Sunday, September 10, 2006

Forgotten Bookshelf: The Little Book Room

Hey, I want a little book room. Who wouldn't? Some sequestered little nook with lots of dark wood furniture and plump cushions, always available for reading escapes. Eleanor Farjeon's father had a "little book room" that he kept as a private library, and her fondness for the space lead to the moniker for this delightful book of short stories for children.

Now, many of you may not have heard of Farjeon. Fair enough -- but she's freakin' amazing, people! She's won all the big book awards: the Carnegie Medal, the Hans Christian Andersen, what have you. She wrote scads of poetry, plays, novels and short stories for kids -- most of which remains just as fresh and whimsical today as it did when it was first written -- but she has, for some reason, faded into obscurity in the child lit. world. Well, it's time to change all that. The smart people down at the New York Review decided a while back to bring this sweet little volume back into print. And there was much rejoicing.

The Little Book Room is a perfect introduction to Farjeon's work. She compiled this collection when she was seventy-three -- it contains her favorite stories selected from decades of work. As such, there's a big range of different styles on exhibit here. Some of the stories take place in our world -- "The Connemara Donkey" is a heart-wrenching tale of an Irish immigrant boy reminiscent of Eleanor Estes' The Hundred Dresses, while "Pennyworth" is the chronicle of a toddler's "day out" in the English countryside. Other tales take familiar fairy-tale conventions and turn them upside-down. "The Little Seamstress" is a Cinderella story where the Prince is the matchmaker; "The Seventh Princess" is about a kingdom wherein the girl with the longest hair will inherit the kingdom. And there are even a few stories that work as charming old fables: "The Kind Farmer," a story of a miser whose innocent daughter prompts him to help the poor, is a tale of such emotional power that it should rightly be on the shelf next to "A Christmas Carol" and "The Happy Prince" for its depiction of the transformative power of generosity.

So: buy it. Buy it and read a story to your kids every night at bedtime, or on picnics, trips to the seaside, or whenever a bit of whimsy and romance is needed. J. S. Beresford put it best: Farjeon's work is "a world of sunlight, of gay inconsequence, of emotional surprise, a world of poetry, delight, and humor." Amen.

3 comments:

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

I told "The Seventh Princess" for a storytelling festival once. I'm so glad The Little Bookroom is back in print.

Kara said...

I love The Little Bookroom. It was a favorite book as a child. "Westwoods" is the one I remember the best. Thanks for reminding me of a delightful book!

Anonymous said...

I'm thirteen and I bought The Little Bookroom on Friday. There is a bookshop in my town that is completely MAGIC! It is really quiet, and there are old books piled, and I kid you not, up to the ceiling! It really is magic. But I saw The Little Bookroom, and it caught my eye, and I picked it up, and I read the introduction, and I fell in love with it. So I bought it for £5 and brought it home, and every time I finish a story I feel really sad, because it brings me a little closer to the end of the book. I really like the poem at the beginning of Westwoods:
I know you are sweeter than grassfields in June,
As bright as the single star watching the moon,
And I long for my grass,
And I dream of my star,
Though I haven't the faintest idea who you are.

I love that, because it reminds me of a boy I wish I knew.
Queen Jaime the Invincible