Saturday, 4 February 2012

Joyce Lankester Brisley

loomed large in my childhood. I think my father brought the first "Milly-Molly-Mandy" book home from school. He probably read it to me. By age four however I could read the stories to myself.
If you have never read the stories they are about a little girl - we never learn quite how old she is - in an English village. She is probably around about five years of age as are her friends, "Little-friend-Susan" and "Billy-Blunt". They are a resourceful trio.
The first stories were published as single episodes in "The Christian Science Monitor" but a collection of them appeared in 1928 and several more volumes followed. My mother's parents were "Christian Scientists" and she was brought up the same way. The "church" they attended would have subscribed to the Monitor and I have no doubt my mother was aware of the stories from her own childhood.
My father remembers the books from his early teaching days. A copy of "Milly-Molly-Mandy" stories was apparently one of the very few books available in the little one-teacher school he worked in before marrying my mother. They probably went down well with the entirely unsophisticated country children he was teaching. They could have related to many of the incidents in the stories. So could I.
It was rather like reading about the place we lived in at the time. It was called a "town" but, by British standards, it was a small village.
My equivalent of "Little-friend-Susan" lived over the back fence. Unlike me she could not read so I read the stories to her. "Billy Blunt" and my brother and I used to ride our tricycles through the huge pipes waiting to be laid for some water scheme. We would also ride a little distance down the road and watch "Mr Rudge-the-Blacksmith". Yes, there was still a blacksmith where we lived. He was probably the only blacksmith for miles around and I know now that most of his work involved mending farm machinery but he could shoe a horse. We watched him do it.
Of course we had a village shop - but no village pond or village green - and the all important village bakery. The bakery was tiny. It provided bread, white or brown, bread rolls and currant buns. As children the currant buns were by far the most important thing. At Easter time the baker would make them into "hot-cross-buns" and each child would be given one. We would sit in a long row along the fence and eat them very slowly. It is just the sort of thing Milly-Molly-Mandy and her friends would have done.
Brisley wrote other books as well. I know I read them too. There was "Marigold in Godmother's House", "The Dawn Shops" and at least two books about "Bunchy".  My godmother showed me how to fold and cut the paper in order to make a string of little girls the way Bunchy did. The day the Whirlwind's mother died I did the same thing to keep her occupied. She still has one string from that day. Paper, pencil and scissors are the only things required.
Perhaps that is what these books are really about and why they are still read. Yes, the library copies are rarely on the shelves. The books are gentle, sentimental, "twee" and lacking in any real excitement. They are not particularly well written but they are comfortable and comforting, somehow "familiar" - and they make us feel secure.


Sarah Pearson said...

I had these as a little girl - and so did my daughters :-)

Frances said...

In the bookshop yesterday I was looking through a book called something like: "How to Make the Things that Milly Molly Mandy Made".
And thank you for mentioning "The Dawn Shops". For years a childhood story, "The Thing That Walked Tiptoe" recurred to me: but I had no idea who wrote it or where it came from.
As soon as I saw the name "The Dawn Shops" I remembered.

Anonymous said...

I think the word is "cosy" - yes? Ros

Mike said...

If anyone is interested in The Dawn Shops I have republished it, with the permission of the JLB Trust have a look at
My mother use to read to me M-M-M and The Dawn Shops, the copy of The Dawn Shops was given to her by her sister in 1934.
Joyce wrote a number of other delightful books other than M-M-M that are not very well known.
I have been researching her for the past 4 years.