CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 3 . . . . October 1, 1999
If you are a parent planning to take your young-to-adolescent-aged child(ren) to Britain this summer, this book will be a great help to your mutual enjoyment of the trip. You must, however, get started immediately, as the relevance and major interest of the walks described comes from an intimate acquaintance with the books in whose settings they take place.
What Frank Barrett has written is a travel guide to places that are readily recognizable as the settings of many favourite children's books, pointing out where the action has taken place as well as any significance the spots may have had in the lives of the authors. Therefore, we visit the Lake District in order to see, for example, the pub that is pictured in Jemima Puddleduck and Duchess's house from The Pie and the Patty Pan, as well as places of significance in Beatrix Potter's own life. That could combine with a trip to Coniston Water where Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons is set. Or you could go to Yorkshire for a trip around The Secret Garden of Frances Hodgson Burnett, or Exmoor where Blackwood's Lorna Doone characters fought their family feuds.
Each chapter begins with a short item of interest about the book, continues with a very brief plot synopsis, a biography of the author, a map of the relevant area showing footpaths and roads, and finally a description of the various points of interest and how they tie in with the story.
Not surprisingly in an English book, the places are mostly in England. Only Rob Roy has a Scottish setting, and Anne of Green Gables and The Little Prince are almost irrelevant afterthoughts. For the map of Green Gables territory, however, there is an added feature which might well have been incorporated into all the chapters, namely an inset map of PEI, itself, showing the relative position of Cavendish. I, for one, would have found this very helpful in locating the general areas of particular local sites. Coalpit Heath (The sheep-pig) is not on everyone's map of the British Isles! Even the London venues of Peter Pan and The Christmas Carol could benefit from being placed in the context of the rest of the city.
The plot summaries necessarily lack detail and frankly would not have inspired me to read any of the books, taken merely on the basis of Barrett's description. They do, however, serve as excellent reminders of books that one might perhaps have neglected inadvertently, or have forgotten the significance with respect to a place where one is planning to go anyway. Certainly if one were going to be in Oxford, a suggestion that rereading both Alice and Narnia could lead to a couple of pleasant child-oriented outings is very useful. The better your recollection of the books, the more you will appreciate a walk around the Kilns or a boat ride up the Thames from Folly Bridge.
Other than the books already mentioned, Barrett treats Watership Down (Richard Adams), Thomas the Tank Engine (W. Audry), Danny, the Champion of the World (Roald Dahl), Carrie's War (Nina Bawden), The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Graham), Tom Brown's Schooldays (Thomas Hughes), The Railway Children (E. Nesbitt), Cider with Rosie (Laurie Lee), and The Hundred and One Dalmatians (Dodie Smith). If nothing else, this book serves as a list of classics of kiddie lit with which we should all have some acquaintance! The travel and museum information, as well as the walks and drives which are beautiful in themselves, even without their associations, could be regarded as extras.
Mary Thomas works in the library of an elementary school in Winnipeg, MB.
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