Six degrees of separation in December

Books and reading

It’s Six Degrees of Separation time again, and this month, we all begin with Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I read Daughter Number One’s copy of this thirty years ago, and then twenty years ago read it all over again when it was Daughter Number Two’s turn.  Judy Blume was every tweenage girl’s author of choice.  An issue-led author, talking about puberty, boys, periods, while at the same time telling an involving story – how could this ground-breaking author fail to be popular among young people – and their mothers?

It was so different from the books I enjoyed at roughly the same part of my childhood.  And yet one I remember was also ground-breaking, in a different way.   Eve Garnett’s The Family from One End Street told stories from the happy lives of the Ruggles children.  But this family was exceptional at the time – they were working class!  Their father was a dustman!  Yet this book was first published in 1938, and has rarely been out of print since then.

My children didn’t read about the Ruggles family.  But a book I, and each of them, loved for years was Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories.  Where would long car journeys have been without endless replayings of Johnny Morris reading The Elephant’s Child or How the Rhinoceros got his Skin?

What about more modern books we all shared together?  One that stands out is Quentin Blake’s Mr.  Magnolia. All of us know every word of it, and will still cheerfully chant …

Mr Magnolia has only one boot. 

He has an old trumpet that goes rooty-toot –

And two lovely sisters who play on the flute –

But Mr Magnolia has only one boot.

… at the least provocation, even though it’s maybe nearly thirty years ago that we last curled up in bed together to read it with my younger daughter. Well, it’s the grandchildren’s turn now.

And we depend upon the grandchildren to keep us up with newer children’s books.  Our lives would definitely be the poorer without Kes Gray and Jim Field’s Oi Frog! (and Oi Cat! Oi Dog! and all the rest …) From which we learn that …

Cats sit on mats, hares sit on chairs, mules sit on stools and gophers sit on sofas.

Tiny children, big children and adults alike can all indulge in a bit of silly word play from time to time.

Which leads me back to an old favourite, another one from my own childhood and which my children, and now five year old William is now enjoying in his turn: the Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster.  This adventure leads bored Milo to discover the power of words, and of numbers in the cities of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis as he meets characters such as King Azad the Unabridged, and Tock the Watchdog, while discovering that eating subtraction stew just makes you hungrier, and that while it’s very easy to jump to the island called Conclusions, it’s hard to escape.

And so to my final link, one that encompasses all these books and many more;  Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: a Memoir of Childhood Reading.  She’s younger than me, but she too was a bookish child.  Her reading choices were my reading choices, and this book brings back memories of much loved favourites, some of which I’d forgotten about.  All British bookworms should have this on their Christmas list.

91 thoughts on “Six degrees of separation in December

  1. I enjoyed reading your memories of childhood books. The only ones of these I’ve read are the Just So stories (but not when I was a child) and Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm, which I loved.

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    1. I love the excuse to read many of the children’s books on the market, particularly the picture books which marry words and images so perfectly. One needs a grandchild as an excuse!

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  2. Of your long list, I’m only well acquainted and quite in love with, is Quentin Blake. When living in UK, I bought and gifted untold beautiful, fun & wonderful children’s books but only Blake made me buy Advent Calendars, Xmas and ordinary cards, and only a week ago I gave my last treasured oversized Advent Calendar to my daughter in law. I still have a child’s leather suitcase full of E, G and F children’s books, books I can’t be separated from.

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    1. Another hoarder! I’m delighted that many of the books first bought for my children are working their way down to the next generation to be loved all over again. And yes, Quentin Blake is one of those getting Pride of Place.

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  3. I enjoyed your spin on this topic! Wonderful memories! Reading together is the best! The Jungle Book is the only one from your list I’ve enjoyed with my children.

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  4. I also had The Bookworm but as an adult I wasn’t taken that much with it. Brought it to kids in my neighbourhood . Enjoyed the Just So read but didn’t keep a copy.I

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  5. I also had The Bookworm but as an adult I wasn’t taken that much with it. Brought it to kids in my neighbourhood . Enjoyed the Just So read but didn’t keep a copy.

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  6. What a wonderful mum and grandma you must be! I’d really like to curl up with you myself and read some of these. The power of words, indeed! You use them beautifully and I want to read every last one. 🙂 🙂 And I love that Header photo. I was craning over his shoulder to see Roo! Happy Saturday, Margaret!

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    1. That wasn’t actually my photo, but his dad’s, taken when they went camping in other grandad’s garden for the night! I’m alright when it comes to reading with my grandchildren, but not kicking footballs 😉

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  7. I’ve read a few of the Just So stories, but not all of them in one collection. But The Phantom Tollbooth – that’s an all-time favorite of mine! I still have the copy I got as a kid.

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  8. Some happy childhood reading memories here for me (The Family At One End Street and The Phantom Tollbooth). Lovely to end on Lucy Mangan’s book, too. I’ve yet to read it but eagerly anticipating doing so.

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  9. You have two of my favourites in your list, Margaret – The Family from One End Street (I re-read it recently, and it’s as perfect as I remembered it being) and The Phantom Tollbooth.

    My mum loved Quentin Blake – every year I tried to find for her a Mother’s Day card and a birthday card illustrated by him. I have a couple of Blake anthologies she had, but haven’t dipped into them yet. Perhaps I should indulge.

    A lovely list. I need to think about mine.

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    1. I’m so relieved to have two readers now assuring me that One End Street is still a good read. I didn’t want to find out that after all it was mawkish, or patronising or something else negative. I’m another Quentin Blake fan. Most of his books are a delight, but even where the text doesn’t measure up, the illustrations are always wonderful. Yes, please do get in with your Six Degrees post. Yours is always one I look forward to.

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      1. I understand that fear – it’s not at all mawkish or patronising, thankfully. As a child, I loved the adventures the children went on and borrowed the book repeatedly from the library. As an adult I found the way that the parents try to maintain a stable, happy home amidst their money worries moving.

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      1. I couldn’t find a way of commenting on your post – the heart symbol eluded me! Thanks for directing me to it. I was surprised at how much of her childhood reading history was mine too, given the difference in our ages. Thanks for reviving memories of Lancelyn Green. – I loved these too, and often re-read those legends.

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  10. Apart from the Judy Blume book and a few of the Just So Stories, I haven’t read any of the books in your chain. I don’t know how I missed out on The Family from One End Street, as it sounds like just the sort of book I used to enjoy as a child! I do have a copy of Bookworm, which I’m looking forward to reading.

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  11. That’s a wonderful collection for sure. I was so unhappy about Oi Frog; all my nieces are past that age, and I will not be around to give it to their children. And I enjoyed many of the others, starting from the Parseeman’s cakes, through the years, especially in sharing with the next generation.

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  12. I’ve read many of these to a great number of children. In a former life (so it seems), I was a children’s librarian when my son was in primary school. I love Quentin Blake and some of my favourites were the Swallows and Amazon stories, although I am pretty sure their father was not a dustman! There are so many more to add…

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    1. Yes, it was quite hard deciding which of my favourites to choose. Though oddly, I didn’t get on with Swallows and Amazons. But Quentin Blake had to find a place.

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  13. I will look for that bookworm book. I love reading books about books. Oh dear another book on my TBR which is already overwhelming. I loved your list and appreciated your leaps. I’d be honored if you’d take a look. My 6-Degrees chain

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    1. I enjoyed your chain. As you’ll see from my comment, you’ve reminded me about Neil Gaiman. So many books – it’s too easy to forget about some authors whom we love, so thanks. And yes, if you get a chance to read Bookworm – do!

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  14. Many, many happy memories there – I loved the Family from One End Street but I haven’t seen it in any children’s section of the libraries lately… I think my children might have liked it when they were little.

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  15. Oh ‘Mister Magnolia’ was a favourite with my daughter. There’s that little extra something when a text is also illustrated by the author. Or, should that be when the artist adds words to her/his picture book.

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      1. He does and I told my sister yesterday about your post and she immediately quoted the text to me over the phone and said she still had her daughters’ battered copy (they are now 20 and 22). I think Mr Magnolia is a perennial.

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  16. So glad to find another Family From One End Street fan! I read and read and read all three books as a child. I especially loved The Holiday at the Dew Drop Inn, because – of course – I saw myself as the rather daydreamy Kate. I re-read the first book only a month or so ago and I am pleased to report that I loved it just as much, it has not been spoilt by time at all.

    One of my children (now aged 25!) loved these books too, though the other two were unimpressed.

    I’ve kept almost all of the children’s books – and I must admit I have occasionally bought more when I’ve seen them languishing in charity shops! – if I ever get any grandchildren I’ll look forward to reading to them, but even if I don’t, I still like to browse through these books, they’re like old friends. And yes, I too stop my children from throwing out books – ‘no! I’ll keep that even if you don’t want it!’

    Thanks for bringing back so many memories.

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    1. I’ve been astonished at the positive response to the Family from One End Street! I really am going to see if I can source a copy to read about them again. And because we moved around such a lot when I was a child, I have none of my own from those days. But many of the ones bought for my own children, two of whom are well into their forties, are now seeing service with the next generation, which is lovely. So your moment my well come too!

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  17. Great list! I adore The Phantom Tollbooth, though I don’t see it featured on nearly enough blogs. 🙂 I haven’t heard of a couple of your books, but I wonder if that’s because they aren’t as popular on my side of the pond… children’s books sometimes seem to be more regional-specific than adult books.

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    1. Yes, I’ve noticed that bloggers on different continents often have different favourites from us here in the UK. But I’m so glad the Phantom Tollbooth made it across the pond. And I was quite surprised about how many commenters mentioned it, as not many of my friends seem to know it..

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  18. Wonderful gallery of books, Margaret – I don’t recognize any of them though…I guess every country has its own gallery, and maybe children’s books often have their origin in the country’s native language? The most read children’s books here were by Astrid Lindgren, and a handful of other Swedish authors. “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak and the books of Shaun Tan. Neil Gaiman is always popular, and Roald Dahl. I’d love to look for some of these books you mentioned.

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    1. Oh all those are favourites here too. Good old Pippi Longstocking. Not all of these books would travel well. The Oi Frog! series in particular depends on English alliteration. It would have to be totally rewritten.

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  19. Oh what a lovely, lovely post! I had so much fun spending time on your post now. Something special.

    I would love to have the Bookworm Memoir of Childhood Reading book. I am not English first language and feel I’ve really missed out on a few classics I should have read.

    I am terribly late with Six Degrees this month, but I guess rather late than never still remains a universal truth.

    Six Degrees – From Margaret to Anna

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    1. Thank you so much. We’ll none of us catch up with all the books we want to read, never mind ought to read. As your post has demonstrated to me. Bookworm is a great book, and brings you back in touch with the pleasures of reading in childhood. And there’s nothing wrong with being late. You’re here now!

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