My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Mr. McFadden, would you give us each a turnip?”
“What on airth would ye be da’en wi’ a neep?”
“I think you know,” said Selina. “You know it’s Hallowe’en.”
“Hallowe’en,” echoed Tim. His eyes were bright as he thought of it.
“Never heard of it,” said Mr. McFadden.
“You have,” Selina was unperturbed. “There’s no one in Scotland who hasn’t and you know what we do with the turnips.” Tim could not be expected to know. “Because he hasn’t been here,” said Selina. “We hollow them out,” she told Tim. “Hollow and scoop them out–that’s hard work; then we cut holes for eyes and a mouth, little ones for nostrils if we can. Some people give them paper teeth and red rag tongue. On Hallowe’en night we put a lit candle in them or a night light and carry them as a lantern or put them on gateposts. They look horrible,” said Selina with a shudder of pleasure, and she told Mr. McFadden. “I’m sure you did that when you were a boy.”
“Certainly not. Neeps were for eating not nonsense.”
“It isn’t nonsense; they frighten witches and ghosts away.”
“And spunkies,” said Tim. “Didn’t you dress up like Selina says,” he asked Mr. McFadden, “dress up as a witch or a ghost or a cat, something frightening? Selina says when it’s dark we’ll go round to people’s houses and they have to let you in–even me,” said Tim. “Then we sing a song or ask a riddle. Selina’s going to teach me one day and I’ll get nuts and tablet,” Tim said that reverently.
Tablet is homemade fudge.
I have to thank Melanie Bettinelli at The Wine Dark Sea for bringing this book to my attention. Hers is one of the very few “mom blogs” I read because she consistently brings books and literature into her posts, always with intelligent and interesting commentary. Her commentary on this story is mingled with observations of her oldest daughter’s reactions and reflections on children’s literature. Be sure you check it out.
Like Melanie, I also love Rumer Godden’s children’s books just as much as her novels for adults. Godden has a knack for incorporating local culture, awkward and unappreciated people, and interesting plot with a lovely prose style. She is unafraid to have her characters behave naturally which means that a story’s crisis points will often leave readers feeling very uncomfortable because they recognize the behavior so well and dread the consequences thereof. Godden also is good at avoiding the “nice” sentimentality which can pervade children’s books. Her world is always very real.
The plot, briefly, is that Selina lives in a small Scottish village where Hallowe’en is celebrated the old way, which leads to some fascinating details. She is awkward and so is her pony, Haggis, who she chose precisely because she recognized their similarities. It is Haggis who always drags her during daily rides to stand in the middle of local curmudgeon Mr. McFadden’s turnip field. The story takes off from there.
Adults won’t be as surprised by a lot of the plot turns in this books because they have seen it before, naturally, but I admit to surprise and worry over the Hallowe’en trick that is played on Selina.
The animals in this book become characters we also care about. Lady the dog, Wully the fierce gander and his wives, and Haggis the pony all have their own contributions to the plot as we learn their ways and understand what their reactions mean when they occur. Just as in real life.
I haven’t made this story sound nearly as fascinating as it is so please just believe me and give it a try. I picked it up from the library last night, intending to give it a brief look over. I wound up getting sucked in and reading the whole thing.
I’m going to have to add this to my used store book list so that I can have a copy to go on the shelf next to The Diddakoi and The Kitchen Madonna. As it is, my local library branch is going to wonder what’s going on when they receive the big stack of children’s books by Rumer Godden that I requested last night. Who knew she wrote so many? And I want to read them all.