Monday, January 28, 2013

Children's Literature: Eleanor Farjeon

I've kind of saved Eleanor Farjeon until the end, and now I'm wondering if I'll have time to write all the posts I want to, so I'm going to do this one now because she's one of my very favorites.

Eleanor Farjeon (1881 –  1965) lived in London.  She had 3 brothers who went to school, but she herself was short-sighted, shy, and suffered chronic ill-health, so she was educated at home.  This education consisted largely of her spending all her time reading books in the dusty attic (between this and the London air, it's no wonder she got sick all the time!).  Here is her description of her home:
In the home of my childhood there was a room we called "The Little Bookroom". True, every room in the house could have been called a bookroom. Our nurseries upstairs were full of books. Downstairs my father's study was full of them. They lined the dining room walls, and overflowed into my mother's sitting-room, and up into the bedrooms. It would have been more natural to live without clothes than without books. As unnatural not to read as not to eat.
The Little Bookroom

Her father also read aloud to the children a whole lot, and encouraged their storytelling abilities by showing them slides to make up stories about and teaching them to type.  In 1890, mind you.

 Writing and music was what Farjeons did, and Eleanor's circle included literary and theatrical names.  She wrote poetry and stories and even a libretto for an operetta.  She also did broadcasting and journalism.  She was friends with writers from Walter de la Mare to D. H. Lawrence and lots more.

Farjeon was especially good at writing easy poetry about history.  I have a book of these poems, not to mention a couple of books about saints and kings, and a children's adaptation of The Canterbury Tales (ALL of them, if you can believe it, but suitably altered for children!). 

It's her stories that I really prefer, though.  Farjeon wrote piles of stories--often delicate, pretty fairy tales with a bit of an 18th-century flavor, but just as often mischievous or sad.  She often mentions Watteau in her stories and that's sort of how I think of them.  Edward Ardizzone did a lot of illustrations for her and the combination is perfect.

The easiest book to find, and the one I grew up on (I think it was one of the few books I took to college, even) is The Little Bookroom, a collection of the stories that she considered her best.  It won the Carnegie Medal in 1955. 

It's also fairly easy to find Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard and Martin Pippin in the Daisy Field, which are collections of stories centered on a wandering troubadour.  They are structured a bit like the Decameron, really.  And I like Kaleidoscope, about a boy's memories of growing up in his village.  

 Please, please give Eleanor Farjeon a try, especially if you have a child who likes to be read aloud to.  Very small girls particularly love "The Lady's Room" in The Little Bookroom.  When my daughter was about 4, I had to read it to her over and over.


AO said...

thank you for posting this Jean. i haven't read any of her stories yet and will give them a try. Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard will be my first read!

amanda @ simplerpastimes said...

The name Eleanor Farjeon really sounds familiar, but I don't think I've read any of her stories. Perhaps I've seen them somewhere, though. They sound like ones I might like to try.

hopeinbrazil said...

I have enjoyed some of her poetry, but haven't read any of her books. Thank you for this informative post.