The Little Bookroom

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CARNEGIE MEDAL WINNER – 1955

The Little Bookroom

by Eleanor Farjeon

Age: 6 (read to); 9 (independent reading)

Interests: short stories, updated fairy tales, satire, magic, romance, princesses and princes, helping others, morality

Oxford University Press: 1955

336 pp, 27 stories

Next: E. Nesbit’s The Book of Dragons

A collection of whimsical short stories by Eleanor Farjeon, from farcical fairy tales to deceptively simple fables, from everyday childhood moments to magical fantasies and gossamer-light morality tales. A bit lighter, snappier and more easily accessible than de la Mare’s Collected Stories, but in the same vein, and just as unusual and thought-provoking.

If your child is ready for fairy tales with an extra dimension, this is the perfect book, as the various characters find that the expected path is not always the best one to take. A Queen’s greatest gift to her favourite daughter is a chance to escape from a life of royalty. A young King is disappointed by all the princesses he courts, finally wedding his own rather insolent housemaid. A Cinderella-esque dressmaker is romanced, not by the prince but by his footman, whom she is perfectly happy to wed.

The stories were written over thirty or so years, and some are more old-fashioned and moralistic than others, but for the most part the collection retains a light touch. The most modern in style are funny and satirical, particularly The King’s Daughter Cries for the Moon, which manages to take a tongue-in-cheek swipe at all levels of society in one go.

Overall this is an entertaining and charming read. The stories are traditional in many ways but most have a modern, humourous twist. There’s nothing very scary here either, this is not a book of great action or violence, but very young listeners (under 6) may be dissatisfied by the unconventional and occasionally downbeat endings.

The stories:

The King and the Corn – a poor boy angers a proud Egyptian king, but time and humility is on his side.

The King’s Daughter Cries for the Moon – an entire kingdom and the very heavens above are thrown into uproar over a little princess’s tears.

Young Kate – despite warnings, a servant girl leaves her village and meets the Green Woman, River King and Dancing Boy.

The Flower Without a Name – a village child’s unusual flower cannot be identified, even by the wisest men in the land… so it is destroyed.

The Goldfish – King Neptune grants a goldfish’s wish to see the world, plucking him out of the sea and dropping him into a fishbowl.

The Clumber Pup – a romantic tale about an honest woodcutter, a pup, a kitten, and a princess.

The Miracle of the Poor Island – the ghost of a virtuous Queen saves the poor inhabitants of a nearby island from the incoming tide.

The Girl Who Kissed the Peach-Tree – an entire village flees an erupting volcano, except for a little girl who returns to save her peach tree.

Westwoods – a young King searches far and wide for a princess to marry, though all along he loves the housemaid.

The Barrel-Organ – a mysterious barrel-organ plays in the dark woods for a lost traveler.

The Giant and the Mite – a vast, brainless giant teams up with a wise mite, which causes endless troubles until the Angels find a solution.

The Little Dressmaker – a romance blossoms between a talented dressmaker and the prince’s footman… or is he really the prince? No, he turns out to be the footman and they live happily ever after.

The Lady’s Room – a Fairy decorates and redecorates a fickle lady’s room.

The Seventh Princess – a melancholy Queen (a former gypsy) gives the gift of freedom to her youngest daughter.

Leaving Paradise – two brothers are tricked by a witch into leaving Paradise but the third brother goes down to bring them back.

The Little Lady’s Roses – a rich little girl longs for playmates, and finds a way to invite the village children to her garden.

In Those Days – a Queen orders a sentry to guard a flower, and the order persists through the years, long after Queen and garden are long gone.

The Connemara Donkey – a boy believes his father’s tall tales about Ireland and is teased by his classmates; his kindly teacher finds a way to make the stories come true.

The Tims – five generations of Tims give advice to their neighbours, telling them to “do nothing”, resulting in peace and contentment for all.

Pennyworth – Johnny Moon finds a penny and turns it into an entire day of adventure at the local train station.

And I Dance Mine Own Child – Griselda and her Great-Grandmother live together, poor but happy, until illness separates them, until a miraculous find solves their financial worries.

The Lovebirds – a very poor little girl receives a fortune from a pair of lovebirds in a cage.

San Fairy Ann – a little girl’s life is transformed when her favourite doll is lost, and then found again years later.

The Glass Peacock – even though extremely poor, Annar-Mariar shares everything she has with the other children, especially at Christmas.

The Kind Farmer – an unpleasant, grasping farmer is transformed into a generous, loved man by his love for his daughter. He loses his entire fortune by the time he dies, but his daughter’s happiness and wellbeing is assured through the goodwill of his neighbours.

Old Surly and the Boy – Old Surly the shepherd and young Ned overcome mutual animosity to work together.

Pannychis – Cymon loves his little cousin Pannychis so much that he becomes over-protective, fearful, and anxious. One day Pannychis runs laughing into the forest and disappears forever. Cymon loses her, but is also freed from his own fears.

(available at amazon.com)

Illustrations by Edward Ardizzone:

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.