Thursday 3 July 2008

Last book for Heart of a Child - Minnow on the Say

Well, the Heart of a Child challenge, hosted by Becky, is almost over.

The challenge was to read 3 to 6 books that you loved as a child, from the 1st. February to the 14th. July. I've now read 4 so am considering the challenge completed.

My 4th. and final book is Minnow on the Say by Philippa Pearce, a favourite library book of mine when I was child living in Penzance, in Cornwall.

First of all I'll confess that this is not a photo of my book, it's one I found on the internet. My own copy is a lot rattier than this one.

Secondly I'll confess that I fell totally in love with this book all over again. The plot is a fairly typical one of its time - the mid 1950s - where two children are searching for a treasure that will stop a house having to be sold and save a family from poverty. The children in question are David Moss, an ordinary boy from an ordinary background whose father drives a bus, and Adam Codling who lives in huge house, but in upper-class poverty. David wakes up one morning, after a bad storm, to find a canoe floating on the river at the bottom of his garden. The river is the river Say and David, hoping to keep the boat, names it the Minnow. A day or two later he ventures upstream looking for a broken stump that might match the bit attached to the canoe, and meets Adam Codling. After some misunderstanding the two boys become friends and Adam tells David something of the history of his family and about a treasure that was lost back in the 16th century. Adam lives with his aunt Dinah and his grandfather, who fell into dementia when his son (Adam's father) was lost in the war. The family are very poor, to the point where there's hardly any furniture in the house and not enough to eat - so much so that Dinah believes she can no longer keep Adam with them and he'll have to go and live with cousins in Birmingham. Adam believes if he can only find the lost treasure he can save their little family and he won't have to go and live in Birmingham. All they have to go on is a rhyme left behind as a clue and, using The Minnow, the two boys spend their summer holidays desperately searching for the treasure.

Talk about nostalgia. This, of course, is what childhoods used to be like. 1950s and 60s style, that is. I don't know when things changed, my own girls were born in the mid-70s and, although they had a certain amount of freedom, mothers already felt it wasn't as safe as it used to be. I personally roamed all over the Cornish countryside as a child, in fields, in woods, in the local stream and, when slightly older, on the beaches. Idyllic, I suppose you'd describe it as. Even though we had little money, it didn't matter because no one else did either! No one went away on holiday. If someone had announced they were off to Majorca for a week the reaction would have been stunned disbelief. If people went anywhere it was usually to stay with relatives who might live in another part of the country. And thus, school holidays were spent as David and Adam spent their's, exploring and enjoying the local countryside. This book took me right back to that and also to a time when there was less stress, where people took the time to bake cakes or grow their own veg. and thought it was *normal* to do so.

Philippa Pearce's writing is superb. I didn't realise it but this was her very first book. She's more famous for Tom's Midnight Garden, which I haven't read, plus she was quite a prolific writer of children's books until her death in 2006. What a wonderful debut this was! I know I read Minnow on the Say several times, adoring its lazy English summer atmosphere and the excitement of the search for the treasure. Now I can see more in it of course. The fact that she has 11 and 12 year old boys spot on in their gruffness and unwillingness to explain what they mean when dealing with each other. I'm now more struck by the sadness of dementia and by the aunt not having enough money to feed Adam, a growing boy, who is consequently always hungry. David's parents quickly realise this of course and do their best to help. Despite the fact that they were working class they were actually better off than their upper-class counterparts. Things were clearly changing in the 1950s. I can't recommend this book too highly and I mustn't finish without mentioning the lovely illustrations by Edward Ardizzone. They fit the book perfectly and are mini works of art in themselves. A gorgeous, atmospheric, *summer* read.


So, that concludes my reading for the Heart of a Child challenge.

The four books I read are:

The Valley of Adventure by Enid Blyton
The Castle of Adventure by Enid Blyton
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Minnow on the Say by Philippa Pearce

And I can say without a word of a lie that I loved them all just as much as I did when reading them as a child. Thanks to Becky for hosting this delightful challenge.


Robin said...

This sounds like a lovely "summer read!" I checked and my library has it, so I put it on hold because after reading this review, I know I'd like it. Thanks!

Jeane said...

Sounds like such a lovely book! Thanks for sharing it with us. I never would have heard of it.

DesLily said...

WEll you have just been a reading fool lol.. just hearing your description can take anyone (older) back to times when just roaming in an empty field and picking wildflowers or finding frogs by a stream were what kept us happy! Great write up Cath!

Cath said...

I do hope you like it the book when you get it, Robin. I have a feeling you will...

Jeane: the book is not that well known even in the UK. Mostly, Phillipa Pearce is known for Tom's Mindnight Garden.

Times have changed, Pat, and not for the better. Kids these days wouldn't be happy picking flowers for their mums, building dens, or damming up streams as we were. I think it might be why there's an obesity problem in kids today. Some of them hardly ever go outside.

BooksPlease said...

I haven't read this book, but reading your review made me feel nostalgic for my childhood - at the same time as yours - we could play in the fields and go for picnics on our own - just as you describe.

My grandchildren just don't have the same freedom. They are active though and love playing football and doing ballet, but it's not the same being driven everywhere.

I've still got one book to finish for the Challenge - it's made me want to re-read the books I loved as a child, so even when the Challenge is over I still intend to read some more.

DesLily said...

lessee.. i picked wild violets.. tiny tiny flowers. Got to pick and eat wild strawberries too! (picked some poison ivy back then too lol) and oh the little creeks/ streams with the frogs to catch!!! Somehow I don't think I'd do that now lol.... and we probably wouldn't have been out there doing those things if we had what kids have today inside, what with computers and television games etc. Heck, I couldn't even afford books or I wouldn't have been out so much! my son drives me nuts with his cell phone..him and everyone else is why I refuse to own one! Even if only minutes at a time you really need to get away from things each day, not take them with you. I think cell phones are fabulous for emergencies etc but not so you can't get away from work or even just get away from phones... as much as they say "i'll turn it off" they never do.

Tara said...

This sounds lovely! I am envious of many of the books all of you in the UK grew up with, feeling as though I missed out.

I grew up in the 70s and looking back, I had a lot of freedom on those lazy summer days, maybe because there were two little ones at home, but 'go outside and play, come home for dinner' was the norm.' Of course that never happens now, and my child is barely out of my sight. Sad, really.

Cath said...

Booksplease: I think the inportant thing with modern children is that they're active. My grandaughter is too, never stops in fact, and it look like our grandson is going to be the same.

I'm going to carry on with the reading books I loved as a child too. I'm going to search out Heidi, which I think you read for your challenge, as I adored that, and also plan to reread Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. And possibly try to find a few 'lost' books... those so obscure they may not even exist any more.

Hi Pat. I get annoyed with people and their mobile phones too. Especially in peaceful places where they're usually yelling their heads off or disclosing private stuff you don't want to hear but can't help but listen to. Grrr. I do have one but it's only for dire emergencies (my daughter gave it to me when my husband had really bad angina) or free cinema tickets with Orange. Other than that it stays off.

Hi Tara. Yes, we did have quite a nice book choice as children in the UK but I also loved US classics such as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. And I actually envy modern children their choice as it's amazingly eclectic these days. With Amazon and eBay they can choose authors from all over the world. How I would have loved *that* as a child!

Nan said...

I just commented on Tom's Midnight Garden and I want to say I loved Minnow on the Say. Same story - bought it over there and came home and read it to the kids. Wonderful book.

Cath said...

Minnow on the Say *is* a wonderful book, Nan. It's quite rare to find anyone who's even heard of it let alone read it. So I'm thrilled to hear you bought it over here and then read it to your children.