Anyone who knows me will know two things – a) I love a bargain when it comes to buying books and b) I love reading children’s books. Those two together is how I came to buy the Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories. I found them in a charity shop in Perth (which I didn’t realise was actually closed when I walked in – but neither did the staff as their clock was wrong!).
They had baskets of books at 4 for £1, so how could I resist? I got the Milly-Molly-Mandy book as I had heard her mentioned by other Blyton fans and book sellers, and I also picked up Stuart Little by E.B. White, The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett and The Haunted Island by Jean Bellamy. I’d never heard of the last two, but the blurbs seemed promising. I may end up reviewing them in this series if they are any good.
BEFORE I START
I’ll warn you that I’m going to have to shorten the poor girl’s name to MMM as it’s going to drive me batty to type it out in full every time. Really she is Millicent Margaret Amanda, but her family felt that was too long to shout out every time they wanted her, so they shortened it to Milly-Molly-Mandy. (Really, Milly would have been enough!)
The copy I got of the MMM stories is a puffin paperback from 2007. It was originally published in 1928, so it precedes much of Blyton’s written work although she had a few books published by then. The best thing is, though, the MMM book is not updated that I can tell. It is set at a time when cars are only just starting to become common on the roads, there is no electricity or telephones in homes and children are free to wander to school and back by themselves at a young age.
In contrast to Blyton’s books, where the gramophone has become a radio and maids have become staff, there instead is an introduction to the MMM stories by the editor. It explains that
Milly-Molly-Mandy lived a long, long time ago in another kind of childhood altogether. She can wander to the village shop alone; walk to school alone; speak to anyone she likes and do many other things that are now outside the experience of children.
When Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories was first published, the little girl at the heart of them represented the daily ups and downs of a not untypical, country childhood. For today’s reader, in addition to the joy of sharing Milly-Molly-Mandy’s delight at her life, there is the added curiosity and undoubted pleasure of seeing how different childhood once was.
This would be a great addition to any of Blyton’s works if it meant they could be left alone!
As you can see, although the cover is a new one it isn’t a terrible modern one. MMM looks just the same as she did back in 1928.
There are thirteen stories in this MMM book, thirteen short, simple and sweet little stories of every-day life in the village. Amongst other things MMM does errands, goes blackberrying, does some gardening, gives a party and goes to a fete. As suggested by the editor’s note, MMM does much of this quite independently. She even takes care of the village shop for an hour one day.
There is a great deal of repetition in the stories, giving quite a nice rhythm which I think would be quite good for reading these aloud. Of course you have Milly-Molly-Mandy which is nice to say than type, and then little-friend-Susan too. Then you have lots of situations where names or objects are said and repeated throughout. For example in the first story each member of the family asks her to run an errand for them, so their name and the errand are given one after the other and MMM repeats them to herself throughout so she remembers. She then goes out and buys or fetches each item for each person, then returns and gives each item to each person.
There are plenty of very old-fashioned things throughout the stories as well as some colloquialisms. The money used is all old money, though it is kept very simple and is mostly in pennies so that children could easily follow it. There are horses and traps driven around, MMM has a striped dress for summer and a red serge one for winter, clothes are altered for new events and everyone has a hat for when they are out in public. MMM calls her parents muvver and farver which is a little jarring at first if you’re not used to that sort of thing.
Another plus from this 2007 edition is it retains the original illustrations which were done by the author herself.
There is one story entitled Milly-Molly-Mandy spends a penny. I know that Blyton once used spends a penny either as a title or in a story and had to be told that it had another meaning, and therefore she had to change it. Some people doubt that Blyton could be so naive – and yet Joyce Lankester Brisley was using it in the late twenties so it’s not so unbelievable. Either she didn’t know it either, or it the alternative meaning came a little later. Either way, Blyton would have grown up in a time when it was a perfectly innocent phrase.
I think the MMM stories would make good bedtime reading for young children as they are short and simple and couldn’t possibly get anyone at all worked up. That would actually be my only criticism – everyone’s just so perfect! Nobody is ever unkind, lazy, careless, argumentative or naughty. Nobody even accidentally breaks something or has a mishap. Even the editor’s note calls MMM a bit of a goody-goody. I prefer my story characters to have some flaws, but MMM can’t really offend. She’s just a very nice girl having nice, simple and fun adventures.
Oh, and bonus points for having a map at the start. Who doesn’t love opening a book to find a map?