Monday, 16 April 2018

School Prizes

My daughter and I have just had a 'sorting' weekend. We worked very hard and there's now a mountain of stuff in the hall waiting to be taken to the charity shop. One of the things we sorted was all my old children's books which had been scattered fairly randomly around the top floor of the house (they were actually on shelves, not on the floor - well, mostly anyway). They're now beautifully organised and it was very exciting to find some old favourites.

It was particularly nice to see my Mum's old books from when she was a child again. They're now about seventy years old and showing signs of their age, having been read by several generations. Amongst them were some school prizes so I thought you might like to see those, together with a couple that I got at about the same age.

Mum's are the ones with plain covers and are from the 1940s. My two are from the 1970s. We were both around ten or eleven when we got them. I couldn't find a picture of me at that age but here's one of Mum.

Her earliest school prize dates from 1944 and is a book of stories called 'When the Fire Burns Blue' by Dorothy Ann Lovell.

I see that the teacher who wrote the inscription in this book was Mrs Blake. She taught at New Street School in Andover for many years and ended her career at the newly built Balksbury School in the same town ... where, some 26 years after writing in Mum's book, she taught me. 

This would have been a very special prize in 1944 when rationing was in force, making books harder to get. 

The stories in the book are whimsical and accompanied by some lovely line drawings. I remember reading this one 'Little Red Bird' again and again.

The bird is a mechanical one who sings when children put a penny in the slot in his cage. One day, while his owner Mrs Hurley, dozes by the sea, the bird flies from his cage for a short taste of freedom. When he looks down from the sky and sees Mrs Hurley and her worn shoes he remembers that she relies on the pennies he makes and returns to the cage before she wakes up.

Mum's next prize was a small book of Grimm's Fairy Tales, published by Everyman. 

The endpapers on old Everyman books are always beautiful. These were designed by the artist Eric Ravilious, one of my favourite artists and he was also responsible for this icon on the title page.

I learnt from the Everyman's Library Collecting website that different icons were used for different categories of books; this one was for books aimed at 'Young People'. I've just been to the wonderful exhibition Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship at Compton Verney which was so good I think I shall have to go again.

I don't remember reading the Fairy Tales book much but I did read this one many times.

Mum won this one in the Summer of 1948 and it's a classic girls' boarding school story. There's trouble over a missing postal order (remember those?) and someone waylays Esme and locks her in Matron's cupboard - that sort of thing.

My two prize books date from around 1970; I seem to remember that we were asked what sort of book we would like and I chose poetry for my first one.

'My Kind of Verse' is a selection of all sorts of poetry, ranging from Nursery Rhymes to Keats and Shakespeare. I've always loved poetry and I learnt some of these by heart.

I devised my own dance to go with 'I had  little nut tree' which I would perform at the drop of a hat (yes I was that sort of child). I love the fact that this rhyme shares the page with Yeats and Thomas Moore; that's what I call a proper anthology.

I got my second prize a year later and this time I chose a book of Shakespeare stories.

I really loved this book and read the stories so many times. I think my favourite was 'As You Like It', although I now prefer 'Much Ado'. I went on to study English Literature at University and now go to watch Shakespeare plays at the RSC regularly so this was obviously a good choice.

One day I'll show you some of the other old children's books I got from my Mum but I think that's enough for now. By the way, do you like the old brushed cotton sheet I've used as the background for the photos? I bought it in a charity shop to back a quilt top I pieced a few years ago. I really must make a start on that.

And here's a picture of Tolly Cat who's been sitting on my lap 'helping' me write this.

How would I manage without him?

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