Are you tempted by escapism in your reading matter? Are you dreaming of distant lands? Or is that just too frustrating, during our current lockdown? Here are a few children’s books set in our local area. (If you know of others, do let us know.)
In S.E. Durrant’ latest book, Talking to the moon (Nosy Crow, 2020), Iris goes to stay with grandmother Mimi in Brighton. This is a beautifully-told story of family relationships, and how they shift over time. We hope to post a fuller review of this book soon.
Eleanor Farjeon’s classic fairy tale was reissued a few years ago with suitably enchanting illustrations by the multi-award winning Charlotte Voake. Elsie Piddock skips in her sleep (Walker Books, 2016) is a magical story of skipping and of triumph over adversity, and is set around Mount Caburn, in the South Downs between Lewes and Glynde.
Alan Baker is an award-winning illustrator who lives in Lewes. We have in our collection several books which he illustrated, and this counting book, which he both wrote and illustrated, One naughty boy (Andre Deutsch, 1989). With few, well-chosen words, this beautiful book depicts a simpler childhood in the Sussex countryside.
By Judy Pennington and Julia Pannett-Sexton, George, the pavilion cat (Brighton & Hove Council, 2000) tells the true story of a stray who became the palace cat at Brighton’s own Royal Pavilion, while Raymond Briggs’ boy and snowman famously overflew the same pavilion in the Christmas classic, The Snowman (Puffin, 1980).
The Nothing to See Here Hotel, by Steve Butler and Steve Lenton (Simon & Schuster, 2018) is the first in a series. Frankie lives in the hotel, on the edge of Brighton, with his parents and an assorted bunch of unusual guests: monsters, ghosts and other magical creatures. Reviewers are divided. Children (aged 5 to 9 years) love the riotous humour and plotting; teachers enjoy the inventive wordplay and the way the book engages the attention of their whole class; a minority of readers are concerned about the charactorisation of the baddies, citing racial stereotyping and Orientalism. Read it through and decide for yourself before putting it on your classroom bookshelf.
Two stories set during the Second World War are The children who stayed behind, by Bruce Carter (Vintage Children’s Classics, 2015) and Chic Jacobs’ A boy’s own war (Sweethaws, 1990 ). Bruce Carter’s book was originally published in 1958 as The kidnapping of Kensington, and imagines a reverse evacuation story, where all adults have hurriedly left Brighton under threat of attack, but a family of children is accidentally left behind. The absence of adults is a familiar trope in children’s stories: in this case, they have the whole town to themselves (or do they….?). Chic Jacobs, who grew up to become a noted cartoonist, was evacuated as a child to Rotherfield in the High Weald of East Sussex. A boy’s own war is his memoire, which includes looking up to see the planes of the Battle of Britain.
Brighton and Lewes feature in Sugar rush, by Julie Burchill (HarperTempest, 2005) aimed at early teens. A ‘good’ girl faces problems when she transfers from a posh private school to a tough comprehensive. Teenage reviewers mostly prefer the TV adaptation to the original book.
In 1938, Eve Garnett won the second-ever Carnegie Medal for her warm and wonderful depiction of working class life; The family from One End Street, and it has been in print ever since (our copy is from Puffin, 2014). The big, happy Ruggles family – father is a dustman and the mother a washerwoman – have plenty of adventures in the small town of Otwell-on-the-Ouse, which is generally presumed to be based on Lewes, where the author lived. Modern day readers may find the authorial tone a bit patronising, but for those of us who grew into readers before ordinary families were commonly portrayed in children’s books, this book was a welcome friend.