Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Everything I need to know I learned from a Children's book by Anita Silvey

I have enormous respect for Anita Silvey ever since I found her Book-a-day almanac.  Recently a friend found this book - Everything I need to know I learned form a children's book - in a second hand store and he very kindly bought it for me.

Even though many of the 'notable people from all walks of life' were unfamiliar to me I thoroughly enjoyed reading each personal and heart-felt memory of a loved children's book.

Anita says in her introduction you "can read (this book) straight through, it is also ideal for browsing." I have done both and the book lists at the end by age and subject are also very useful.

In this book Anita talked with 110 significant people from science, politics, sport and the arts. You can read more details in this review. Here are a few names and their books  I have listed the people or books which are familiar to me and included links to pages in this blog.

Katherine Paterson - The Secret Garden
Gail Carson Levine - Peter Pan
Karen Hesse - Horton Hatches the Egg
Linda Sue Park - The Saturdays
Jim Trelease - The call of the wild
Judy Blume - Madeline
Nick Clark - My Father's Dragon
Barbara Elleman - Strega Nona
Maurice Sendak and Chris Van Allsburg - Harold and the purple crayon
Eden Ross Lipson - Little House on the Prairie
Marc Brown - Where the wild things are
Jon Scieszka - Go, dog, go!
Kathy Bates - Impunity Jane
Anita Silvey - The tale of Squirrel Nutkin
Louis Sachar - Charlotte's Web
Peter Sis - The little Prince
Ann M Martin - Roll of Thunder hear my cry
Lucy Mangan - Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

All of this made me think which book would I choose and in just one blink I thought about Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden.  I sat down last night to read this treasured book all over again and I emerged one hour later totally satisfied and so if Anita Silvey had asked me about the book I remembered from childhood it would be this one.

Thinking about the main question everything I need to know I learned from a children's book.  Miss Happiness and Miss Flower showed me the power of team work, the importance of problem solving, the happiness that comes from kindness, the need for self forgiveness and even a solution to loneliness.

Loneliness - little Nona has arrived in England having spent her whole life in India.  She is just like Mary in The Secret Garden.  Nona is unable to understand her new life, she does not recognise the kindness offered by her new family and her refuge comes from hiding away from everyone and reading her books.  Gradually Nona reaches out to the family and she gradually finds her voice and forms relationships with each person in the house.

Problem Solving and team work - Nona and Belinda are sent two Japanese dolls.  Nona can see they need a proper Japanese house.  She is terrified to venture out alone but she visits a nearby bookshop and the owner (who is not really as fierce as he looks) lends her books about Japanese houses, culture, gardens and ceremonies.  Nona now needs to enlist the help of Tom, the oldest boy in the family, and others to build the perfect house and add comfortable furnishings.

One of my favourite scenes is when she is given the perfect fabric to use :

Melly's mum makes hats.  She gives a bundle to Nona "wrapped in a piece of soft paper. Inside were scraps and pieces and snippets of silks, satin and taffeta in pink and scarlet, blue and lemon colour, white, green, purple and mauve."

The need for self forgiveness - Belinda, the youngest child, rages with jealousy over the attention the family are giving to Nona. In a final moment of fury she snatches back 'her doll' ruining the very special day when the dolls were to move into their beautiful new dolls house. That night Belinda cannot sleep.  "As the tears soaked into Belinda's pillow the hard angry feeling seemed to melt away ... "  Belinda reunites Miss Flower and Miss Happiness and in the morning everything is forgiven and better still Belinda and Nona can now move forward as friends.

Happiness from Kindness - Nona is so very kind to Miss Happiness and Miss Flower.  She handles them gently, she includes them in all the decisons about the house plans and she even provides them with a special meal.  As she performs each of these actions her sadness lifts and her confidence grows.  Nona is able to talk to  Mr Twilfit the bookseller, her teacher Miss Lane and the little girl who sits beside her at school called Melly.

I loved the inclusion of very detailed plans in the back of this book.  The whole idea of dolls houses has long intrigued me especially those with electric lights which Tom installs for the dolls.  The beautiful textiles and the little bonsai garden are also memories to treasure.

After reading Miss Happiness and Miss Flower when I was very young - it was a generous gift from a family friend - I then wanted to read about Little Plum of course but I also sought out other books by Rumer Godden. So you can see reading this book introduced me to the idea of following an author at a very early age, gave me a little book character to admire in Nona, a fascination with all things Japanese and started my love of dolls houses.

There is a Rumer Godden book in Everything I need to know - it is Impunity Jane which I will confess I have not read but I will seek it out now.

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower comes with several covers.  Not sure I like them as much as the original and I do wonder if the magic of the illustrations is conveyed by each of these illustrators.

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