Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Bits from Books

Generally when I do my "bits from books" posts I concentrate on my homemaking books, but today I thought you might like a change and look at some vintage children's literature. Both the DH, myself and our eldest girl love to collect children's books: the DH likes the Andrew Lang fairy books; our eldest spends her birthday money on first editions Famous Fives and Malory Towers; and, well, the little one just likes to look at the pictures in pretty much any book! Other than the DH's Andrew Lang books (what can I say? he's a man of taste and discernment) we pick up these books for less than a fiver. My eldest has found one or two vintage Blytons for pennies, which is great for her as they often cost her quite a bit when she buys from eBay. Anyway, I digress. Here are just a few choice morsels from the family bookshelf! First up, is Enid Blyton's Book of the Year. It's a War Economy book, and published at a time when children's books were rare and quite expensive. War Economy books often have monochrome covers, black and white illustrations and poor-ish paper quality, but nevertheless they're often really great in content, and like all vintage things offer us a precious insight into a world gone by. The book is a fun mixture of nature notes, plays to perform, short stories, non-fiction and poetry. It's aimed at a readership of 10-12 year olds. Here's an extract.
Three Mottos for the New Year
Choose one of them, print it and colour it.
1. "Many men can do a wise thing; many more can do a cunning thing; but very few can do a generous thing."
(We'll be one of the few then, boys and girls!)
2. "'Tis a lucky day, boy, and we'll do good deeds on it!"
(We'll call every day lucky, shall we!)
3. Do all the good you can,
To all the people you can,
In all the ways you can,
As long as ever you can!
(We shall be kept busy if we choose this motto, shan't we!)
It's easy to dismiss this stuff as prissy moralising, just the kind of thing children are not interested in. However, I believe that children have an immense capacity, and need, to do good and be good. They find the shaping of their character to be an exciting and interesting thing. We let them down by by framing their moral teaching in relativistic terms, something to be discussed and analysed rather than taught, this kind of morality comes for later years. Let's just teach them what is right and what is wrong, and allow them the pleasure of consistency and routine in their complex little lives.
Next up, is Warne's Picture and Reading Book. Those amongst you who are wed to the synthetic phonics way of teaching reading, would get a real kick out of this. The illustrations are wonderful and so "of their time" that it makes you want to long for those between the wars years of ponies, tea parties, berry picking...and rickets! The reading primers, however, are a little disconcerting to this modern mummy: all nonsense words and cvc rhyming. I tried it out with Freya (my youngest) who rather likes Kipper and Biff, but she was bored stupid by this book and wondered why the story didn't go with the pictures. But oh, what pictures!

Here's one for the boys. Oh, what larks you chaps had at school, it makes one rather jealous! Quite frankly this book is so packed full of testosterone that it's actually growing stubble. It's a budget book, so the illustrations are black and white, but the stories are spiffy. Here's an extract from Pulling his Leg! by Capt. F.V. Hughes-Hallett, D.S.O...it seems to me that young boys of the 1920s were obsessed with having adventures in Canada...oh, Canada!

Somehow I think that hook of yours must have got jammed in the bear's jaw! But the was certainly having a rare game with me, and if I had taken much longer to make myself intelligible to you in my frenzy, goodness knows what the end of this here child would have been!

And, finally, let's leave the best until last. The Mystery of Coveside House, is a treasure of a book. Filled with the kind of sun-kissed, athletic girls John Betjeman would've gone nuts over, and steady, brave young men who made the Empire great. In it, Daphne and her friends Anthea, Bob, Mary and Tony investigate aforementioned mysterious happenings with youthful vigour and without any sense of irony! Fabulous. Here are the opening lines.

"Anthea" said Daphne, as they walked home from school together. "If you're not doing anything tonight would you come down and help me with that beastly trig? We'll go for a bathe afterwards," She added as an inducement.

The fact that poor old Daphne has to wrestle with that beastly trig, puts this book firmly in the post-war era, when girls' schooling began to resemble the more universal education of boys; hard maths and games being taught alongside French and dainty sewing. I think we forget too easily the advances we've made in eduction over the past one hundred years in Britain. We should thank our lucky stars for this gift. Really we should.

Well I hoped you enjoyed this peek into the family collection. It was nice to share it all with you.
Anon, bookish huswives, anon!
NB: I have edited this post and corrected my errors. Note to self, must proof read!


Anonymous said...

By George that beastly trig! Too beastly for words. Jolly hockeysticks girls!

I love the old Enid Blyton books. I so wanted to go to boarding school like those Malory Towers or St Clares' girls. Oh to have a midnight feast!

And I loved the Mystery books too, Mystery of Dodgy Castle or some such like titles. :)

Ahhh, innocence of youth. So much more wholesome than my most recent reads...Stepford Wives and The Rise and Fall of a Yummy Mummy. I wonder if Chatterbox is ready for Malory Towers yet? Hmmm, my Mum's been saving them up in her closet.

Hugs chuck! xxx

monix said...

What a lovely lot of books - some I remember from my own post-war childhood. I always wanted to have midnight feasts, too, and to have friends called Lettice and Petunia, who did daring things to save the school.

I feel, like you, that children have a great capacity to be and do good. They need simple distinctions between right and wrong and the opportunity to do something practical for others. I'm always amazed at how they respond to appeals in school, church or on Blue Peter.

Niki RuralWritings said...

Must confess to never having read Enid Blyton (gasp!) but I will work to correct that and I did enjoy your post very much!

Sarah said...

Love that Enid Blyton book.

Left-Handed Housewife said...

Thanks for sharing the books--they make me nostalgic for a youth I never had in a country I've never lived in. I believe I shall go watch "Howard's End" or some such.

I agree with you about children and morality, and I think there's something to the plainspoken admonitions to do the right thing and try hard and be generous, etc. Nowadays we're too sophisticated and ironic, too "aware" to dupe our children into goodness. I say, dupe away!


Angela said...

Wonderful stuff! Thanks for sharing - brought back lots of memories.

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Sarah
My resident Blyton fan enjoys the "mystery" books too. I read "The Stepford Wives" years ago and just couldn't get into it...as for the "Yummy Mummy" book, the only thing yummy about this mummy are the cakes I bake!

Hi Monix
The longing for midnight feasts continues with the current batch of Blyton enthusiasts. My eldest went on a resedential trip just recently with a suitcase full of treats...as did her roomates...when she arrived home she fell asleep at 6 o'clcok in the evening!

Hi Niki
If you ever get a grandaughter, I'll send you a few for her to read as she grows up, I promise.

Hi Sarah
I knew you'd like it! It's a pity you can't come and peruse.

Hi Frances
Oh, yes, Howard's End. What a great film! I find Sam West quite attractive in it, in a pooterish kind of way. However, I do have odd taste in men.

Hi Angela
I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Anonymous said...

However, I do have odd taste in men Is your husband aware of this? :)

Although I did have a thing for Bryan Robson and Chris Waddle as a teenager...

Dulce Domum said...

Well, you could say that my husband has benefited directly by my odd taste in men! Brian Robson, eh? My best friend at school adored him. Mullets a-go-go!