Category Archives: Children’s Books

Book Review: Chocolate Cake by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Kevin Waldron

A children’s picture book about a boy who can’t resist a sticky gooey chocolate cake! I thought I’d love this new Michael Rosen book. Usually a big fan of anything from this author, I confess I was a little disappointed.

michael rosen chocolate cake2

The story is about a little boy (a little Michael Rosen really) sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night, when everyone else is fast asleep, to look at a big chocolate cake his mum has made… and then, of course, he’s unable to resist having a few crumbs… and then a bit more… until the whole cake is gone!!

It’s a picture book version of Rosen’s original poem, Chocolate Cake, from his collection ‘Poems and Stories About My Family’, but unfortunately it’s been re-written. The story itself is ok and I like the illustrations but the fill-in parts on the page, speech bubbles etc., just don’t seem to fit with the rest of the book. It comes across to me as disjointed and doesn’t really fit with the overall feel of the book. I might have preferred it better if it had been re-written with some partial rhyme to help it along, or if it had been reproduced in its original format but with the new illustrations for picture book format.

However, the idea of a boy sneaking downstairs in the night to look at this big chocolate cake (with a cute dog at his feet)… and then to be unable to resist eating it bit by bit… well, it’s fun and is bound to get kids giggling, even if it hasn’t completely hit the mark with me. I think it’ll be a ‘fun for 5 minutes’ sort of a picture book rather than a classic keeper.

I really love Michael Rosen’s YouTube performance of his original poem ‘Chocolate Cake’, together with other poems from his book ‘Poems and Stories About My Family’ which has, to date, had over 4 million, yes million, views. Perhaps I would like this picture book better if he did a reading of it and made it as good as his reading of the poem!


About the Author
Michael Rosen is a children’s author and poet and has written a lot of books. Really, a lot. Too many to list here. Michael Rosen was Children’s Laureate from 2007 to 2009 and you can find out more about him on his website

Where to Buy
You can buy Chocolate Cake from your local independent bookshop (the best option!), or you can buy online from and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. Chocolate Cake is published by Puffin (August 2017) and is available as a new hardback, RRP £12.99 ISBN 9780141374093. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. If we don’t have it in stock we would be happy to order it in for you. We also have a large second-hand stock.


Book Review: The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

I’m a long way beyond the target audience age range for this book but I enjoy reading children’s fiction; sometimes it’s the perfect switch-off at the end of a busy day. All the best children’s novels are just as good to read as an adult – good writing, good characterisation, plot structure and so on are the main requirements. If a book can meet all those elements I don’t mind who it’s aimed at.

do not read small


A good opener. I was intrigued. If a book can grab my attention at page one then I’ll read on, whatever the subject. This was just too intriguing. ‘Do not read beyond this page’. Nothing could be more likely to make me want to keep reading than an instruction telling me not to! A great means to get the reader to buy or borrow the book and see what happens next.

“Generally speaking, books don’t cause much harm. Except when you read them, that is. Then they cause all kinds of problems.
Books can, for example, give you ideas. I don’t know if you’ve ever had an idea before, but, if you have, you know how much trouble an idea can get you into.

Books can also provoke emotions. And emotions are sometimes even more troublesome than ideas. Emotions have led people to do all sorts of things they later regret…” [from the first page]

I like the way the author talks to the reader, telling us the book is dangerous. There’s a secret in the book and knowing this is worse than not knowing. Of course we’re supposed to read on!

Cass (short for Cassandra) is quite a serious and a very practical 11 year old. She is always prepared for an emergency and carries around a backpack containing items to help with surviving all kinds of disasters; her ‘survival’ kit. Cass has two surrogate grandpas who live near her house in an old abandoned fire station, where they also run an old antiques store. This is one of Cass’s favourite places and she spends her Wednesdays after school here, supposedly helping in the shop but really listening to the grandpas’ stories and exploring some of the antiques.

Max-Ernest, also 11 years old, fancies himself as a bit of a comedian but his classmates aren’t as amused by his jokes as he is. Max-Ernest is always on the lookout for someone to try his jokes out on at school and looking around the school yard one day, he can only see one pupil who hasn’t yet heard his current joke; sitting alone at the edge of a field is Cass. Cass isn’t lonely; she’s investigating a finding on the field which she thinks may spell doom and disaster for the school. Cass is convinced that the school has been built on top of a toxic waste dump. She loves to imagine disaster scenarios and it frequently gets her into trouble with the headteacher.

This meeting on the playing field is the beginning of a friendship between Cass and Max-Ernest and spells the beginning of their adventures. They end up trying to uncover a mysterious secret, involving a rare antique case of vials of smells, a missing magician and his diary and a suspicious estate agent called Gloria Fortune. The pair find themselves embroiled deeper and deeper in this mystery as it leads them on some quite perilous adventures, needing their wits, decoding skills, intuition and escape capabilities. I won’t reveal any more but I can recommend reading the book to find out their SECRET.

The first in a series, this book is followed by:
2. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
3. This Book Is Not Good For You
4. This Isn’t What It Looks Like
5. You Have To Stop This

Recommended for ages 8+

About the Author

Pseudonymous Bosh is a pseudonym, or pen name and it belongs to American author Raphael Simon. He has written other books under the Pseudonymous Bosch name – the Bad series and a stand-alone children’s novel, Write This Book. To find out more, have a look at his website

Where to Buy

You can buy the series from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The Name of This Book is Secret is currently available as a new paperback, RRP £6.99 ISBN 9781409583820. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock.

Review: Green Smoke by Rosemary Manning

A friendly green dragon, a mermaid, Arthurian legend and eight-year-old Sue who is on holiday at the Cornish seaside with her parents. Add together these ingredients for a magical, gentle children’s story.

Green Smoke by Rosemary Manning (Jane Nissen Books, 2008)

First published in 1957; I don’t know how I missed this growing up as I LOVED green dragons… but perhaps they didn’t have it in my local library. Anyway, I’ve just finished reading Green Smoke and I’m about to go on the hunt for the sequels: Dragon in Danger (1959), The Dragon’s Quest (1961), and The Dragon in the Harbour (1980). Original editions are hard to find but second-hand Puffin paperback reprints aren’t too tricky to track down.

“A story about life-long friendship and magical adventures – a happy book, with lots of jokes” – Amanda Craig

So Sue is on holiday in Constantine Bay. Perhaps I should let the author introduce Constantine Bay – this is how the story opens:

‘This is a story about a girl called Susan, or Sue for short, who went for a seaside holiday to Constantine Bay in Cornwall. Perhaps you have never been to Constantine Bay. Perhaps you have never even been to Cornwall. That won’t matter at all. Just think of the rockiest rocks, the sandiest sand, the greenest sea and the bluest sky you can possibly imagine, and you will have some idea of Constantine Bay.’

There is a high cliff with a lighthouse, a ridge of rocks jutting into the sea, sand dunes ‘with hummocks of tough grass, and little hot sandy paths running in and out like yellow streams’.

Idyllic, yes? I think so.

Beach at low tide – St Ives, Cornwall © Sam Barnes

It’s on the third day of the holidays, early in the morning when there aren’t many people about, that Sue is scrambling about on the rocks by herself and she hears a sound like a very loud sneeze and sees a little puff of green smoke come out of a cave nearby. Sue goes to investigate and another sneeze erupts and with it a paper bag comes flying out of the cave. Sue goes to bury the paper bag in a hole and cover it over with sand when a voice comes out of the cave to thank her for burying their rubbish. Sue keeps the conversation going with the mysterious voice until she can coax it into telling her who it belongs to… a rather surprising Mr R. Dragon; Cornish, green and a friendly, if occasionally grumpy, dragon.

Prehistoric Cornwall – Lanyon Quoit in the mist © Sam Barnes

R. Dragon and Sue become firm friends and Sue visits nearly every day to share her picnic, or a bun or a biscuit, to hear the dragon’s tales and to go on the occasional adventure. Dragon is some 1500 years old and he’s quite lonely in his cave so he loves spending time with Sue and gets quite grumpy if Sue misses a visit due to bad weather or a day spent with her parents! However, his manners are impeccable, he’s very polite and he’s lived a long, long time, so has some fabulous tales to tell. Most of R. Dragon’s tales relate to Arthurian legend as he lived for a time at the court of King Arthur so knows all about the legend of the sword Excalibur, the Lady of the Lake and Arthur and his knights.

Tintagel, Cornwall © Sam Barnes

As to why he’s called R. Dragon… well, he can’t tell Sue his full name. If a dragon or a mermaid or a fairy tells you their name then you will have complete power over them and that can be a very dangerous thing…

About the Author

Rosemary Manning was born in 1911 and studied Latin and Greek at one of the first universities to take women students, the Royal Holloway. She was a teacher and later headmistress of a school for girls in North London. She wrote several books for children and adults and was also known by the pseudonyms Sarah Davys and Mary Voyle. She died in 1988.

Where to Buy

Green Smoke is currently out-of-print in the UK. For collectable editions try For second hand paperbacks try your local second hand and antiquarian bookshops, charity shops and the internet. Click here for a good resource to help you find your local second hand bookshops in the UK.

Review: The Clue in the Diary (Nancy Drew)

The Clue in the Diary – Nancy Drew Mystery No. 7

It’s been a very long time since I last read a Nancy Drew story – I would have been around 9 years old and borrowing them from my local library, along with many, many other books which I devoured, particularly in the school holidays.

I have always loved books with a passion and, although I didn’t have very many, the books that I owned as a child are the ones that were re-read and they are the stories that stayed with me most vividly. I remember borrowing the Nancy Drew stories – I even have a visual memory of the carousel in Daventry Library that housed them – but I can’t remember anything more about them… that is, until now.

The Clue in the Diary is the 7th Nancy Drew mystery and features Nancy with her friends, the cousins George and Bess, and her new friend Ned Nickerson. Together the three girls, with a bit of help from Ned, are trying to solve the mystery of a diary and signet ring found at the site of a burning house which the girls saw on their way home one night. They stopped at the scene to see if they could help. Nancy saw a man fleeing the scene into the undergrowth and the diary and signet ring were found soon afterwards…

I thoroughly enjoyed this quite undemanding but entertaining read. I’ve recently re-read a number of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories. This is very similar but (and I never thought I’d say this) not quite as well written or as well plotted as a Famous Five. Still, the characterisation is very good, the novel well-plotted and I enjoyed it very much. Although Nancy drives a car and has had boy friends, this is perfectly suitable for 8 and up and is  equally suitable for teenagers and beyond looking for a lightweight read.

Nancy Drew novels

About the Series

Set in America the first four novels in the series were published in 1930. The original series kept running until 2003 with 175 novels published in total. The main character has also appeared in spin off series The Girl Detective, The Nancy Drew Files and is the heroine in the Diaries series as well.  The author, Carolyn Keene, is the pen name for a number of different writers used to write the books.

Where to Buy

The book is currently in print with Grosset and Dunlap in a 2015 edition. The UK RRP is £6.99 for a hardback copy. ISBN 9780448489070. You can buy this and other titles from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from and still support your local independent by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local when you can to help keep your high streets alive. At Books & Ink Bookshop we sell most of our new books at a discounted price and we also have a large second-hand stock (specialising in second-hand and antiquarian children’s books). Online we recommend for collectable and out-of-print books.

Review: Awful Auntie by David Walliams

Awful Auntie by David Walliams

What’s not to love about a David Walliams book? Well… nothing. They’re great! They’re warm, funny and meaningful. They’re also brilliantly illustrated and they have appeal right across the 8-108 age range; they are not just restricted to kids!

I have now read most of his books (skipping The Demon Dentist – I’m really not that keen on the theme) and I haven’t yet read Ratburger. All the ones I have read have been brilliant. David is definitively the new Roald Dahl of children’s literature. No other children’s writer has come close to pulling off the Roald Dahl style of humour but Walliams does it brilliantly. Three of his books have won the National Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year – Awful Auntie, Demon Dentist and Ratburger and they’ve all sold a crazy number of copies.

Great Bavarian Mountain Owl, illustration from Awful Auntie by David Walliams. Picture by Tony Ross.

Aunt Alberta is a truly awful Auntie. Her niece Stella has been orphaned – parents, Lord and Lady Saxby, killed in a horrific car crash – and Alberta is ‘looking after’ Stella at Saxby Hall, the family pile, while trying to trick her niece out of her inheritance. Aunt Alberta has a pet Great Bavarian Mountain Owl, called Wagner, who assists her in her evil schemes and has been devoted to her since he was a little owlet. There is also an ancient butler at the hall who is deaf as a post and gets everything muddled, so he’s no help to Stella for protection from her wicked aunt. Stella’s one salvation comes in the form of the ghost of a chimney sweep but will he be enough of an ally to help her overthrow her wicked aunt?

…’the butler was marching proudly down the corridor carrying his silver tray. Wobbling on top of it was a tiny pot plant. “Your breakfast, Duchess!” he announced, as he opened the door to a cupboard and stepped inside.’

The butler only makes brief appearances but he’s a firm favourite with me. All of the characters are well-described and then brilliantly brought to life by Tony Ross’s illustrations. There are some great laugh-out-loud moments, especially if you read it aloud and I have no hesitations in recommending it to anyone and everyone. And once you’ve read Awful Auntie, get down to your local bookshop or library and buy or borrow some more David Walliams novels to enjoy with, or without, your children or grandchildren!

About the Author

I’m not sure that David Walliams needs introducing so I’ll confine this to mentioning his literary output. So far David has written Camp David (2012), his autobiography; co-authored Inside Little Britain (2006); 4 children’s picture books – The Slightly Annoying Elephant, The First Hippo on the Moon, The Queen’s Orang-utan, and The Bear Who Went Boo! – and 9 novels for children; they are:
The Boy in the Dress
Mr Stink
Billionaire Boy
Gangsta Granny
Demon Dentist
Awful Auntie
Grandpa’s Great Escape
The World’s Worst Children

Where to Buy

You can buy Awful Auntie from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The current RRP for a new paperback is £6.99, ISBN no 9780007453627. Like most of our new books, we usually have this for sale in the bookshop at a discounted price. Published HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2014.


Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

About my edition: Published by Macmillan Collector’s Library in 2010. Translated by Ros and Chloe Schwartz, with an afterword by David Stuart Davies. ISBN no. 9781907360015.

A cosy Sunday afternoon, sat by the fire, seemed the perfect time to re-visit this delightful little classic, The Little Prince.

“All grown ups were children once (but most of them have forgotten).”

I never read it as a child but, like all the best children’s stories, it is just as appealing to the grown up me as I am sure it would have been to little me.

The story opens with a pilot stranded in the Sahara Desert; he is trying to fix a mechanical problem with his plane before his food and drink supplies run out. He wakes one morning at daybreak to a little voice asking him to …”Please, will you draw me a little lamb!” It is the Little Prince.

The Little Prince comes from a planet a long way away; a star, or more specifically Asteroid B 612. It is a very small planet, no bigger than a house, and he looks after it all by himself. He sweeps the chimneys of his three little volcanoes every day and weeds the ground from invasive baobab plants. One day, a new seed comes up through the soil and he watches it grow and develop and get bigger, looking more and more unusual, until it finally blooms into a beautiful, yet thorny flower.  The Little Prince gets talking to the flower and it becomes quite a bossy, vain, demanding and opinionated little flower; demanding water and wind shields and a glass dome to protect it from the cold. The Little Prince loves this precious flower but he doesn’t know how to handle her over-sized ego, so he makes his escape from his beloved planet and sets off an adventure.

“It is sad to forget a friend. Not everybody has had a friend.”

The plant becomes very sad as The Little Prince says goodbye; she knows she has driven him away with her unkind words and she becomes remorseful and sorry for what she has said:

“‘I’ve been stupid,’ she said at last. ‘Please forgive me. Try to be happy.'”

The Little Prince sets off to visit different planets. He encounters a king, a show-off, a drunkard, a businessman (who owns all the stars but does not have the time to appreciate them), a geographer, and a lamplighter. He finds all of these adults very strange and quite tedious; he can’t understand why they do what they do. The only one he has any affinity with is the lamplighter, because …”he’s the only person I don’t find ridiculous. Maybe it’s because he’s looking after something other than himself.” The final planet in his journey is Earth but this planet is much, much bigger than any planet he has encountered before and to begin with he can’t find any people… He meets a snake, a fox and a rose, from each of which he learns some pearls of wisdom. From the fox, he learns:

“People no longer have the time to understand anything. They buy things that are ready-made from the shops. But as there are no shops selling friends, people no longer have any friends.”

The fox tells him his secret:

“You only see clearly with your heart. The most important things are invisible to the eyes. You mustn’t forget this simple truth. You are responsible for ever for those you have tamed.”

The Little Prince shares all he has learned with his new friend, the pilot, and when the pilot carries the Little Prince through the desert on a search to find water, looking down at the handsome prince the pilot comes to the realisation that ...”What I see here is only his shell. The most important part is invisible.”

It is a beautiful story, simply told and illustrated, and with a gentle philosophy in the tradition of the best moral tales such as Aesop’s Fables and the Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Each of the people the Little Prince encounters on his travels highlights a different human vice or weakness; that each of them has a different failing serves to highlight that failing all the more. The Little Prince is soon longing to go back to the planet he loves and the sad little flower he left behind. The author gently attacks the stupidity or short-sightedness of adults throughout the book, leaving us to wonder how we lose the inquisitiveness and unrestricted views of childhood.


About the Author

Antoine de Saint-Exupery was born in 1900 in Lyon, France, and The Little Prince was first published in 1943 (Le Petit Prince). Saint-Exupery began military training in 1921 and later became a pilot, becoming an international postal pilot in the very earliest days of air mail. In the Second World War he joined the French Air Force and went missing on a mission over Germany on 31 July, 1944. He sadly didn’t live to see his little book become an international publishing success. To date, it has been translated into over 180 languages and has sold over 80 million copies worldwide. Saint-Exupery’s other books include Night Flight and Wind, Sand and Stars (published in 1931 and 1939, respectively).

Where to Buy

You can buy The Little Prince from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. For collectable editions, try My edition, the Collector’s Library edition, is currently available new as a pocket-sized hardback (with black and white illustrations) at the RRP of £7.99. It is my favourite translation of the book, though you might also like to try the editions published by Egmont with colour illustrations.

Review: Trickster by Tom Moorhouse

Trickster Front Cover
Trickster by Tom Moorhouse

I read – and loved! – Tom’s first book,The River Singers, which was published in 2013, snapped up the sequel, The Rising, as soon as it came out and when his latest book, Trickster, was published on the 4th February I bought myself a copy straight away. I enjoyed reading Trickster so much that I stayed up ridiculously late to finish it (cue, bleary-eyed bookseller in the morning!).

Now, I don’t want to sound all gushing or anything… but I just genuinely really like Tom’s style of writing, the depth of knowledge and research that goes into his stories and… well… just his great characterisation and storytelling. He writes nature stories for kids of the twentyteens and he does it really well. Think Farthing Wood, Watership Down, Rats of Nimh, The Wind in the Willows, Joyce Stranger’s stories and so on – but, dare I say it… after all I grew up on all these wonderful animal stories… in my opinion he does it even better. I loved all these other stories – and still do – but Tom’s stories are real. I feel like I’ve learned a whole heap about water voles from reading The River Singers and The Rising but not intentionally; it’s the stories that shine but the ecological information just sort of filters into the brain as well. It’s genius.

Trickster is a story about two brother rats, Ash and Gabble, growing up from being young flapfeet, to I suppose adolescent ratlings, to growing into being full grown rats. Rats. Yes. I detest rats. Now, water voles (the subject of The River Singers) were cute but I’ve always hated rats. I shouldn’t get on with this book at all, right? – No. Wrong. Once I’d got the idea of rats out of my mind, it didn’t matter at all that this was a story about animals that I really dislike; the story is good enough to overcome that. It helped that I had grown quite fond of a kindly old rat in The River Singers and The Rising and it turned out that Trickster is the story of that very same rat.

There is absolutely no need to read the other two books before you read Trickster; it stands completely by itself as a novel. In fact, you might even call it a prequel of sorts as it looks at a young Fo’dur’s life (aka Gabble – the sensible brother) but you don’t need to read these books in sequence at all. I highly recommend that you do read them all but it’s not necessary to have read the other two before you read Trickster.

So, where was I? Yes, Ash and Gabble. Ash is a troublesome young rat; he gets into scrapes, has a very independent, adventurous, even reckless streak and likes to test all the boundaries. Moreover, he’s white and the rest of his clan are more ordinary brown rats, so Ash stands out physically as well as by his behaviour. Gabble is a more sensible rat shall we say and is very protective of his difficult brother and tries to be a stabilising influence, though Ash makes this as difficult as he possibly can. Ash’s adventurous streak takes him and his brother off on food raids before they are ready and exploring territories out of bounds to their rat clan. He brings trouble on his own community when neighbouring rat clans want to fight. Gabble does all he can to save his brother and his clan. Will it be enough?…

Like I say, a great story and it also touches on some good themes; such as fitting in, independence, following one’s own path while being considerate to others, communities, difference and acceptance. There are subtle messages that can be taken from the story, or it can just be enjoyed as the good adventurous story that is. I would recommend it for the 8-12 age range but …well, let’s just say I’m considerably (ahem) outside of that range and I loved it. I’ll recommend it for those aged 8-108 instead! If I had to rate Trickster, it would get a full 10/10 from me.

About the Author

[From the blurb inside the back cover] Tom Moorhouse lives in Oxford. When not writing fiction he works as an ecologist at Oxford University’s Zoology Department. Over the years he has met quite a lot of wildlife. Most of it tried to bite him. He loves hiking up mountains, walking through woods, climbing on rocks, and generally being weather-beaten outdoors.

Where to Buy

You can buy Trickster from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local to keep your High Streets alive. It’s out in paperback, RRP £6.99.

tom moorhouse books2jpg
Trickster, with The River Singers and The Rising by Tom Moorhouse


Tom Adderbury
Tom Moorhouse giving a talk at Adderbury Literary Festival, November 2013



by Johanna Spyri

There are countless different websites and blogs with Top 20 books for children, Top 10, Top 100… there is something timeless and appealing about books we read as children and about books we read to our children, so there are no shortage of results if you type ‘top children’s books’ into an internet search. I would like to share with you some of the books that have most inspired me – children’s books I loved, adored even, when I was a child and children’s books that I have come to love since them; all of which have touched me in some way. My choices may not necessarily be considered the best of their genre but they are, however, my best.

1950s Puffin paperback edition of Heidi

I’ve loved Heidi for almost as long as I can remember. I was a quiet, introspective child and learned to read long before I went to school. Although I loved to be read to I could just as happily read to myself and loved poring over the young children’s books on weekly trips to the library. I adored my own small library of (mostly second-hand) books and treated them reverently, even when I was very young. By my 10th birthday when asked what I wanted for my birthday the most important thing in the world was a bookcase for my books. Not just any bookcase. Even by this age, more than anything else, I wanted a bookcase with glass doors to keep the paper and pages nice and dust-free and to stop the paper going brown and brittle. Quite how I had worked this out I have no idea but I was very determined and the trip to the Weedon antiques centre and my resulting find of a small mismatched stripped pine and ash bookcase, with its very own lock and key, remains one of my most treasured possessions.

Ladybird 1980s edition of Heidi, read it yourself series

The first Heidi I fell in love with was in the rather bossily-named ‘read it yourself’ ladybird books series. This Heidi had ash blond pigtails and is pictured hugging an adorable white goat and clutching a bunch of daisies on the front cover. I re-read this particular version over and over and over again and would say it was an equal ladybird favourite (together with about 5 others, including Thumbelina, The Princess and the Frog and Cinderella).

Dean & Son abridged Heidi, 1975

My next Heidi was a 1975 Dean picture book version which came from Daventry’s one and only toy shop of the day, Merretts. It had a lot more text than my ladybird version but an abbreviated story which ended when Heidi returned to the mountains, therefore missing out one of my favourite parts of the story – Clara’s visit to Heidi’s mountain home. I still managed to re-read it many, many times.

Every year for my birthday my mum would give me a lovely new book, or if I was very lucky more than one, and for my 9th birthday I was presented with a matching 3 volume Collins set of the Heidi stories in hardbacks, with lovely colourful dust jackets. I was enchanted. Even now, after all these years and much re-reading, they still look almost as good as new, except for the lovely birthday inscriptions just inside the front covers.  I adored all three books, but the original Heidi – the only one penned by Johanna Spyri – has always been my favourite.

1980s Collins Children’s Classics edition of Heidi

The very best and most enduring children’s stories are essentially timeless. First published in Switzerland in 1880, Heidi is certainly one of these. The English translation in my 1980s edition was first published in the mid-1950s and it reads just as well to me now as it did when I was a child. It’s simple but not simplified, with descriptions that leap off the page and straight into your imagination as you’re reading.

Orphaned as a baby, Heidi is brought up by her Aunt Dete until Dete wishes to go off to a job she has secured in Frankfurt and takes the then five-year-old Heidi up the mountains to live with her gruff grandfather in a simple mountain cottage where he has isolated himself from the rest of society for some years. Heidi finds delight and freedom in the mountain landscape, the goats, her goatherd friend Peter and her kindly grandfather, so is distraught when her Aunt Dete returns for her a few years later and takes her off to Frankfurt to be a companion to a frail invalid girl a few years older than herself, called Clara. Heidi is a buoyant and resilient little girl so tries to make the best of this new situation, becoming firm friends with Clara and her grandmother and enjoying a few escapades in her new home in Frankfurt. However, as time goes on, Heidi pines away with longing for her mountain home, her beloved grandfather and her other friends. Heidi’s new family send her back to the mountains but this time with some added accomplishments which make her even more of a delightful child to her grandfather and those around her. She has learned to be more of a help at home, she has learned to read beautifully so she can read psalms to Peter’s grandmother and she has learned to have faith and say her prayers. She brings delight to everyone on her return home and as she regains her health and strength she looks forward with excitement to her friend Clara’s visit to stay with her the following year. The mountain air is sure to improve Clara’s health and perhaps it will help her bereaved friend, the Frankfurt doctor, to overcome his grief as well.

It’s a beautiful warm story and one I can re-read over and over again. I have since read some interesting snippets about Johanna Spyri – that her marriage may not have been an entirely happy one, that she suffered from depression, that her mother’s religiosity may have been overbearing when she was growing up, that she was friends with Wagner, and that she wrote a lot of stories (maybe 50-70 stories altogether). I would very much like to discover more about this wonderful author and am seeking a biography of her in English translation, so if you’re reading this and know of one please do let me know. In the meantime I’m off to track down some more of her children’s stories. Perhaps I’ll start with Vinzi, A Story of the Swiss Alps; or will it be Mazli, A Story of the Swiss Valleys?

I’ll never be too old for a good children’s book…