What book made you a ‘reader’?

I was recently asked what’s my favourite book. A really, really hard question. I don’t have one favourite – I have lots that I like for different reasons. A cop-out? Perhaps. So I rephrased the ‘favourite’ question for the person who asked me and said “I may not be able to tell you my single favourite book but I can tell you the book that made me a ‘reader’.”

Yes, there is one book that dominates my early reading memories. It’s a book that was read aloud to me and a book that I then read alone. It’s the first book I was caught reading under the covers with a torch. And without question, it’s the book that made me love, love, love reading.

That book is Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley.

Are you familiar with Milly-Molly-Mandy? She’s a little girl who lives in a tiny village in the heart of the English countryside. She is always busy doing things – blackberry-picking with little-friend-Susan, keeping shop for Miss Muggins, running errands for Mother (‘Muvver’) and having tea-parties. The stories were first published over eighty years ago and in my opinion, retain all their charm to this day.

So what do I love about Milly-Molly-Mandy? Firstly, the map. Anyone who has read these stories will know about the map – I needn’t say any more. I traced every adventure on the map. I suspect this was also the beginning of my love of maps.

Milly Molly Mandy map of village

Secondly, the gloriously quaint language – from buying new ‘stuff’ (material) for a new ‘frock’ to ‘Milly-Molly-Mandy Helps Thatch a Roof’, the text is charming.

Thirdly, her ‘adventures’ are so sweet and hold true for little kids to this day. A handful of story titles demonstrates this –

  • Milly-Molly-Mandy Goes to a Fete
  • Milly-Molly-Mandy Gets to Know Teacher
  • Milly-Molly-Mandy Spends a Penny
  • Milly-Molly-Mandy Minds a Baby
  • Milly-Molly-Mandy Writes Letters
  • Milly-Molly-Mandy Learns to Ride
  • Milly-Molly-Mandy and the Blacksmith’s Wedding
  • Milly-Molly-Mandy Goes on an Expedition

Lastly, the illustrations. Simple ink drawings scattered throughout the text.

Milly-Molly-Mandy

I have recently started reading Milly-Molly-Mandy stories to my five-year-old daughter and she is enjoying them immensely (almost as much as me!). She is thrilled by the stories about writing letters, having tea-parties and gardening. It’s the simple things…

I bought a new set of books for my daughter and my husband asked why, given that we had a set on the bookshelf – “But they’re mine!” I said. I still treasure the copies that were bought for me (see the picture at the top). There are a number of different cover designs for the newer editions – find a huge range here.

What book made you a ‘reader’?

Milly-Molly-Mandy

Milly-Molly-Mandy

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15 responses

    • I used to read Milly-Molly-Mandy to my youngest daughter for several years, even to the age when she was capable of reading books for older children herself (if you, dear reviewer, are the person I think you are, then you will know my youngest daughter very well). As she got older I made some not-so-subtle changes to the format, in that Little Friend Susan developed a rough gruff gor-blimey voice rather like a grumpy East End costermonger, whilst Billy Blunt developed a simpering voice rather like a very young Julian Carey. I changed some of the dialogue and the story lines somewhat and My wife frequently asked why there had been so much laughter from my daughter’s bedroom. The best moment was when, one night, right in the middle of the story, for no apparent reason, Billy Blunt suddenly yelled “It’s not fair and it’s not right!” MMM said, “What isn’t?” and Billy yelled “Mohammed Ali’s left leg!”
      My daughter fell out of bed with laughter.
      If you think we were being discourteous to dear MMM, we weren’t; we both loved them all. And I think, many years late, my daughter still does.
      *
      Can I now bore you with, not necessarily my favourite book, but the book which made the biggest impression on me personally? When I was about 12-13, back in 1953ish, one day in our English class at Secondary school, the English master, to break up the boredom perhaps, asked us to name the person we admired the most. One by one we went round the class giving our choices and names such as Edmund Hillary (Everest had just been conquered), Len Hutton (the English cricket captain who had that year managed to wrestle the Ashes from those dastardly Australians), Denis Compton, the wonderful footballer Stanley Matthews and, a bit surprisingly from one boy, Winston Churchill. When it came to my turn I said “Nicholas Montserrat”. Puzzled silence around the class. The English teacher, presumably the only person in the class who might have heard of him, asked me why. It was not long after I had read his “The Cruel Sea”, the first real adult book I had read, which made a huge impression on me (it still does – I’ve read it several times since). I recall saying, in twelve year old-speak, something on the lines of, “he had probably sat down by his typewriter with a pile of blank paper, and had produced such a wonderful work”.
      I think I probably became the Class Nerd that day.

      • I have heard about your MMM tweaks (and think of them when reading Little-Friend-Susan) 🙂

        Personally, I’m NEVER bored by someone’s ‘favourite book’ story. How great is it to have such a strong connection to a book after all these years?!

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  4. My sister used to read the Milly-Molly-Mandy books. I didn’t but I always did like the pictures. And I remember some of the phrasing (“little-friend-Susan”)
    For me the book that made me a reader was probably Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood. I still remember my mother giving it to me and telling me she loved it when she was a child and I would love it too, and how it was like a grown-up book because it had chapters and only a few black-and-white pictures. It was such a milestone!
    And the stories were wonderful.
    Funnily enough I didn’t consider reading it to my kids because I just thought the stories were so outdated now. Then I found their teacher was reading it to the class at school, and the kids all love it. In 2013! So I bought a copy and we sometimes read a chapter at home now.

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