digging into the stacks for Jane Gardam’s books
February 17, 2016 by orangemarmaladebooks
I don’t know how many of you read or followed up on my post about one of my favorite titles from 2015, The Hollow Land. If you missed it, you can find that review at the link here. I highly recommend it for teen readers through adults. Although it is considered one of Gardam’s children’s novels, I think adults will enjoy it at least as much, if not more than, kids.
Because I was so smitten by Gardam’s writing, I went snooping in my library’s stacks to see what else I could find of hers, and I have three more titles to recommend today.
The longest of them, at 148 pages, is:
A Few Fair Days, by Jane Gardam, illustrated by Peggy Fortnum
published in 1971 by The Macmillan Company
Like The Hollow Land, this novel is episodic, each chapter alighting briefly at noteworthy moments, the whole presenting a panorama of life among the fells and dales of northern England. And like The Hollow Land, each episode is a gem, sparkling at us through Gardam’s economical, humorous, beautiful and tender prose. Absolutely fantastic, she is.
The spotlight in this novel rests on Lucy, a little girl living on the edge of the North Sea in Yorkshire between the world wars. This is a world steeped in longstanding traditions, from what a proper tea menu entails, to the route of the tinkers who travel through peddling their wares.
Against this rugged, robust background, Lucy flits like a moth thwacketing in the porch light. She yearns and squirms and talks too much, reads lots of poetry while floundering in her maths, and dreams of actually being the Princess of Cleves. She consorts with a rambling collection of eccentric aunts, explores an abandoned house named Dennis, summers at her tiny grandmother’s farm, and generally conquers our hearts.
The combination of Gardam’s exquisite depictions of the Yorkshire countryside, her characters as original as Dickens’, and the unsentimental approach to life — there’s just nothing like it. No child could be raised quite this way today without the civil authorities being summoned, yet Lucy is just the outspoken, bright one we’d love to have in for a cup of tea. Peggy Fortnum’s black ink drawings, messy, scratchy lines, lend just the mussy feel warranted by this lifestyle.
I wish I’d had this one to read aloud with my kids. If you can find it, give it a try with ages 7 and up. It’s thickly-British, so if you’ve never dipped into that, it might sound a bit foreign to your kids’ ears. But you’ll have entered a world and made an acquaintance worth the having.
Next up are two much, much shorter stories for ages 6 and up.
Bridget and William is illustrated by Janet Rawlins, published in 1981 by Julia MacRae Books.
At just 46 pages of large-ish print and wide margins, this is a short chapter book, yet unlike anything you’ve read recently.
Again, we’re on a farm in the dales, a windswept world where mollycoddling is just not a thing.
“Lambs were born in blizzards and died in the snow before they had drawn breath and Bridget’s father was out all night looking for them. The kitchen was full of bleating draggly lambs. Bridget and her mother spent hours with feeding bottles, but still a great many died.“
This is true, unvarnished, farm life.
The stars of this story are Bridget, age seven, and her pony William, fat as a pork pie. The harrowing errand these two must make would again land you in Social Services’ bad graces instantly, but your kids will adore reading it. Perfect winter story, if you can locate a copy.
Kit, illustrated by William Geldart, was published in 1983 by Julia MacRae Books.
This is another short chapter book featuring a seven-year-old girl named Kit. Clearly one of the normalcies of life in this era was that young children were needed and expected to work hard and independently at a young age.
Kit, at 7 years old, has a whole list of duties while her parents both work to get the hay in. She “minded Lisa and ran back and forth to the field with sandwiches. She got Lisa in and out of her chair, and in and out of her play-pen, spooned her dinner into her mouth, and washed her face afterwards. She made tea, put it in a can, ran to the field again with it, kept the stove going for hot water for baths, answered the telephone, fed the chickens and the pigs and the sheep-dogs and watched her parents…falling asleep as they ate their own supper at night.“
Kit leads an unhappy life with parents who speak carelessly and hurtfully to her and a father who is downright pigheaded, hot-tempered and self-centered. A deep sense of injustice, hurt, and sadness wash over us in the bulk of the story, so you will need to judge whether this is a good pick for your kids. Yet in the end, the redemption Kit finds is honest and dear.
I really hope you will take advantage of the ease with which you can find The Hollow Land, as well as have some luck in tracking down these other strongly-crafted stories from a brilliant author.