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Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Family from One End Street - Eve Garnett

A remarkable series of three books showing the lives and aspirations of an urban working class family, children (Lily Rose, Peg, Jo and Kate) of a refuse collector (Mr Ruddles) and his wife. We are introduced to the Black Hand Gang (innocent by today's standards). The first title was published before WW2. The second, Further Adventures... takes the three youngest children into the country where they experience village life and farming, staying at the Dew Drop Inn. This book was written shortly after the first, but the manuscript was damaged, presumed destroyed, in a Blitz fire but was recovered and reconstructed in 1956. The children return to the Dew Drop on holiday in the third book of the series, Holiday at Dew Drop Inn. These books are not in print, which is a shame, since the writing is of good quality. The most common versions are by Puffin, the second and third made expensive by rarity. The writer (middle class) shows this working class family in a good light, hardworking, anxious to be clean and to better themselves whilst clearly being proud of their roles in life. The story is told with humour, to some extent laughing at most of the characters.

In the country, class and power are explored through the hoity-toity Lady of the Manor, Mrs Ayredale-Eskdale and her more amenable and paternalist daughter Alison. The shop keeper, for all her hidden qualities, seems to hate children. By introducing the city children to the countryside and farming, readers are encouraged to encounter, albeit from afar, wild flowers, farm animals and a rudimentary country code. This was a strong feature of children's books in the 1930s and 1940s.

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