At our house, anglophilia does not end with a properly brewed pot of tea nestled under a tea cozy. No, it’s spread thick as marmalade over our household; from the slotted toast tray to the framed prints of Cornwall to the UK editions of Country Living I dream over every month (with articles like Raising Sheep in Cumbria).
Growing up overseas with Brits– including two dear old-lady neighbors, one who called me Ducky and gave me sweet hot tea, the other who taught me card games with naughty names–impacted me for life.
Steep me in English literature (yes, please, Jane Austen) and give me an insatiable taste for tea and a penchant for chairs pulled up close to the fireplace, add BBC in all its irresistible forms (Hugh and Laurie in Jeeves and Wooster) and I am and will forever be a hopeless Anglophile.
It was easy to convert my husband (his name after all is super English–Martin Bennett Cockroft II). Maybe this is partly why I fell in love? Also, his knees are so English, too–perfectly knobbly, and he loves thick wool sweaters made in–well, you know where.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, our youngest daughter is named after Beatrix Potter, one of our literary and feminist heroes; our middle girl takes her name from Elspeth Huxley (ditto the above). To know us well is to expect a hot cup of Yorkshire’s Best tea accompanied by a few McVittie’s digestive biscuits served on Churchhill’s rose china. And don’t even get me started on British T.V. . .Great British Baking Show, Doc Martin, Inspector Lewis, even Kipper and Shaun the Sheep–stop my beating heart!
So it was perfectly natural that, as soon as I learned I was pregnant, I began stockpiling books. Here are some of my favorites for young children. I will have to limit myself to a few, but I’d love to add more in future posts if you like!
First things first–let us acknowledge the great Beatrix Potter. No other author combines such whimsical, yet unsentimental stories about animals with such beautiful artwork. We were able to visit her house this summer in the Lake District and there we saw some of her original sketches–stunning. While these have never been my
children’s favorite reads, I love having them on hand. Favorite: Jemima Puddleduck–not the cleverest quacker, but lovable for her earnestness.
One of my favorite authors of all time for young children has to be Helen Oxenbury, specifically her Tom and Pippo books. Perfect, simple text, and wonderful illustrations convinced me to collect every book of hers I could find–and I read them again, and again, and again. If you love all things British, your favorite may be “Tom and Pippo Go Shopping,” where Tom and his mother take a break from all the shops to grab tea and orange squash before heading home. (Other favorites include “Walk the Dog” and “In the Garden.”) I collected them from wherever I could find them, mostly used on Amazon. Favorite: Pippo’s expression when Tom eats all the cheese and drinks all the orange squash–and is Pippo real or a ‘stuffie?’ Both, and that’s the magic of Oxenbury. Her simple language captures perfectly the world and wonder of being small.
My young daughters adored these short, funny Paddington Bear stories by Micheal Bond (illustrated by Fred Banbury). Find the old editions if you can–it’s rather a shame how Paddington has been merchandised over the years, and the newer books can’t touch the charm of the older ones. My favorites include Paddington’s Lucky Day and Paddington’s Garden. I collected my used copies for a song on Amazon. Favorite: Paddington’s dear, funny fumbling ways. And marmalade (or chunks) of course. Don’t miss PB’s ingenious ‘rockery’ in P’s Garden. (And if you’re a fan of the London Tower, look for Paddington’s visit to the Beefeaters and the ravens.)
Here are some stories that could cause a bit of controversy, mainly for the somewhat archaic usage of the word naughty, but we love the “Naughty Little Sister”
tales by Dorothy Edwards, published originally around 1950 and illustrated by the unparalleled Shirley Hughes. A responsible older sister spins simple, witty tales about her ingenious, mischievous little sibling. My girls have whiled away many, many happy hours listening to the audio versions narrated by the lovely Jan Francis. Favorite: Mrs. Cocoa Jones (named for her daily offerings of hot yummy beverages), who lives just on the other side of the townhouse wall. Kindly Mr. Cocoa Jones builds a special passageway through the garden so the girls can wander through any time. Also, we love best friend Bad Harry, whose golden angelic curls belie his capacity for getting into trouble.
Next Post: The amazing “Bear on a Bike” board books, Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Brisley, Shirley Hughes’ beautiful books & poems, and more.