Tag Archives: A A Milne

The hypothenuse

Last week Aunt Ochiltree moved into Aunt Scarborough’s flat. Well, Aunt Scarborough had moved out first. They’re not sharing. But it made sense, since one of them was leaving town and the other was looking for somewhere more – shall we say – age-friendly. And it’s got a great view from the living room window. It’s the kind of spot where you can just sit and watch.

We’d promised to help, and the Resident IT Consultant went overe there nice and early to intercept any removal vans that might turn up. I followed ten minutes later, arriving as he and Aunt Ochiltree were sizing up the spare bedroom to make sure everything would fit. They’d just got to the point where they agreed that the hypothenuse meant it would be all right.

As you do. I have moved a lot and I have measured stuff, but I have never sought solace in the hypothenuse.

Aunt Ochiltree and I then watched as the removal men carried and the Resident IT Consultant and his cousin Sailor unpacked the kitchenware, trying not to break things. After which we allowed poor Sailor to make us lunch, before we did any ‘more’ work.

I was given the book boxes to do, and in the end I slit them open and unpacked the books, leaving Aunt Ochiltree to decide where they went. I don’t know her books at all, so felt this was the best way. Luckily – although she thought she had a lot of books – she didn’t. She had perhaps 10% of what we brought with us in our own move. And that number of books you can unpack in an afternoon, and they also fit into the available bookcases.

What was interesting for me was to see what matters to other people; what they want to keep as they – try to – downsize. Because most of the books were old, of the kind that you have loved over the years and feel comfortable having around. None of this buying and keeping the latest in literature.* Which reassured me, as I often feel guilty for thinking my old books might be enough.

So there were books on geology, and there were A Lot Of Maps. A A Milne and Gerald Durrell. Someone called Talbot Mundy, whom I’ve never encountered before. Pearl Buck, and Kipling. Books on travelling. Well used cookbooks. Well loved books in general. I hope they’ll be happy in their new home.

*Apart from a copy of Sarah Dessen’s Lock & Key. I blame the granddaughters.

Finding Winnie

From mother and baby bears to an orphaned bear. Lindsay Mattick’s – I believe entirely true – story about the young Canadian vet who went to war in Europe in 1914. Vet Harry lived in Winnipeg, so had a long way to go before he got to the war, where his job was to look after the horses.

When his train stopped in White River he saw a bear cub on the platform. A very special bear cub, or so he felt. He bought it for $20 from the trapper who had most probably killed the cub’s mother.

Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall, Finding Winnie

The bear came with Harry on the train, and all the soldiers helped look after the cub and find food for him. He was a very hungry bear cub. Winnie travelled with Harry and the others all the way to England. But before they went to the war in Europe, Harry brought his dearest friend to London Zoo, where he left him to be looked after.

A young boy called Christopher Robin used to come to the zoo with his father, and he loved playing with Winnie.

And you all know what happened then. (I cried a bit, for one thing. And those books we love got written.)

I think we have to assume Lindsay knows all about this, since it was her great grandfather who liberated our dear bear. The fantastic illustrations are by the very reliable Sophie Blackall.

Dare to be honest?

When asked for the best children’s books, do you a) list the ones you truly loved the best, or b) mention the ones you reckon are expected of you? The ‘proper’ books of childhood.

Last week I was impressed to find I wasn’t totally alone in thinking the new list of 11 best books for under tens, published by the BBC wasn’t one I agreed with. They asked critics, who are supposed know about this. All adults, I imagine.

Charlotte’s Web, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Where the Wild Things Are, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Little Women, The Little Prince, Winnie-the-Pooh, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, A Wizard of Earthsea, A Wrinkle in Time, Little House on the Prairie.

These are fine books. But how much were they even the favourites when these critics were under ten, and how likely is it that they will continue to please young readers of today? Under ten 25 or 50 years ago is not the same as now. Much as I loved Little Women, I’d give it to an older reader today.

I’m not too keen on Roald Dahl. Never read Narnia, but accept that many have and will continue to do so. I have a feeling I’ve not got round to Charlotte’s Web, either. It’s one of those books that are always mentioned, and so well known that it can be hard to keep track of whether or not you’ve actually read it.

Surely this is primarily a list of the books a group of adults believe they loved the best, or feel are the books they ought to admit to in public? Rather like the castaways on Desert Island Discs, who were always asking for the Bible and Shakespeare, and I suspect, not always because those are the very best books in the world. True, there is a lot to read in both, but the choice feels more to be about what you dare say in public. Brave is the person who’d admit to not being a reader, or one who’d prefer Enid Blyton or Lee Child, to pick a couple of very popular writers.

As a foreigner, I feel I’m allowed not to know all these books from childhood. But if I were to choose my favourites, I feel I would be expected to go for Astrid Lindgren, rather than some unknown or forgotten light fiction (by that I mean there were lots of books I loved to bits, but where I either didn’t note the author’s name, or can’t remember it now). Nothing wrong with Astrid, I hasten to add, but whereas I liked Pippi Longstocking back then, today I’d rather not suggest her, but go for one of the others.

And there is that difference between now and then. What I liked 50 years ago, and what I reckon a little Bookwitch today would enjoy. It’s not the same. These critics would also not all be the same age, so their choices show a top eleven from the mid-20th century onwards.

If Offspring were under ten today, there are about four books on the list I’d give them (wouldn’t prevent them from picking any of the books themselves, of course). If I ever end up with Grand-Offspring, I might offer two of these books, and after that I’d go for much more recent books. There are countless wonderful reads for under tens from the last 25 years.

Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace

Grandparents will buy this book. Of that I am absolutely certain. I might have done too, had I not been provided with one, since even for a foreigner there is that tug at the heart strings when you come face-to-face with childhood nostalgia.

A A Milne and E H Shepard, Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace

It wasn’t so much my childhood, though. Mainly later. And I suspect that is the case for anyone young enough to be a parent of young children today. That’s why I know it’s the grandparents who will buy it as a gift.

Whether today’s children will enjoy A A Milne’s poems as much as older generations did, I have no idea. I’d like to think they will. But it is definitely the kind of book you read to and with the child.

I gather these poems are classic A A Milne poems, and I obviously recognise the illustrations by E H Shepard, coloured in by Mark Burgess. I definitely knew the James James Morrison Morrison poem, but perhaps not so many of the others.

It’s all very nice.