World Book Day Finds

Yesterday was World Book Day. By chance I was in Bath for a dentist’s appointment and found I had some spare time on my hands. Whenever I have a little spare time I trawl the city’s charity shops (a route I know inside out!). And I came across these books:

Paddington & The Children of Green Knowe


The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M Boston and Paddington Helps Out by Michael Bond

I’d wanted to get hold of the former for a while (a classic children’s ghost story) but the Paddington was a real find. A couple of years ago we picked up a very battered copy from a quirky bookshop in Morecambe.

Morecambe Bookshop

My youngest has been reading the stories but her copy is so battered that she actually gave up on it earlier this week. So we were both delighted when I found this copy (on the left) for 50p from the British Red Cross Shop.

Paddington Helps Out

It will be a shame to throw away the older copy so I will see what I can do with it. This takes my second-hand book purchases to three in the past week as I also picked up the Laura Ingalls Wilder book, On the Banks of Plum Creek (I am slowly building my Little House collection).

second-hand children's books

I love buying – and reading – second-hand children’s books. Sometimes I pick up the same version I read as a child. I also love the fact that my enjoyment of reading can be passed onto my children and, if they decide it’s not for them, we can just re-donate the books.

Paddington Bear at Paddington Station

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second-hand books: January roundup.

I am still trying to be more thoughtful when I buy books, even when they are second-hand. We now have ten bookshelves in the lounge (upcycled from old floorboards) but the rule is that all our books must fit on them. So, apart from a few scattered in bedrooms, there are no other bookshelves in the house. And if a book doesn’t fit on the shelf then it has to go…

bookshelves, with our cosy reading corner

bookshelves, with our cosy reading corner on the left

I wrote in this post of my love for everything ever published by Persephone Books. These books do come with a hefty price tag (£12) but they are worth every penny. Imagine my delight, then, at coming across one in mint condition at the Oxfam Book Shop in Bath for £3.49

Dorothy Whipple: Someone at a Distance

Someone at a Distance was originally published in 1953, and was the last novel written by Dorothy Whipple I love reading books set in the 1930s-1950s, an era which Persephone Books covers very well. While I haven’t finished this novel I am hooked on this tale of a well to do English family whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of a French ‘femme fatale’. It’s such a pleasure to become immersed in a book!


This week I also picked up a second-hand copy of a David Walliams novel as my middle daughter has been enjoying his writing. Having scoured half a dozen charity shops this was the only David Walliams book I could find. She was delighted.

David Walliams: gangsta granny

As for the ‘one in one out’ rule on books we have a school jumble sale in a few weeks’s time and we shall set to work this weekend stripping down the shelves to make room for our new (to us) purchases.

Christmas Bookshelf


A Christmas Bookshelf

It is has become somewhat of a tradition in our house to have a small collection of Christmas books on display at this time of year. It’s really nice to be reunited with familiar tales and remind us all of when the children were really young.

Over the years I have added to this collection and have picked up a few from charity shops:

Books to read at Christmas time

Among the children’s books are these:

Children's books to read at Christmas

The Snow Lady is a lovely tale by the wonderful author, Shirley Hughes. A little girl thinks her elderly neighbour is grumpy and miserable but feels bad when she makes fun of her. There is a classic Charlie and Lola tale (which came with an audio CD): Snow is my favourite and my best. The Christmas Gingerbread is a delightfully illustrated story about badly behaved gingerbread men and women. Of course no home is complete without the classic tale: The Night Before Christmas.

I also wanted to mention two classic books which we bought first hand:

Books to read at Christmas

Fireside Tales is a special collection of winter tales from around the world. Published by Barefoot Books the stories take us through the winter season, from a Scottish tale of mystery set at Halloween to Russian, Canadian and Czech stories meant for Christmas, New Year and the coming of Spring. I also wanted to mention the lovely abbreviated stories, taken from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series (which, even as an adult I still love). We have a couple of picture books, adapted as tales for young readers. Every Christmas we read Christmas in the Big Woods, taken from the first book in the series when Laura, Mary and baby Carrie live in the woods of Wisconsin, and welcome their cousins for Christmas.

I sometimes find myself re-reading excerpts from the other Little House on the Prairie season at this time of year, especially when brave Mr Edwards saves Christmas Day in Little House in the Prairie, or the family welcome old friends and manage to stretch their food and gifts in By the Shores of Silver Lake. For a look at how desperate winters could be for settlers in the American Mid West I would recommend The Long Winter.

I also have a small collection of Christmas and Winter books meant for adults, which I have picked up second-hand:

Winter and Christmas reading Tove Jansson is the creator of the Moomin series for children. I really enjoyed her A Summer Book, set on a small Finnish island. I also picked up second-hand A Winter Book, a collection of her Winter themed short stories.

This week I was fortunate enough to find this book by The Woman in Black author, Susan Hill. I’ve just started to read Lanterns Across the Snow with my middle daughter, and we are really enjoying it. Lanterns Across the Snow by Susan Hill


It is the tale of a nine year old girl living in the Dorset countryside with her family (her father is a vicar) and set over a hundred years ago. The illustrations by Kathleen Lindsley are charming and the text (and images) remind me of my childhood favourite: The Country Child by Alison Uttley.

Susan Hill: Lanterns Across the Snow

Finally, for me, no Christmas reading list is complete without the wonderful and  frightening tales by MR James. If you have not read his short ghost stories before you will find them familiar. Over the years they have been adapted for television and radio. Their scenarios are familiar: empty hotel rooms where shapes appear in the bedclothes; a mysterious figure on a desolate beach seen only out of the corner of your eye; a pair of binoculars which, when viewed through, reveal grisly scenes. Although writing in the early 20th Century he is often seen as the father of the modern ghost story. And there is nothing more Christmas-like than a good old scary tale…..

MR James: Collected Ghost Stories


Persephone books

Persephone Books

My love for Persephone Press began when I came across one of their books in a charity shop in Swanage. ‘Miss Pettigrew lives for a day’ by Winifred Watson  is a funny, life affirming tale of a ‘middle aged’ governess who becomes swept up in the hedonistic – and dramatic – lifestyle of a nightclub singer in 1930s London. It is certainly of its time  (with casual references to cocaine) but it is also an enjoyable read.

Originally written and published in 1938, Persephone Books reprinted the novel in 2001. The aim of the publishing house is to reprint novels from the mid 20th Century that have been largely forgotten, or out of print. Although they focus on female writers they also feature male authors, such as Leonard Woolf. They include some authors who may be better known for their children’s books, such as Richmal Crompton (creator of the ‘Just William’ series), Barbra Euphan Todd (Worzel Gummidge) and – my favourite – Noel Streatfeild.

When I was a child I loved Streatfeild’s series of ‘Ballet Shoes’ and I have to say that Persephone Books’ reprint of her grown up novel, ‘Saplings’ is one of the best books I have read for ages. Originally published in 1945 it is a heart-breaking story of how war affects the lives of four siblings. The Guardian said of it: “…A book that belongs in the archives of the Imperial War Museum..” and I agree.

Many of the Persephone Press novels that I have read focus on the Second World War and, in particular, women’s experience. I would recommend ‘Marianna’ by Monica Dickens (the novel begins at the start of WW2 then returns to the tale of the protagonist’s childhood); ‘Good Evening, Mrs Craven’, a collection of tales from the homefront. For the period just after the war, when the pre-war social order was trying to re-establish itself and the continent of Europe was still in upheaval I would recommend Marghanita Laski’s novels: ‘Little Boy Lost’ and ‘The Village’.

I rarely buy books, in an attempt to keep control of our bookshelves. I have written before about only keeping those books which I truly love and know I will read again. The books of Persephone Press are my one bibliophilic treat. While they are a hefty price (£9-£14) I have never been disappointed by any that I have read. They also have the most beautiful design and can truly be judged by their covers.

Persephone Books

Book review: ‘Brave New World’ and modern consumerism

Brave New World, Aldous uxley

My book group has recently read ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley. What an amazing book! I can’t believe I have never read it, despite having read George Orwell’s views of dystopian Britain. Although ‘1984’ is often linked with ‘Brave New World’ the latter was actually written 13 years earlier in 1931.

Huxley imagines a future where families no longer exist. Instead babies are produced in test tubes and are physically and socially conditioned to slot into ‘classes’. They work but, more importantly, are programmed to consume. Small children are told in their sleep: “..we always throw away old clothes. Ending is better than mending. The more stitches, the less riches.” They are subjected to certain (painful) stimuli to make them fearful of nature as there is no money to be made from outings to the countryside. Yet the population is content. there are no wars, they are encouraged to be promiscuous (with contraception compulsory; if you are feeling broody you can take a ‘pregnancy surrogate’). They also have leisure time to attend the ‘feelies’ ( a sort of all senses cinema experience). There is no high culture or religion, although everywhere is the pervading influence of the early 20th Century industrialist, Henry Ford. Most importantly the population is placated by the pleasure drug, ‘Soma’. They are happy and do not need to question the society they live in, or their position in it. Into this scenario enters a human who has not been bought up in this ‘civilised’ world, but instead raised in a Native American reservation in New Mexico. John, or ‘the Savage’ as they call him holds a looking glass up to this world and questions it.

From reading this book I was amazed at how forward thinking some of the ideas were. In the 1930s there were no ‘test tube’ babies. DNA hadn’t even been discovered yet what Huxley writes about is a form of pre-birth conditioning,separate but not dissimilar to genetic engineering. Henry Ford, who is referred to in reverential terms in the novel, invented the Model T car. Through his use of an assembly line to produce his vehicles developed the idea of mass production, and thus mass consumerism.

If you haven’t had the chance to read this book I really recommend it. It’s not the most enjoyable novel as I think Huxley was trying to get across a point rather than develop the characters. Some of the language is outdated and there were a couple of issues around the female characters that I questioned. However it is a novel that is still relevant to our times. Read it and see how many current topics it manages to cover. For example, what is our modern day version of soma?


Second-hand book find: the amazing Alison Uttley

Alison Uttley: 'A Traveller in Time' & 'The Country Child'

I have written previously about some of my favourite books that I will keep onto no matter what. One of these is the semi-autobiographical tale ‘The Country Child’ written by the author Alison Uttley. You may not be familiar with her writing for older children but Alison Uttley was the creator of the Little Grey Rabbit Series. I loved these tales of woodland animals, such as Fuzzypeg the hedgehog and Moldy Warp the mole, when I was small. The books were  illustrated by Margaret Tempest and I believe they are as beautiful as Beatrix Potter’s work.

When I was older I came across a copy of ‘The Country Child’ in the school library and read it over and over again. A few years ago I was lucky enough to pick up a second-hand copy and, even now, I find myself dipping into chapters as Uttley describes a farming childhood from over a hundred years ago.

Another book of hers that I read as a child was ‘A Traveller in Time’. I also have vague memories of it being turned into a BBC series in the 1970s. The protagonist, Penelope, goes to stay with an aunt and uncle who own a farm in Derbyshire. The farm is very old and she finds herself being transported back in time to the Elizabethan era when the owner, Anthony Babington, is plotting to free Mary Queen of Scots. I loved this book as a child, partly because I was heavily into Tudor history. Imagine my delight last week when I found a second-hand copy in the Oxfam bookshop! Upon re-reading it’s still as good as I remember.

As well as being a fan of Alison Uttley’s prose I am also fascinated by her life. Like the protagonist, Susan from ‘The Country Child’ she grew up on a farm in Derbyshire towards the end of the 19th Century. Unusually for the time she went on to study science at Manchester University and became the second woman to graduate in 1906. She later became a science teacher and married. However her husband, having served in the First World War, committed suicide in 1930. Alison was left to bring up their small son, John. Out of financial necessity as a widow she began to write and in the 1930s published ‘The Little Grey Rabbit’ series, ‘The Country Child’ (1931) and ‘A Traveller in Time’ (1939). She died in 1976, at the age of 91. Sadly her only child, John, killed himself two years later.

Her personal diaries, published a few years ago, reveal a very different side to the author loved by children. However I find her personal story, and her writing, to be inspirational and I personally believe her to be an underrated children’s author.

Slowing down….

This week is already shaping up to be a busy one. I have work this evening, voluntary work on Tuesday and Wednesday, job application to complete, school Easter service on Thursday plus a few things I want to buy or make for the school holidays next week.

Tomorrow we have someone viewing our house (it’s still for sale) so I have spent a stupid amount of time tidying and getting it ready. As we are continually decluttering and I am trying to be more minimalist this does take less time. However I’m sure the energy used up in preparing our house for a viewing compared to the amount of time that the viewing takes is very disproportionate.

But a couple of things have forced me to pause, gather my thoughts and contemplate on what is really important. While tidying the garden in the spring sunshine yesterday I came across this Easter nest that the girls had made with friends:

Slowing down: making time and space for the little things

For one moment I had thought about tidying it away – as if a ‘nest free’ lawn would make all the difference to a house sale! What was I thinking? Instead of believing it made the garden look untidy I should have been celebrating their creation. I should have been overjoyed that they were playing outside, unplugged and with friends.

Another sign that made me slow down and take stock was this book I picked up by chance in a charity shop today:

Slowing down

I hadn’t heard of the book, or author before, but was intrigued by the minimalist sounding title. I do have a pile of books by the side of my bed and I know I swore not to bring more into the house but I did end up buying it nonetheless. Later on I found I had twenty minutes to spare while I waited to pick someone up from the train station. This proved a perfect opportunity to slow down, read a few chapters and savour the contents. I haven’t read enough yet to provide a review but I plan to find pockets of time over the next few days to dedicate to the simple pleasure of reading it.