June 10th, 2011

local, history

Books 21 to 23

Three children's books by a well-known author from my local area.

Book 21: "Lizzie Dripping and the Little Angel" by Helen Cresswell

Lizzie did not altogether trust the witch. She had offered once before to turn Toby into a toad, and was certainly capable of it if the fancy took her. She had turned the Briggs's cat into a toad with a mere crack of the knuckles, and had been quite tetchy about turning him back again.

Lizzie Dripping, whose name is really Penelope Arbuckle, lives in a village with her parents and her little brother Toby. The three stories in this book take place during the school holidays, and although the plot is more important than the moral of the story, Lizzie does learn some life lessons, such as coming to terms with the fact that her beloved grandmother is getting old and may not be around much longer, and learning the importance of keeping your promises.

When I was still at primary school a television series based on the Lizzie Dripping books was shown, starring Tina Heath who went on to become a Blue Peter presenter. So even though I don;t think I ever read the books, "Lizzie Dripping and the Little Angel" was still a nostalgic read for me. It reminded me of being the same age as Lizzie back in the early 1970s when your parents would send you to play outside and not expect to see you again until tea-time.

Book 22: The Little Sea Horse" by Helen Cresswell

It was a tiny horse of purest white, so delicate that he seemed to be carved from ice. His hooves were of gold and they shone yellow in the firelight, and his ears pricked like petals, as though he were listening. His eyes were as clear and yellow as September moons

I didn't like this one as much as the Lizzie Dripping stories. It's the story of a little girl called Molly whose fisherman father catches a magical horse in his nets, and the reaction of the villagers to the magical creature which is thought to bring good luck to anyone who touches it. I wasn't engaged by the story, or the characters and found it a bit boring rand nothingy.

Book 23: "The Signposters" by Helen Cresswell

Pacing was the hardest part of Dyke's job, and the part that Hetty and Barley could not help him with at all. Their part was simply to wait. Every twenty years, by law, each road in Flockshire had to be re-paced and measured. If two villages were only a few miles apart, the job was done in a day or less. But sometimes the job took Dyke away for days on end. Flockshire was a big county - a tenth part of England, so they said - and you could walk for a day with never a hearth in sight.
Today's pacing had been only a small affair.The Signposters had left their winter quarters at Flock as dawn was breaking, and had reached the Straythorpe crossroads by noon. There Dyke's signpost was still standing from last year, only slightly leaning after the buffeting of winter storms.

This is a longer book for older children than the others, and was definitely my favourite out of the three. It is set sometime in the 19th century and starts one April, as Barley Signposter and her parents get back on the road, after spending the winter in their house in town. Barley loves their summer life, sleeping in tents (and the occasional cave) and travelling in a horse-drawn wagon. Her father Dyke makes his living repainting and repairing the county's signposts, and measuring the length of roads by counting his paces, furlong by furlong. And when he is inspired by a village with an interesting name, he gets great pleasure in adding ornate carvings to the signposts. But one of the main things that Dyke likes about his job, is that it gives him the chance to meet up with the other members of his large extended family, the Smiths, who are scattered throughout the county. And this year, Dyke and his stonemason brother Pen have a fantastic idea; to organise a family reunion and bring all the Flockshire Smiths together at the Michaelmas Fair.

This is a warm and joyful book, full of Barley's love of being outside in the summer countryside, and Dyke's belief in the importance of keeping in contact with family. It would be a good story to read to your kids if you are going to take them camping in the UK this summer, rather than going on holiday abroad.