Not me, I hope, but the characters in two Christmas mysteries I’ve just read back to back. Mystery in White I bought in a charity shop a while ago and saved for Christmas. Until I read the introduction to the book, I hadn’t realised that J Jefferson was the brother of the more famous Eleanor. When I posted a review of another BLCC book on Amazon, saying it was the worst I’d read, someone commented on the lines of, ‘You think that’s bad! Try Mystery in White and read my review.’ I didn’t bother with his review but I have to agree that the book was disappointing. When a train becomes stuck in snow, a group of travellers make a break for it and find an apparently welcoming house, with fires blazing and tea laid. But there’s no one at home. The ill-assorted characters decide they have no alternative but to trespass and make themselves comfortable. One of their number is a psychical researcher and immediately detects ‘horror’ in the house. What that is, you have to read the book to find out. There are two solutions, one found by the stranded ones and the other by the police. Which is correct?
two more )

Storm Ahead by Monica Edwards. Illustrated by Geoffrey Whittam. Puffin Story Book 106. First published 1953, Puffin edition 1957.

Monica Edwards has been one of my favourite authors since childhood and for me, Storm Ahead is her best book. It tells the story of a lifeboat disaster, based on a true event of 1928. Although I have a hardback edition of the book, I will never part with my old Puffin copy, yellow pages and all. Puffin published one other of her books, The White Riders.
back cover and hardback edition )

Carbonel by Barbara Sleigh. Illustrated by V H Drummond. Puffin Story Book 155. First published 1955, first Puffin edition 1961. I’m not posting these covers in any particular order, just taking each book from the shelf as it comes.
back & 1st edition )

Redcap Runs Away by Rhoda Power. Puffin Story Book 103. First published 1952, Puffin edition 1957. Cover and text illustrations by C Walter Hodges.

Rhoda Power (1890-1957), wrote several historical books for children. The best known are probably Boys and Girls of History, written with her sister Eileen, and We Were There. I think I read We Were There at school but nowadays Redcap Runs Away is possibly the only one of her books still being read. It's the story of a boy who runs away to join a troupe of travelling entertainers but the plot is just a device for telling medieval tales. The one which struck me as a child and which I’ve always remembered, is Our Lady’s Tumbler.
back )

I was delighted to get the Postcards from Puffin box for Christmas. 100 postcards! I’ve had great fun looking through them but for my taste there are too many early picture books and not enough story books. Why did the compilers choose Noel Streatfeild’s The Growing Summer rather than Ballet Shoes? Why two different versions of Little Women? So here is the first in an occasional series of Puffin Story Book covers from my own much-pruned collection.

Melissa Ann by Ethel Parton. Puffin Story Book 79. First published 1931, Puffin edition 1955. Cover by Sylvia Dyson. Lovely story about Mitty and her family, set in New England in the 1820s.
back )

There can’t be many reading families in the country without a few Puffin books about the house. Started by Allen Lane in 1940 with the first Puffin Picture Books, they are still going strong; at this moment there are over 11,000 listed for sale on eBay. Postcards from Puffin, a box of postcards of one hundred Puffin covers, is bound to be a popular Christmas present this year. Eleanor Graham was the first editor of Puffin Story Books but the name most associated with them is still that of Kaye Webb.

Kaye Webb’s father Arthur was a respected journalist and her mother a glamorous, dominant figure. Her parents lived apart, Arthur in America, Ann in England. Kaye remained close to both and to her younger brother John (killed in the war) and older half-brother Bill. She was not well educated, something she regretted all her life, but it never impeded her career. During the war she worked for Lilliput , where she first showed her great ability to cajole people into doing what she wanted them to. As part of this job she met many celebrities including Walter de la Mare, James Mason and Robert Graves, who became lifelong friends. She knew how lucky she was and later described herself as ‘a war profiteer’.
life and Puffin )

When I was young you could buy for 2/6d each: Regent Classics, hardbacks from Woolworths; Collins Children’s Press books, usually reprints and often abridgements of earlier editions; Puffin paperbacks. The best of these were of course the Puffins and the copies I’ve kept from childhood are among my most prized possessions.

This year, Penguin Books celebrates 70 years of Puffins. Many of the older ones have brief introductions by Kaye Webb, who was editor from 1961 to 1980. Very suitably, there’s a new biography of her by Valerie Grove: So Much to Tell, which I look forward to reading.* I’m also interested in Puffin By Design, which isn’t out yet.

Happy Birthday Puffin, on the web in rather startling colours, shows the modern Puffins available for ‘only’ £3.99. Is it just age that makes me think Love, Peace and Chocolate can’t be as a good as Carbonel or Charlotte Sometimes? The Puffin Handbook calls itself ‘The perfect little guide to the 70 best books for children’. It aims to tell adults about children’s books and is rather didactic in tone. You need to keep clicking on barely visible arrows to turn the pages and there’s plenty of them. It goes from Buggy Books *sighs for days of real prams*, through picture books and ‘young fiction’ to ‘fiction’. Along the way there’s advice on reading to your child and using libraries.

Searching for those 70 best books is rather hard work on that site and you’ll probably find the Guardian list is easier to read. Strange choices, do you think? The Guardian page includes a link to a 2008 article on classic covers from Puffin Post.

I seem to have been carping somewhat but where would we be without Puffins? A search on eBay just brought up 37,135 copies!

*Kaye Webb also edited and later wrote reviews of films and shows for Elizabethan. This is from January 1963 and makes me feel very old.



January 2017



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