CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 2 . . . . September 22, 2000
In 1958 our family came into a modest windfall---enough to put into effect a long-cherished dream of spending a summer holiday in England. My husband and I are each half English, we had each spent time in England as children, and each of us---by circumstance, education, and inclination---was steeped in English history and literature.Last year, I reviewed Where was Wonderland? A Traveller's Guide to the Settings of Classic Children's Books, by Frank Barrett, which also looked for the "real" behind many of the classic British stories for children. It told you where to park and that you must "proceed for 1.3 km and then..." All very useful information, but it was necessary that one already have experienced the enchantment of the books to motivate one's travels. Given this motivation, it would have been a great help in finding the settings of favourite books.
How the Heather Looks is very different - Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimborough's Our Hearts were Young and Gay as opposed to, say, a Michelin guide. The more you know of the books and authors that Joan Bodger, her husband, and their two children revel in, the more you will enjoy the book, but even a nodding acquaintance with Beatrix Potter, Robin Hood and Randolph Caldecott is a sufficient basis. You'll learn much more, and, as well, share the journey of a young family embarking together on a voyage of discovery.
The book was first issued in 1965. As a how-to book, therefore, it was already out of date and certainly would not have been reissued in 1999, no matter how relevant and timely its "Afterword." This story, however, is timeless, although many things have indeed changed. The family was constantly amazed at how little honour the authors and illustrators had in their own country. A couple of [actually very helpful] estate agents said that "Yes, they had heard of Caldecott, but surely we were not interested in so minor and uninteresting a person?" (p.7). On the other hand, the family actually met Arthur Ransome, rented a boat from a boatman who had known Kenneth Grahame, and were shown about Christopher Robin's garden by Mrs. Milne! Today the commercial value of these authors has been realized. It is much easier, if less exciting, to find Littletown and Avalon, and I am sure that you do not have to clamber through a barbed-wire fence to get into Pooh's Enchanted Place at the top of the forest!
How the Heather Looks is not a road map, but it is an inspiration and an enchantment all on its own. The Bodger's travels do not give specific directions, and the literature is not introduced by way of soulless resumes, but through conversations, quotations, and reminiscences that give essence rather than chapter and verse.
In the "Afterword," Bodger mentions that the first edition of the book went out of print quite quickly but continued to have its loyal readers and, she says, "I have been informed that [it] is the book most often stolen by retiring children's librarians." I can see why.
Mary Thomas is obviously a fairly typical "children's librarian," even though not retired, but still working in two elementary school libraries in Winnipeg. Through the perk of being a CM reviewer, she will not have to steal the book!
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.