The Wind on the Moon (1944)

The Wind on the Moon, written by Eric Linklater, originally published by Macmillan. It was awarded the Carnegie Medal in 1944. There was no award in 1943.

As is apparent from the picture above, I read The Wind on the Moon in the Danish translation. This was published as part of a series of international classics by Gyldendals Børnebibliotek and given to me by my mother when my children were very young. Apparently, The Wind on the Moon was the Danish Queen’s favourite book when she was a child, and she read it to her sons when they were little. The Danish Queen, Margrethe II, has translated the edition I read from English to Danish and provided the illustrations for the front cover. 

First an enormous disclaimer – I am not keen on translations, and particularly not of children’s books. Translating books is both a skill and an art and translators do amazing work. However, we know that texts have multiple meanings and interpretations, and the translator has to make choices about specific words which close (or indeed, open) these possible interpretations. As a general rule, I now altogether avoid books translated from any of the Scandinavian languages into English and vice versa as I find myself continually interrogating in my head what the original sentence might have been. 

There isn’t a vast tradition of translating children’s books into English for the British or American market. But where it happens, the books will need to be translated. In Children’s Literature Comes of Age, Maria Nikolajeva says: “The way in which children’s books cross boundaries into another cultural region is not merely a question of translation and publication in a new langue [it is] the young readers in the country and their ability to accept and utilise the book. It is, in other words, a problem of reception” (p27). 

Riitta Oittinen has written a book about translating for children and her contention, which Maria Nikolajeva agrees with, is that the best translation of a children’s book is not necessarily the one that is the most accurate and closest to the original but the one that is able to arouse in the reader the same feelings, thoughts and associations experienced by readers of the source text. The question is then how you do this and how much you have to change the underlying text to be able to arouse these feelings and thoughts. 

I hasten to add that the translation by the Queen is excellent, I don’t find myself stumbling over a sentence, but she has (by necessity) translated both the names of people and places and the songs that are sung into the Danish ‘equivalents’. Here I found myself questioning whether the translation was ‘right’ and started interrogating what names and songs might have been used in the original. I find this grating, and in my personal opinion, it removes the authenticity of the book. However, I am hardly the target audience: I am not a child, and I speak both the original and the destination languages fluently. Issues around translating children’s literature is something I want to explore more. I found Nikolajeva’s chapter on ‘World Literature for Children’ in Children’s Literature Comes of Age very thought-provoking and Riitta Oittinen’s book ‘Translating for Children‘ is on my reading list.

Now, on to the plot of the book: in the English village of Midmeddlecum, peopled with eccentric characters like the Happy Families playing cards, Major Palfrey asks his two daughters to behave themselves while he is off at war: 

“When there is wind on the Moon, you must be very careful how you behave. Because if it is an ill wind and you behave badly, it will blow straight into your heart, and then you will behave badly for a long time to come.”  

He proves to be right: before long the girls are drinking a potion provided by the local witch and turning into kangaroos, getting stuck in the zoo, solving the crime of who steals the ostrich’s eggs and staging an escape along with their new friends, a golden puma and a silver falcon. 

Dinah and Dorinda then turn their attention to freeing their dancing master, Casimir Corvdo, from jail by convincing a judge that minds must be changed as often as socks. And then comes their greatest adventure: Count Hulagu Bloot, the tyrant of Bombardy has captured their father and imprisoned him in the dungeons. The two girls, together with the puma, the falcon and their beloved dancing teacher, smuggle themselves from England to Bombardy in a removal van to stage the dramatic rescue of their father.

Apparently, the book began as a story told by the author to his two young daughters while out on a walk in the rain and though the narrative takes place over the course of a year it is split into four or five major subplots that could be read independently. The Danish translation emphasises this by being divided into two books, reflecting the two major narrative arcs; the plots set in the zoo and the later plot of freeing their father from the dungeons of Count Bloot. 

The Wind on the Moon is a wartime book – it was published in 1944 – and it dwells on those elements of life in short supply or under threat in Britain, such as food, and liberty, and fun. The overarching theme is freedom and confinement, both in terms of (false) imprisonment and independence of thought and action, even rebellion and ‘naughtiness’. The wind on the moon is the wind of change and destruction; it changes everything but met with courage and fortitude the situation can be turned to the better. 

There are definite similarities with Alice in Wonderland; the sense of surrealism and the interweaving of parody and a fictional, impossible world that reveal a great deal about our own world. Like Alice, it contrasts the often absurd world of the adults with the innocent but sensible views of juvenile female leads. Says Dorinda: “Very often, when we think we are behaving well, some grown-up person says we are really quite bad. It’s difficult to tell which is which.”

The overt moral didacticisms remind me strongly of ‘The Little Prince’ which was published in 1943. Some people love this kind of thing – witness the popularity of The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’. As it happens, I like my moral lessons served up in slightly less conspicuous ways and this was the aspect I liked least in the The Wind on the Moon.  

I started reading The Wind on the Moon aloud to my daughter when we first received it, but we gave up pretty quickly. It just didn’t grab us in any way. Obviously, I had to try again for this challenge but promised myself that if I was still bored by page 100, I could give up. It was slow going, but once Dorinda and Dinah have transformed into kangaroos in the zoo, I found it both fun and engaging and had several laugh-out-loud moments. After all, it was a surprising 6.5/10 for me.

The Little Grey Men (1942)

The Little Grey Men, the first fantasy title to appear as a Carnegie Medal winner, was written by Denys Watkins-Pitchford under the pseudonym “BB” and illustrated by him under his real name. It was first published by Eyre & Spottiswoode in 1942 and has been reissued several times since – the latest is in an utterly covetable edition by Slightly Foxed Editions. My edition is the reprint from Oxford University Press with cover artwork by Edward Ardizzone and the author’s own scraperboard illustrations throughout. Watkins-Pitchford wrote more than 60 books for children and adults showcasing his enduring love and passion for the English countryside. He has a loyal and faithful readership; there’s even a BB society.

Illustration by Denys Watkins-Pichford

In The Little Grey Men, Baldmoney, Sneezewort, Dodder and Cloudberry are the last four gnomes in Great Britain. They live on the banks of the Folly Brook. They are perfectly happy with their quiet life, except, that is, for Cloudberry. Restless and longing for adventure, Cloudberry sets off to follow his dream. But when he does not return, the others build a boat and set out to find him. The book follows the gnomes’ epic journey up the Folly through the English countryside, beginning in spring, continuing through summer, and concluding in autumn, when the first frosts are starting to arrive.

If this reminds you of The Wind in the Willows, you would be right. There are many similarities; an encounter with the god Pan depicted as the protector of small animals, the central role of the waterways and messing about in boats, the loving description of homely details and the wonders of nature, and the absolute absence of females. In contrast to the episodic structure of The Wind in the WillowsThe Little Grey Men is a more coherent narrative of a voyage out and a return. In this sense, the obvious comparison is with The Hobbit but lacking the fantasy universe to give it richness and interest. There are echoes of other stories too. The Borrowers later picked up the same ideas of using seemingly disparate items to fashion miniature ‘human’ requirements and both Tarka the Otter and Watership Down also utilise the concept of ‘real’ animals having speech and thought without anthropomorphising them. Overall, The Little Grey Men feels faintly derivative in its storyline, but what sets it apart is the lyrical reflections on nature. It is clear that BB knew the countryside intimately and the book is a love-letter to a vanishing landscape. The detail is both beautifully observed and scientifically correct in every aspect. As a reader, you learn about the animals, habitats and the countryside through the story.

Illustration by Denys Watkins-Pichford

I do think The Little Grey Men is the kind of book that would have appealed to me as a child – I would have loved the little domestic details describing how the gnomes live and use the land around them. I was always attracted to books about animals and would have appreciated the descriptions of nature, minutely observed and detailed. Probably, I would have overlooked the fact that the characters are two-dimensional misogynists, the fantasy sedate. As an adult, I can’t, but I can still enjoy the descriptions of the natural world. Clearly, The Little Grey Men and Watkins-Pitchford himself has a loyal following. For adults, it would represent a return to a nostalgic Acadia, younger, less-worldly children would enjoy it too. For me, it was a 4/10, but then I didn’t grow up with it.

We couldn’t leave Dinah (1941)

I am indebted to an essay by Cheri Lloyd in ‘Out of the Attic – Some neglected Children’s Authors of the Twentieth Century’which helped me contextualise both the story and my thoughts about it.

We Couldn’t Leave Dinah is interesting because it is a book about WWII,
written at the outset of the war while Mary Threadgold was seeking refuge from
the Blitz in London’s public air-raid shelters. In a talk given at the
University of Reading in 1998, W Parsons pointed out that “Books (…)
become ‘cultural products’ which reveal some of the attitudes and assumptions of
the times in which they were written or read, and the ‘meanings’ which they
endorsed or challenged”. As such We Couldn’t Leave Dinah is to
some extend a more time-typical or accurate portrayal of the war (at least from
the point of view of a particular person) than many books which are written
retrospectively and/or by people who did not experience the war themselves. It
displays political and social attitudes that are outdated but it gives us an
understanding of the attitudes and thoughts at the time. This does not mean we
condone them, and it has been said that the longevity of Dinah is due
to its status as a pony book rather than a wartime novel (Peter Hunt, Children’s
Literature: An Illustrated History).

We Couldn’t Leave Dinah tells the story of the German occupation of a (fictitious) Channel Island through the eyes of the two Templeton children, Mick and Caroline. At the
beginning of the story, Caroline and Mick are both keen riders and preoccupied
with finding a new secret meeting point for the local Pony Club. The children
are accidentally left behind when their family evacuate and they take refuge in a
secret cave. From here they get involved in espionage and codebreaking and help
foil the Nazi invasion plans before finally getting evacuated by the Navy in
the dead of night.

Though it is clear that Threadgold was steeped in the ideology of the
period, with its concept of pulling together and stiff upper lips, Cheri Lloyd
points out that Threadgold uses the character of Peter Beaumarchais
didactically in order to reveal to readers something about Nazi atrocities; the
Tempelton’s responses to Peter’s questions about the situation in Europe show
they are in fact quite well informed about concentration camps.

To me, it is a book of two halves. The first half is clearly a pony book (a
genre I was very partial to as a young, pony-mad girl) and has Caroline very
firmly at its centre. However, following a nocturnal ride across the island,
girls and ponies become more or less incidental to the narrative thrust and Dinah, Caroline’s horse, is left behind after all. In a move which
Cheri Lloyd compares to the portrayal of Mary in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The
Secret Garden
, Caroline is relegated to the sidelines as the
espionage/adventure element takes over with her brother Mick as the
protagonist. In my opinion, the two genres don’t mesh well in this
particular book; it falls between two stools and I have to admit I skipped a
chunk in the middle. Once Mick and the espionage story was foregrounded, I was less interested.

The book’s overall theme is one of displacement and the way that it invades
your privacy and challenges your identity. To me, this is the meaning of the title; at the outset it is inconceivable to Caroline that anything should change in her life and that she should be forced to leave anything behind, not least her beloved pony. At the end, she is happy to escape with only the clothes on her back. Displacement is a topic which resonates with children of all periods and maybe this is another reason why this book has
survived into several reprints. Of course, there is defiant (and, given that the war was still ongoing, brave) moment at the end: “Clerinel was already hidden in the darkness. Anyway, she thought, it didn’t much matter. Like the ponies, Clerinel would be there after the war”

To me, the interest stems from getting an insight into a historical period. Even though we might be uncomfortable with the values that are displayed, they are typical of the time and interesting to read, with the added guidance of hindsight and social and political awareness. As a children’s book, there are other, more recent books that are of greater value, both as historical documents and as literature. 

3/10 – my interest was simply not sustained through the book.

Visitors from London (1940)

Visitors from London by Kitty Barne is out of print and copies currently sell for £50 and more on abebooks.co.uk. As I have a self-imposed limit of maximum £15 per book, I’ve not read this yet.

According to Keith Barker in Outstanding Books for Children and Young People – the LA Guide to Carnegie/Greenaway Winners 1937-1997, this book has dated and was the first Carnegie Medal winner to go out of print. However, Cheri Loyd provides a spirited defence of it in Out of the Attic – Some Neglected Children’s Authors of the Twentieth Century so I will definitely seek it out when The British Library opens up again!

The Carnegie Winners – 1930s

As the Carnegie Prize was inaugurated in 1936, this decade only count 4 winners. Three of the authors were already known to me – Arthur Ransome, Eve Garnett and Noel Streathfield, whereas I didn’t know Eleanor Dooley at all. There’s a reason for this; the first three have produced several classics books which have been reprinted several times and are read and enjoyed to this day. In contrast, Eleanor Dooley wrote non-fiction and her books have disappeared and are out of print. This is generally the case with the few non-fiction winners on the overall Carnegie Medal Winner list – both our knowledge and ways of presenting that knowledge changes dramatically, particularly over an eighty-four-year time horizon.

All books had a strong ‘family’ element; family is important and a central premise to the books though not in the standard ‘Two adults, two children’ model. The Family from One End Street is most typical of the genre as it is about a large family with chapters given over to individual family member’s stories. But family is almost more important to Peter and Santa in The Circus is Coming – their uncle is all that stands between them and the orphanage. And although Ransome’s book takes place as far away from adult family members as the protagonists can get, an uncle is also a crucial plot element in Pigeon Post. Two of the books are about working-class families – The Family from One End Street and The Circus is coming (though, obviously, this is working class with a veneer of glamour), reflecting the first stirrings of rebellion against the predominance of upper-middle-class protagonists in children’s literature until that point.

All the books had several protagonists, and always at least one boy and one girl, except The Radium Woman, which, as it was a biography, obviously only had a single protagonist. These protagonists were all white, though The Circus is Coming had characters from many different (European) countries. The popular series fiction was given a nod with the selection of a book in the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series. However, school stories, hugely popular in the 1920s and 1930s, are entirely absent for the entire list of Carnegie Winners.

The big surprise for me in this decade was The Circus is Coming. I had not expected to like it much but found it very enjoyable. In danger of mortally offending ardent Streathfield fans, I’d only ever read Ballet Shoes and considered Streathfield slightly frothy. The fact that all her books were named ‘Something Shoes’ also counted against her in my opinion. It wasn’t until I did a bit of research on her that I realised that the ‘…Shoes’ was a publishing gimmick rather than an expression of cookie-cutter sameness. I don’t think the books that won were that author’s best work and in fact, I’d only read The Family from One End Street prior to starting this project. I suspect they won in recognition of their contribution to contemporary children’s literature rather than for the actual work published that year. Nonetheless, my average score for the ‘decade’ is a decent 6.6.

Reasons for reading Carnegie Medal Winners – Number 2: Literary History

My second reason for reading the Carnegie Medal Winners springs from the first: the attempt at understanding at least part of the literary history of British children’s literature. The selection criteria for the Carnegie Medal has always centered on trying to select ‘the best children’s book published that year’. How this is defined has been questioned and changed over time and I will reflect on this in a later post. However, for now, it remains true that the winners were considered to be ‘the best’ children’s literature in Britain in each year and as such it provides a framework for exploring the literary history of children’s books over the last 84 years.

Looking at the list of winners a number of themes are emerging. In my Carnegie book group, we are reading and discussing one book from each decade (our last book group was about Tom’s Midnight Garden from 1958). This has been very interesting and I try to reflect the discussion we have when I blog about the relevant books here. But apart from an interest in the individual books, I am curious to discover which patterns and themes emerge when you read across the time span of the entire list. Some of these themes are apparent from a cursory look down the list – in the early years some authors seem to have been awarded for their overall contribution to children’s literature rather than on the basis of the excellence of their latest book, the 1940s were particularly concerned with war, the 1950s have a surfeit of historical novels. Other themes I expect to be able to see clearly only after having read a greater number of individual winners. And I’ll collect statistical information as I go along on anything from the sex of the main character(s) to genre, from publishing house to diverse representation, to see which patterns I can discover. I’ll be looking at contemporary and current critics’ views of the books too.

As always, there are personal reasons for my interest in this particular literary history. Firstly, there’s a purely academic interest. To understand at least some of these themes will probably be useful for my MA in Children’s literature. Secondly there’s pleasure in reading a list of books that have been selected and recommended as ‘the best’ of any given year. I might not agree with all of them, but it would be odd if I didn’t like most of the books and loved a few. The thrill of finding a new favourite book, ideally one that can bear re-reading, is an immense driver for any bibliophile I think.

But there’s an even more personal one. I explained in my first blog post on ‘Reasons to read Carnegie‘ that I’m an outsider to British children’s literature. In fact, I’m a double outsider – I am not British born and my childhood was spent elsewhere. This means that I’m always interested in exploring what I’ve “missed out” on. What fantastic books and great authors are out there that I’ve never heard of, but which would provide me with outstanding literary experiences? And of course not only me but potentially also my children, who are British born and are spending their childhood here. They get to experience all this first hand and I, as parent and interested guide, am continually on the lookout for good books to put in front of them. They’ll easily enough find the books that are out there now, popular, but frankly forgettable, tosh (sorry!). Of course, they are exposed to some great books by their teachers and the school librarian. It’s easy to read reviews of current children’s books and listen to recommendations by librarians, booksellers and from friends and family. There are excellent current books. But my heart beats extra-hard for the forgotten gem. The book (or, joy of joy!) books, that somehow fell through the crack, the great, but underrated and forgotten books that deserve to be classics. Those are my favourite books and I hope to find a couple of these on the Carnegie Winner list.

The Radium Woman (1939)

The Radium Woman by Eleanor Doorly

My copy is in the lovely yellow Puffin Story Books cover from 1953, but it was originally published in 1939. It is based on Marie Curie’s daughter’s book Madame Curie, retold for children by Eleanor Doorly.

I didn’t have anything but the vaguest knowledge of Marie Curie prior to reading this book, which is shameful given that she was the first woman to win a Nobel prize and then the first person and only woman to win it for the second time, and the only person to win it in multiple sciences (chemistry and physics). That’s aside from the enormous difference her work made to the soldiers in WWI where she outfitted x-ray machines and drove them to field hospitals and trained staff in how to use them, and to science and mankind in general. If this achievement wasn’t enough, she was born in Poland when it was under Russian rule, the use of scientific tools was disallowed, and women were not allowed to study beyond age 16. Yet she spoke 5 languages fluently and clearly managed to make up for her lack of early education. She believed in science and the quest for knowledge, not in personal gain, and did not patent the radium-isolation process to allow the science community to use her discoveries for further research.

What is even more remarkable that she seems, to use that old feminist adage, to ‘have had it all’. She was deeply in love with her husband Pierre Curie (with whom she won her first Nobel Prize) and had two daughters. She apparently still managed to keep house and be a loving mother to her daughters without employing any help at all. And at work, her genius was widely recognised, and a number of hitherto all-male domains were opened to her without her having to, seemingly, make any special issue about it. Even if private pains and problems may be glossed over in her biography, she was by all accounts a truly remarkable woman!

So, on the one hand, the book made interesting reading, and I didn’t begrudge the afternoon I spent reading it as I definitely learnt something new. On the other hand, this is the first book I’ve come across on the Carnegie list where I definitely feel they must have scraped the barrel ever so slightly to find a winner that year.

Officially all categories of books, including poetry, non-fiction and graphic novels for children and young people are eligible for consideration for the Carnegie Medal. The judging panel is asked to consider plot, characterisation, and style “where appropriate”. Furthermore, CILIP (who instructs the judging panel) used the ask that the book that wins the Carnegie Medal should be a book of outstanding literary quality (This has now been reworded, something I’ll discuss in a future blog entry). Therein lies part of the problem; I am not sure that a non-fiction book truly belongs on a list of books selected for literary value and with expectations of plot and characterisations. However, at the beginning of the Carnegie Medal, several non-fiction books won, but none (I think) since ‘The Making of Man’ in 1960. I’ll be interested to see how The Radium Woman compares to the other non-fiction winners.

The other problem is with the quality of The Radium Woman as a biography. It is very flattering and uses a single secondary source – flaws that might even disqualify it as strictly non-fiction. It is not badly written though extremely flowery and very, very kind to its subject who is described as intelligent (which she undoubtedly was) – and very beautiful and multitalented and ethereal besides. In short, it is a hagiography and would not, I think, stand up to today’s more stringent expectations.

The Radium Woman won in 1939, and at the outset of another war, there may have been a need for this kind of story. Marie Curie (as described in the book) displayed all the characteristics that were necessary for society in general to absorb; grit, determination, loyalty to family and country, hatred of the occupying forces, possession of a strong work ethic and a disregard for luxury.

While I was not wowed by the language, I was seriously wowed by the subject. As a feminist icon, and a person to admire she’s close to a 10, but as a work of literary value, I would give this book 3.5/10

Why read the Carnegie Medal Winners? Number 1 – Personal Reasons

As for most selection process that have taken place over many years there are all kinds of issues around the Carnegie Medal winner selection process, some of which have been understood for a long time, some which have gotten renewed attention recently. The question ‘why read the Carnegie Medal winners? is actually a very complext one on many levels. However, the great Michael Rosen, who was my professor at University, said you always have to situate yourself in what you read and write, so this is my starting point. As this post is all about me, me, me and not about the Carnegie Medal winners, please feel free to skip it!

This project originates from a love of children’s literature, in this context specifically English-language children’s literature, which is shaped by the fact that I am not a native Brit. In essence, I come at this as an outsider, an extremely interested one, but an outsider nonetheless. It is an attempt at acquiring and understanding a ‘canon’ of English children’s literature that I did not receive when I was a child. And in this process also to think about the issues around the concept of a canon, how and by whom it was shaped, and which parts of it remain relevant to modern readers.

I grew up in Denmark in the 1970s and the 1980s. There’s a strong Scandinavian children’s literary body. My childhood favourite reading was made up of lots of Astrid Lindgren and Tove Jansson with traditional stories thrown in amongst more modern novels. Though reading for pleasure was very important in my home, book-owning was not, and the reading experience was shaped and directed through our (excellent) local children’s library. So I was also exposed to a selection of the the English-language ‘classics’ – anything from Gullivers Travels to the Little House on the Prairie books and the Famous Five. However, that selection was based in part on what was considered part of the cannon, partly on what was translated into Danish and given that the Danish cannon was mainly oriented towards Scandinavian literature, English-language literature in translation was in the minority.

I have always been an anglophile, and studied Comparative Literature and then Anglo-American Literary Relations for my MA. In my early 20s, childhood still felt recent and I did not read any children’s literature. During my late 20s and early 30s I started collecting my favourite children’s books. Though book-owning had not been important to my parents, it was very important to me. Of all the vices, bibliophilia is probably fairly tame, and I felt I was filling a gap, physically and emotionally. The books I was collecting were mainly scandinavian children’s classics in the old bindings with a few British classics like Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows thrown in. Then I had children and was suddenly confronted with wanting to expose them to ‘the best’ children’s literature. I had clear ideas about the Danish children’s literature and though these totally and woefully out of date, at least my Danish friends could and would send over ‘the best of the best’ modern Danish children’s literature. But the British cannon – there were so many books that I was not familiar with and had no personal basis on which to pass it on.

I employed a number of strategies to try to find ‘good books’ for my children. The whole topic of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘good’ for my children and children in general are separate discussion points which I will come on to later. But for myself, this quest led to a part-time MA in Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths and then to this project as a summer holiday project. Reading the Carnegie Medal winners is an attempt at understanding aspects of British literary heritage. It is a way to begin a dialogue, if nothing else then with myself and any interested parties, about what may have shaped it, what the trends have been, how it has changed, how our perceptions have changed, what shortcomings it may have, which books are worth remembering and returning to and which are not.

Book publishing, also for children, seem to be a never-ending machine of responding to the latest trends and popularities. Of course, there’s a need for renewal and for responding to historical and political shortcomings, oversights, mistakes. That is a separate post. But I think there’s a necessary tension between the old and the new that we should respect. Not all of the old stuff is bad (or, indeed good) and not all of the new stuff is good (or, indeed bad). But from a personal point of view, I wanted to understand what’s gone before, to make up my own mind about what I think is good and bad about these books. I don’t want to take somebody else’s words for this, I want to see for myself.

There are som many books on the Carnegie Medal Winner list that I’ve not read before. And my hope is that somewhere along the journey I discover authors and books which are excellent and are able to transport me into that zone of reading for absolute and pure pleasure, the engine behind my love of reading to start with.

The Circus is Coming (1938)

The Circus is coming by Noel Streatfield (1938)

“Still perhaps Noel Streathfield’s most popular book” said Margery Fish in 1964. I would think that this accolade now belongs to Ballet Shoes which is currently available both in hardback and paperback and following the success of Ballet Shoes, The Circus is Coming was reprinted under the title ‘Circus Shoes’. The version I have read is in the original title, a reprint from 1939 and with illustrations by Steven Spurrier. Circus Shoes is not currently in print but the latest reprint was in 2006 so there are plenty of copies in circulation.

Like The Family from One End Street, this is also a book about working class families though in a completly different and in some ways much more exotic context. Peter and Santa face being sent to an orphanage but run away to live with their uncle who works for a circus. Peter and Santa have been brought up by a prim aunt to feel they are better than everyone else but quickly realise that they have no skills and no way of looking after themselves. This is set in constrast to the detailed description of dedication and hard work of all members of the circus who pitch in and help get the show on the road every day.

The circus is made up of people of all kinds of different nationalities, each with their own skill and expertise. In contrast to some contemporary books, it is not jingoistic at all; Peter and Santa are portrayed as ‘backward’ because they are neither good at school (in contrast to the international circus children who go to school in every town they come to and do exceedingly well) nor do they have any skills with which to make their living. The story is really about the journey they make to understand that they are not automatically ‘superior’ to everyone else they meet, as they have been brought up to think, and overall the storylinee feels quite multi-cultural and inclusive.

Keith Barker mentioned that the choice of The Circus is coming was controversial at the time, particularly when children’s librarians discovered that ony two members of the selection committee attended the meeting when it was chosen. Now it is probably more controversial because public opinion on the use of wild animals in a circus has changed. This was not so much the case when the book was published, though there is a discussion on the morality of using wild animals in the book, and all members of the circus are exceedingly loving and understanding of their animals.

Noel Streatfield’s books tend to be described as ‘career books’, a popular genre in the 1940s and 1950s about superficially glamorous careers in various professions, like Streatfield careers in dance or the theatre or for instance with books about nursing (the ‘Sue Barton’ books). But some of the glamour is stripped away to show the hard work that lies behind any successful career.

There’s lots of technical detail based on Streathfield’s own research when she herself went ‘tenting’ but the story is first and foremost character-driven. This makes it a really enjoyable book for those of us who are not that interested in the circus as a performance while the technical detail adds a sense of reality and historical interest – a 8.5 out of 10.

The family from One End Street (1937)

The family from One End Street by Eve Garnett won the Carnegie Medal in 1937. It is the earliest of the “Carnegies of Carnegies” voted for by a national poll in 2007 to select the public’s favourite Carnegie winner of the past 70 years. It is also a favourite book of mine. There’s a ‘series’ of three books about the family from One End Street, and I was given the third one, Holiday at the Dew Drop Inn (1962), in the Danish translation when I was a child. My love of that book reflects back onto the predecessors in the series, though I prefer Holiday for its description of life in the countryside.

Garnett was also an illustrator and self-illustrated all her own books as well as works by other authors (A Child’s Garden of Verse amongst them). She illustrated a book by Evelyn Sharp The London Child (1927) and the work apparently left her with a persistent interest in reflecting on the life of working-class children. She completed a book of drawings with commentary called Is It Well With The Child? (1938) which has some very sharp reflections on the life of working class children, for instance this drawing:

Friend (to first twin): “Wot’s ‘e cryin’ for?’ Frist Twin: “‘Cos he can’t come to Sunday School – it ain’t his turn for the tidy troussis”

Eve Garnett did have trouble finding a publisher for The Family from One End Street, as it was not considered suitable for children (!). The enduring success of the book has proven this wrong. Further, Margery Fisher (Intent Upon Reading (1967)) speculates that Eve Garnett enabled a generation of authors to write about working-class experience without the stories being specifically ‘about class’. We also read this book in my university ‘Carnegie Study Group’ and one person, a teacher, commented on how she could easily see how the episodic nature of the book could work well in the classroom and be used to spark all kinds of conversation amongst the students.

On a completely different note, like in Pigeon Post, it is striking to see how much more freedom (some) children had in the 1920s and 1930s. In The Family from One End Street, it is not an expression of idyllic escapism into the countryside, nor of neglect, but the natural effect of lack of space at home combined with a greater expectation of the self-sufficiency of children. This too is a salutary lesson!

Score: 8/10