be incredibly bookish far into my adulthood.  I feel that no explanation is needed for the following.  They are merely sumptuous stories set at different times and in different places, with enchanting and wonderful characters, which I absolutely adore.

5. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

4. Bedknobs and Broomsticks by Mary Norton

3. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

2. Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

1. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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Sunday Snapshot: Childhood Favourites (#20-#16)

20. Witch Child by Celia Rees
I have always been fascinated by witchcraft and historical fiction, and this is the first book which fits both genres which I adored.  I’ve not picked this book up for years, but I remember it being so vivid and evocative of place, and rather touching too.

19. Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo
I first read this aloud to the entirety of my Year 6 class in junior school, and adored it from the first.  I read it again during my work experience placement, which was, funnily enough, spent with a Year 6 class.  I recently came across the book for the third time, and was so pleased to discover that it is just as good now as it ever was.

18. Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley
Lovely, quaint and old fashioned.

17. The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda Armitage
Absolutely lovely, and the illustrations are perfect.  I recently found out that there are several books in this series, which I can’t wait to read.

16. The Twits by Roald Dahl
This entire list could become overrun by Dahl books, I’m sure, but this is one of my very favourites.  The story is inventive, amusing and very memorable, and I loved it as a child.

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Sunday Snapshot: Childhood Favourites (#25-#21)

25. Madeline in London by Ludwig Bemelmans
There is something wonderful in the thought that a nun could suddenly up and take the twelve little girls in her charge on a trip from Paris to London to visit their lonely next door neighbour who has been forced to move by his Ambassador father.  This story is charming, funny and just absolutely lovely.

24. The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy
Oh, this book is just utterly lovely.  Mildred is a wonderful and vivid character and her adventures are both amusing and exciting.  I found myself inwardly cheering when she saved the day and can’t wait to read the rest of the series.  A wonderful piece of nostalgia.

23. Sophie Hits Six by Dick King Smith
I remember reading all of the Sophie stories when I was little, and they’re just enchanting.  The stories are so cute and Sophie is a wonderful character.  A great book.

22. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
<i>James and the Giant Peach</i> is an absolutely magical and enchanting tale from one of the world’s best storytellers.  It is as wonderful reading it at the age of, say, 22 as it was at the age of 6.

21. The Suitcase Kid by Jacqueline Wilson
I lost count of the number of times I read this book as a child.  It is incredibly sad on the whole, and deals with a young girl struggling after her parents split up, but the characters are all marvellous, and it is written so sensitively.