One for them: Pippi Longstocking
I remember reading Pippi when I was little. I know I thought her name was pronounced Pie-Pie (though why I have no idea!) and I thought she sounded like the most wonderful and amazing and just this side of totally crazy friend I could ever have had. I’ve been looking forward to introducing her to the girls, and to Kitty in particular, and when I saw this completely gorgeous version illustrated by Lauren Child (who write and illustrates Charlie and Lola) I knew it was time.
Towards the end of last term Kitty was starting to get a bit frustrated and bored with her school reading books so I wanted to tempt her into a new world of chapter books with a few pictures to help the words along; something that she’d love listening too, and then really want to try to read for herself and I think she’s having just as much fun imagining herself tagging along with Tommy and Annika as I did when I was little.
But the surprise fan has been Elma. Pippi Longstocking is clearly Elma’s role model and she loves that book beyond anything I could have imagined, to the point that whenever we read it at bedtime, Elma insists on “reading’ it first – she puts the book in her lap and very slowly traces out the title;
“Pippi … Long … Stocking”
It’s just so very cute and I suspect that when Elma’s turn comes to learn to read she’ll be champing at the bit just to get to Pippi.
They are just such fun stories; only a smidgen past believable but full of all of the adventures you’d have liked to have as a child, from chasing policemen up onto the roof to rolling out gingersnaps on the kitchen floor because you were making a lot and you need the space. Reading them again now there is the odd phrase or two that makes it very much a story of its time, and I’ll admit I do do a little editing while I’m reading just to be consistent with what we ask of the children, but for the most part Pippi is generous, brave and entirely unafraid to stand up for what’s right, and the little ones could do worse as a role model, just as long as they don’t start keeping a horse on the patio!
One for me: Freya
I have to admit I heard about Freya because I was listening to the Radio 2 bookclub driving home in the car one day. I’d missed the beginning of the interview but when Anthony Quinn described her as being a character who’d got under his skin and refused to let him go it made me curious; when a character has that much hold over her author it makes you want to know why. And so I sat there, parked on the drive, waiting until the book was named, and then made a beeline for the bookshop in my lunchbreak the next day.
It is on the surface the story of a changing world, seen through the eyes of women trying to find their way when all the goalposts were shifting, or at least up for a good challenge. Freya is 20, newly discharged from the Wrens at the end of WW2 and bound for Oxford. The first part of the story tells of her battle to make sense of Oxford’s timeless sense of how and when and why things should be, when she’s just spent so many years doing things of much more real and immediate consequence than dissecting Anglo-Saxon poetry, and the start of her perhaps unlikely but solid friendship with Nancy; two years her junior, naïve to Freya’s war-weary worldliness but with a similar steely determination to live her dream.
Of the girls, Nancy is the far more likeable, but it’s Freya who is so incredibly compelling that I couldn’t stop reading for wanting to know what she was going to do next. She’s her own worst enemy; hot headed, prickly, prone to making some spectacularly stupid decisions and I’m not always sure whether I was rooting for her or just wanting to shout “nooooo!” into the pages. She is vivid and very human and whilst her story, spanning a post-university career sharing a flat with Nancy in Bloomsbury in the 50’s and then jumping forward to her time in a rapidly changing 60’s London, doesn’t tie itself up neatly and present itself to you with a bow, it feels both so very very right, and a little cut short, in the way that all good stories end before you want them to.
SPOILERS: There is a scene involving baby loss in Part 3. There was a time when I could not bear to read about miscarriage or stillbirth and I hated being surprised by it so I wanted to flag it up. Apologies if anyone feels it spoils the story.
And with April it makes four books that I’ve read so far this year – which I’m both delighted about and a little ashamed that it’s probably more than I read last year! I’m loving watching my reading list expand and expand again each month so please do link up below and go and say hi to Claire and Katie my lovely co-hosts – happy reading!