read_warbler (read_warbler) wrote,

Minnow on the Say

My 1st. book for July is Minnow on the Say by Philippa Pearce, a favourite library book of mine when I was child living in Penzance, in Cornwall.

First of all, I'll confess that this is not a photo of my book, it's one I found on the internet. My own copy is a lot rattier than this one.

Secondly I'll confess that I fell totally in love with this book all over again. The plot is a fairly typical one of its time - the mid 1950s - where two children are searching for a treasure that will stop a house having to be sold and save a family from poverty. The children in question are David Moss, an ordinary boy from an ordinary background whose father drives a bus, and Adam Codling who lives in huge house, but in upper-class poverty. David wakes up one morning, after a bad storm, to find a canoe floating on the river at the bottom of his garden. The river is the river Say and David, hoping to keep the boat, names it the Minnow. A day or two later he ventures upstream looking for a broken stump that might match the bit attached to the canoe, and meets Adam Codling. After some misunderstanding the two boys become friends and Adam tells David something of the history of his family and about a treasure that was lost back in the 16th century. Adam lives with his aunt Dinah and his grandfather, who fell into dementia when his son (Adam's father) was lost in the war. The family are very poor, to the point where there's hardly any furniture in the house and not enough to eat - so much so that Dinah believes she can no longer keep Adam with them and he'll have to go and live with cousins in Birmingham. Adam believes if he can only find the lost treasure he can save their little family and he won't have to go and live in Birmingham. All they have to go on is a rhyme left behind as a clue and, using The Minnow, the two boys spend their summer holidays desperately searching for the treasure.

Talk about nostalgia. This, of course, is what childhoods used to be like. 1950s and 60s style, that is. I don't know when things changed, my own girls were born in the mid-70s and, although they had a certain amount of freedom, mothers already felt it wasn't as safe as it used to be. I personally roamed all over the Cornish countryside as child, in fields, in woods, in the local stream and, when slightly older, on the beaches. Idyllic, I suppose you'd describe it as. Even though we had little money, it didn't matter because no one else did either! No one went away on holiday. If someone had announced they were off to Majorca for a week the reaction would have been stunned disbelief. If people went anywhere it was usually to stay with relatives who might live in another part of the country. And thus, school holidays were spent as David and Adam spent their's, exploring and enjoying the local countryside. This book took me right back to that and also to a time when there was less stress, where people took the time to bake cakes or grow their own veg. and thought it was *normal* to do so.

Philippa Pearce's writing is superb. I didn't realise it but this was her very first book. She's more famous for Tom's Midnight Garden, which I haven't read, plus she was quite a prolific writer of children's books until her death in 2006. What a wonderful debut this was! I know I read Minnow on the Say several times, adoring its lazy English summer atmosphere and the excitement of the search for the treasure. Now I can see more in it of course. The fact that she has 11 and 12 year old boys spot on in their gruffness and unwillingness to explain what they mean when dealing with each other. I'm now more struck by the sadness of dementia and by the aunt not having enough money to feed Adam, a growing boy, who is consequently always hungry. David's parents quickly realise this of course and do their best to help. Despite the fact that they were working class they were actually better off than their upper-class counterparts. Things were clearly changing in the 1950s. I can't recommend this book too highly and I mustn't finish without mentioning the lovely illustrations by Edward Ardizzone. They fit the book perfectly and are mini works of art in themselves. A gorgeous, atmospheric, nostalgic, *summer* read.
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