written and illustrated by Eve Garnett
Age: 5+ (read to)
Interests: family, siblings, Great Britain
Frederick Muller: 1937
207 pp. – 10 chapters
Also by this author: the sequels – Further Adventures of the Family from One End Street, and Holiday at Dew Drop Inn
Several episodes in the life of the Ruggles, a large working class family in a small English town. Mr. Ruggles is a dustman and Mrs. Ruggles takes in washing, and their seven children are well-meaning but occasionally disobedient, resulting in many adventures and mishaps.
The Ruggles family is quite poor but morally upstanding, hardworking, loyal and supportive of each other. A little rough around the edges, but fun-loving and lively. The book is a series of separate episodes loosely strung together: Lily Rose’s desire to do a good deed results in an ironing mishap, Kate wins a coveted scholarship but must scramble to afford the uniform, the twins James and John fall in with a gang of older boys and in an effort to impress them have two wildly different adventures, Jo schemes to sneak into the cinema to see the new colour Mickey Mouse cartoon, and baby William wins first prize at the fair. In the final chapters father Jo finds lost money in a dustbin and the reward for returning it allows him to take the whole family to London for a grand holiday.
In the 1930s in Britain it was very unusual for a children’s book to have working class characters. Eve Garnett provided ordinary children from the poorer areas of England stories which reflected their reality. And the Ruggles’ poverty is not underplayed – in every chapter the cost of things is a continual worry, and every penny scraped together is done so with great effort (and sometimes, luck).
Today the book is still charming but quite old-fashioned. Children will be amazed by the freedom which the Ruggles children enjoy, as they wander about town and countryside without adult supervision. Nothing terrible transpires, as their fellow villagers and all the strangers they meet are kindly and help them out of difficulties. In particular the rich folk they encounter are without exception generous and giving – a gentler outlook on society than later books about class warfare in Britain.
This book was, and still is, a sentimental favourite in the U.K., as it appeared in the top ten favourites of all the Carnegie winners on the 70th anniversary of the awards. Relatively unknown outside of Britain, this book is perhaps most notable for beating J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit for the Carnegie Medal of 1937.