British Summer Reads For Catholic Kids: Rumer Godden
British author Margaret Rumer Godden (1907-98) is probably best known for her adult novel In this House of Brede (highly recommended) which was made into a movie starring Diana Rigg. I discovered only recently that Godden was a prolific writer with over 60 books to her name, many of them children's books.She wrote under her last name Rumer Godden.
Godden grew up in Bangladesh but was educated in English boarding schools. She converted to Catholicism at age 61.
Godden's children's books are masterpieces of storytelling reflecting the many experiences the author had in her lifetime: ballet, England after World War II, India, gypsies, dolls, animals, folklore and Catholic Saints.
An Episode of Sparrows written in 1958 is a beautiful and profound story set in a post-war London neighborhood where the dwellings of the wealthy are carefully separated from those of the poor next door. 11-year-old Lovejoy does not have much love or joy in her life. When she finds a packet of flower seeds, she sets out to plant a garden among the ruins of a bombed out church. When the heroine and her friend, the tough boy Tip, overcome all obstacles to make their garden grow, love and joy grow and spread to people of good will in the neighborhood.
The Kitchen Madonna is a book similar in theme to An Episode of Sparrows. A lonely boy and his sister undertake a project. Their beloved Nanny Marta, a refugee from Poland, is homesick longing for an icon of Our Lady she remembers from her home. The boy, Gregory, finds that the only way of procuring an icon for Marta is to make it himself. Together with his sister, the shy boy asks for materials and for help in the neighborhood thereby opening up to the people around him and spreading love in the community.
I found The Kitchen Madonna available for free on the Internet Archive. The site is a kind of public library of digital content. Create a free account and you can read most books for free.
Both books, An Episode of Sparrows and The Kitchen Madonna are very Catholic in spirit and rich in meaning. They can be enjoyed by children as young as eight but there is enough depth for readers of any age.
Like her other books, Rumer Godden's picture book A Kindle of Kittens is a little wistful but also glad in mood. A stray cat has come to know the people of the little town she lives in, the comfortable wealthy people and the outsiders. She is a self-sufficient cat able to feed herself from the town folks' garbage bins. However, when she gives birth to a "kindle" of four kittens, she realizes that she must find homes for her offspring and carefully considers the right owner for each of her children who are very different in character. By delivering the right kitten to the right human, to the lonely woman, to the poet, to the town crier and to the wealthy couple, she brings joy to the town people's lives. Alone again, the cat feels a bitter-sweet satisfaction with the sacrificial gift of her children. The book is beautifully illustrated by Lynne Byrnes. A Kindle of Kittens is also available for free on the Internet Archive.
The Old Woman Who Lived In A Vinegar Bottle is Rumer Godden's retelling of a story handed down in her family for generations. It is a humorous and christianized version of The Fisherman and His Wife. A magic fish grants a poor but content old woman all her wishes. She becomes greedy and conceited to such an extent that the fish finally withdraws all its gifts. Unlike the fisherman's wife, however, the old woman in this story repents of her sinful greed and is rewarded by a good meal every Sunday (symbolic?). The whimsical and detailed drawings by Mairi Hudderwick complement the story perfectly.
Here's a free treat for your ballet lover. Ballet Stories chosen by Harriet Castor is available for free download on Internet archive. Among many great ballet stories is one by Rumer Godden: The Trouble with Salvatore.
Read this sensitive review of Rumer Godden's adult novel Five For Sorrow, Ten For Joy by Brittany over at Good Books For Catholic Kids (not to be confused with this site: Books for Catholic Kids) to help you discern whether this book would make a good summer read for your young adult.
Check out more Rumer Godden titles on our Pinterest board: Summer Reads For Catholic Kids.