Friday, 6 June 2014

My first (and favourite) simple living guru.

Recently Daughter read The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak which is set in Nazi Germany and narrated by 'Death'. The story of little Liesl and her foster family on Himmel Street, is both gripping and harrowing. 

After she'd finished reading it, unsurprisingly, Daughter felt her next book needed to be something light. We had a couple of visits to the library trying to find something that would fit the bill. If you're in the habit of browsing the teen readers section of your library, you'll know it's full of vampires, teenage love, and teenage angst. Well, ours is anyway. 'Grim stuff', pronounced the teen.

We gave up and went home.

Eventually I found Daughter had gone back to an old familiar.



Milly-Molly-Mandy.

Originally written in 1928 by Joyce Lankester Brisley, the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories have been popular ever since.

I adored them and re-read them many times in my childhood. Comfort reading at its best.

And so much simple living inspiration. 

Although Milly-Molly-Mandy lives with "a Father, and a Mother, and a Grandpa, and a Grandma, and an Uncle, and an Aunty" who, for the most part, fulfill the gender expectations of the era, Milly-Molly-Mandy herself will turn her hand to anything, be it knitting, baking, gardening, fishing or helping out with thatching.



The family are thrifty, self reliant and environmentally aware. When Milly-Molly-Mandy gets invited to a party, Mother and Aunty upcycle a party dress out of a silk scarf and a lace handkerchief.

Milly-Molly-Mandy is not just a pretty face in her stripy dress - she's entrepreneurial. My favourite Milly-Molly-Mandy story is 'Milly Molly Mandy spends a penny' where she finds a penny in an old coat and gathers suggestions about what to do with it from all the family. By growing and selling some mustard and cress and careful saving, she manages to achieve everything the family suggests from growing seeds, baking, learning to knit, buying sweets through to finally saving three pennies to buy a duckling.

She enjoys simple pleasures such as going blackberrying, having her friend (little-friend-Susan) to stay, going fishing with Billy Blunt and splashing in the sea.

An early exponent of the positive psychology movement, Milly Molly Mandy turns a failed blackberrying expedition (all the blackberries are in a Trespassers Will be Prosecuted area) on its head by having just as much fun watching and stroking a baby bunny instead. When her friend Billy Blunt is somewhat begrudgingly weeding the family garden, Milly Molly Mandy joins him and it becomes an exercise in mindfulness, "Doesn't the earth smell nice when you turn it up?" Before you know it, Billy and Milly have not only weeded the garden but tidied the lawn, and painted the water butt and garden-roller.

Interwoven throughout the book are the gentle and warm relationships Milly-Molly-Many has with her family, peers and local community (such as Mr Rudge, the Blacksmith, Miss Muggins in the shop and Teacher, who is referred to throughout as just Teacher).

Best of all, the books have a wonderful map inside the front and back covers so that you can track the whereabouts of all the events in the book, see where everyone lives, and spot the difference between Milly-Molly-Mandy's summer and winter routes to school.



For me, Milly-Molly-Mandy, despite never putting a foot wrong, somehow manages not to be too twee. I think the ordinariness and hands-on-ness of all the everyday activities she participates in keep her grounded. All in all, a good choice for an uplifting read after The Book Thief and a charming must-read for anyone interested in frugal and simple living!

How about you: Who's your simple living guru or what's your inspirational book? Any suggestions for light reads for teenage girls?

16 comments:

  1. Ooh, yes. I loved Milly Molly Mandy. And Marigold in godmother's house by the same author.

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    1. I've never even thought about what other books she wrote. I'm going to check Marigold out!

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    2. Milly Molly Mandy's charm is her ordinariness. Marigold's is in her magic. I first read it when I was ill with chickenpox when I was about seven and my daddy asked the librarian to suggest something for me to read (I was a voracious reader) and this was the result. i can still remeber the enchantment and I'm now 62.

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  2. I've never heard of them, I will keep an eye out for them x

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    1. I think I'm going to have to look out for some charity shop copies to give away here!

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  3. I don't think Milly Molly Mandy is very popular over here. I've never heard of it and I can't get it through my library system. However, I'm going to keep my eyes open for it because I think I would really like these stories.

    I have read the "Book Thief" and it is a very heavy book. I agree that most Young Adult literature is full of teen angst I'm going to keep my ears open for something that isn't.

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    1. I can't believe MMM has never made it to the US! As above I shall be on the look out for secondhand copies to distribute liberally amongst my blog readers!

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  4. I loved Milly Molly Mandy as a child, and was most upset that a pink and white striped scarf I used to drape around myself looked odd with my vibrant red hair. How I longed for her black locks! I'm 52 now but still remember the gentle warmth those books convey. Confession time: I found a beautiful boxed collection of Milly Molly Many stories a few years back and just had to buy it for my future grandchildren. I still don't have any, but I'm ready when I do! :)

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    1. I think every house should have a copy of Milly Molly Mandy books whether there are children in it or not!

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  5. I don't know Marigold either. But I adore MMM!!!

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  6. I recently read The Book Thief and loved the MMM stories as a child. Thanks so much for the trip down memory lane! Must see if there are any copies still at my mum's. Maybe worth checking out the biography section for good teenage reads.

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  7. I'm going to have to get hold of some of those books for my kids - they sound brilliant!

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  8. Sara, I am loving The Book Thief right now! My daughter who handed me The Book Thief also handed me some books by Eva Ibbotson a couple of years ago. Some of them are filed under teenage fiction, some adult, but they are gentle, romantic novels, usually set in Europe, generally full of wonderful domestic details of European housekeeping and cooking. I am sure they would be approved by a girl who likes Milly Molly Mandy:)

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  9. Of course Milly Molly Mandy is my simple living heroine, in fact I wrote a very similar post back in 2010. I know what I'm going to read tonight, thank you for the reminder.

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  10. Brilliant, you are so right Milly Molly Mandy can teach us all a thing or two.

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  11. I have come late to the party, finding your blog through somebody else's, but I too loved MMM as a child. As for books for young adult reads, I would recommend "The Bronze Bow" and "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" by Elizabeth George Speare... Although they might be out of print now, as I enjoyed them when I was young. There's also "The Greengage Summer" by Rumer Godden - not really a "light" book, it is still gripping and doesn't treat the reader as a child.

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