Six Degrees of Separation: May 2021

Six Degrees of Separation is hosted by Kate of booksaremyfavouriteandbest.com.


The starter book this month is Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary. I have to admit I'd never even heard of Beverly Cleary before, but I've now learned that she was one of America's most successful authors, wrote mainly for children and young adults, and died in March at the grand age of 104. She sounds like an amazing woman. 

Beezus (Beatrice) and Ramona Quimby are two of Cleary's best known characters; they are sisters aged 9 and 4. Beezus has to deal with the many challenges of having an eccentric, naughty little sister; she also feels guilty that she doesn't seem to be able to get along with Ramona as well as their mother does with her own sister (Aunt Beatrice), but eventually she discovers that they too used to fight as children. That's what sisters do.



Another very challenging little sister, but this time with a long suffering older brother, is Annie Rose. Shirley Hughes has written and illustrated many stories about Annie Rose and Alfie, and I think I loved these books, with their beautiful pictures of life in the middle class suburbs, even more than my children did (in fact they were far too tame for my youngest, who wanted something much more subversive; please read on...) Hughes shows us Alfie and Annie Rose going about their daily lives; children can easily recognise the things that happen to them, and parents can equally easily identify with Mum and Dad. There are trips to the seaside, the problem of a leaking roof, visits from granny, and a wedding in which Alfie and Mum have to get Annie Rose out of the bridal procession before a toddler tantrum disrupts the entire ceremony. Wonderful bedtime reading; in fact, I think I might re-read some of them myself.



My youngest daughter, however, preferred a far more demonic sibling; Francesca Simon's Horrid Henry (aged 8) is always in trouble, and always being compared to his angelic (smug) younger brother Perfect Peter (6). Their obnoxious next door neighbour, Moody Margaret, is also regularly involved in Henry's wicked schemes. Stories (all perfectly illustrated by Tony Ross) include Horrid Henry's Dance Class, Horrid Henry's Holiday and Horrid Henry's Evil Enemies, and they all inevitably include Mum's catchphrase 'Don't Be Horrid, Henry!'


A Peter who is far from perfect is perhaps the most famous character ever created by Beatrix Potter. Peter Rabbit lives in a burrow with his mother and his well-behaved sisters, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. Mrs Rabbit is a widow, her husband having met a sad fate when he ventured into the gardener's vegetable patch. Peter is warned not to follow in his father's footsteps, but of course he does, and is pursued by Mr McGregor - though unlike his father, Peter escapes, runs home, and is put to bed with a cup of camomile tea. The Tale of Peter Rabbit has sold over 45 million copies, making it one of the best selling books in history.

Writing partly in the same era, Alison Uttley created the much loved Little Grey Rabbit series. A very different character from Peter, this rabbit is a mild-mannered, well meaning, motherly soul who shares her home with Hare and Squirrel. Uttley wrote 37 stories about Little Grey Rabbit and her many friends, and over 60 other books for children and adults, but her diaries reveal that, unlike her best known character, she was an unhappy, jealous, controlling woman, who, on moving to Beaconsfield, took an instant dislike to her new neighbour, one Enid Blyton, fell out with her own illustrator, and loathed  being compared to Beatrix Potter.



Finally, Enid Blyton takes us back to the theme of siblings. If there is any brother more annoying than Perfect Peter, it must surely be pompous Julian, the oldest child in Blyton's Famous Five series. He has a younger brother, Dick, and sister, Anne. Julian always takes charge of the Five's numerous adventures - and because we are in Blyton-land, the other children generally put up with this. Five On A Treasure Island is the first story, in which Julian, Dick and Anne are sent on holiday to their Uncle Quentin (distracted eminent scientist, of course) and Aunt Fanny's home at Kirrin Bay. (Why? Because 'Daddy wants me all to himself in Scotland' says Mummy, without a trace of embarrassment...) There they meet their cousin Georgina, or George as she prefers to be known, and her dog Timmy. There are twenty-one books in this series, and as a child I lapped them up, re-reading every one many times. I had a set of red hardback editions - these had been handed down to me by my much worshipped older cousin Sally, which bestowed on them a great deal of extra cachet. Time changes perceptions. I imagine Julian in his adult years - probably as a city banker or perhaps even a self-important author - and I'm sure I'd now avoid him like the plague. 

I found this month's chain almost as difficult as April's, but I'm glad I perservered. 

May's starter book will be The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld. It's been described as a 'modern gothic triumph.'  I haven't read it (yet) but I must say I am intrigued. 





Comments

  1. So you too have gone down the children's books route! Yes, I too could have made your choices. I loved reading about Alfie and his little sister with my children - Horrid Henry too,: and the rest are childhood favourites of my own. Well, not the Enid Blyton - was I the only child who really didn't like her books?

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  2. Thanks for your comments Margaret. My own children could not get into The Famous Five at all, though one of my daughters loved Malory Towers. Even as a child, I drew the line at the incredibly wet Secret Seven.

    I'm so glad you also liked Alfie and Annie Rose. I wanted to call my youngest Annie Rose, but it was one of the many names vetoed by my husband!

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  3. I’ve only read Peter Rabbit, which is not a choice I thought of when I was thinking about naughty siblings, but it’s a good one. I’ve never read an Enid Blyton book! Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, like so many people who don’t live in North America have never read a Beverly Clearly book.

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    1. Hi Linda, thank you for your comments. Yes, I'm sure Blyton would be a cultural thing, though these days she could be read a historical fiction - a record of the upper middle classes in the mid 20th century!

      As a child of the London suburbs, I did read Susan Coolidge's Katy books, and found the cultural references a bit confusing (still liked them though.) In fact I probably had much the same confusion with Blyton, as although she was English, the world she described was a million miles away from mine!

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  4. I've only read Peter Rabbit and Five on a Treasure Island. It's amazing to me how rarely children's books from both sides of the pond cross over. It seems that Harry Potter might have changed all of that though. I read Five on a Treasure Island for the first time last year after reading a Scottish book blogger's glowing review.

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    1. Hi Jen and thank you for your comments.

      I am amazed that anyone gave Five on a Treasure Island a glowing review! What did you make of it?

      I think the fact that children's books rarely cross over is maybe indicative of cultural differences between the two countries. I have recently been involved in an online discussion about Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, and although I'm not VW;s greatest fan, I found myself defending this book from the absolute torrent of abuse it received from the American participants. I thought VW made very valid points, they thought she was deranged, and should just stop moaning! I discussed this with my husband, who has worked quite a bit in the US, and he said we would probably never find common ground as we just see things differently. I don't know if that's true?

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  5. Hi Rosemary! What a great chain! Aaah Peter Rabbit..! Mischievous as they can be. And not to mention Horrid Henry. The kids at school love the Horrid Henry books, I think he's just well, horrid!

    The famous five are still very popular and I sometimes forget that we're talking about siblings here as well.

    Hope you will have a wonderful month of May!

    Elza Reads

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    1. Hi Elza, thanks for your comments.

      I didn't take to Horrid Henry quite as much as my daughter did, but as you say, he is massively popular!

      Hope you also enjoy May, which at the moment feels like January here in Northern Scotland - I'm wanting to plant lots of things in the garden, but think they will probably succumb if I don't wait till the weather (if the weather?) warms up!

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  6. Oh, Shirley Hughes! I never read any Annie Rose stories but I remember Lucy and Tom :-)
    I LOVED Beatrix Potter. I had Peter Rabbit bedding at one stage.

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    1. Thanks for your comments Bev - I had forgotten all about Lucy and Tom, we did have a book about them too. I don't think my children were that sold on Beatrix Potter, but they did enjoy the film about her life.

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  7. I've seen a lot of people go down the sibling route this month, but all with very different results! I was never a fan of Beatrix Potter as a child but loved Enid Blyton and, like you, I must have read all of the Famous Five books multiple times. I have no idea yet how I'm going to start next month's chain, but The Bass Rock does sound intriguing!

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    1. Thanks Helen. My library got the Bass Rock book for me from another branch in just two days, I was impressed! I've not started it yet but it looks quite readable. I decided it was about time I actually read one of the starter books for a change!

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  8. It's great how this meme takes people in totally different directions! I don't think I have read any of these. I know about Peter Rabbit, but am not sure I actually ever read the book. Nice job!

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  9. "Because 'Daddy wants me all to himself in Scotland' says Mummy, without a trace of embarrassment..." Did they actually have that conversation in Treasure Island?! ROFL. I used to gorge on Enid Blyton books. For Famous Five, I think my favorite was Five Go to Smuggler's Top (ot that's what I remember of the title). They used to have a show too, if I remember correctly!
    I love posts that talk about older books, it's such a fun walk down memory lane. Thanks for this one, and I hope I'm not too late replying back!
    ~Lex (lexlingua.co)

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  10. We overlap in so many ways with our chains, Rosemary! Yours is a joy. We had the Alfie and Annie Rose story book - plenty of good memories there. You made me chuckle about Julian. I read a lot of Enid Blyton as a child but I never really liked her books. I assume I read them because they were so popular! I much prefered Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine series. My daughter adored Little Grey Rabbit. Fascinating insights about Uttley. To think those two prolific children's writers were neighbours and didn't get on! Professional jealousy perhaps?

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