Cute cover, huh? And that’s what made me pick up this book and its predecessor, Nurse Matilda. In fact it was the whole package, hardback and jacket, ribbon, a kind of extreme use of foil on the case, nice little fit-in-your-pocket size. Oh yes, don’t make the mistake of thinking I only pick up books based on merit (if you ever did). Though I’m disappointed the person cleaning out their shelves didn’t feel inclined to leave the third (Nurse Matilda Goes to Hospital) at the same time (It’s all about complete sets, people).
For those unaware, Nurse Matilda is also Nanny McPhee. Which is a film. I’m not sure why there was a change, you’ll have to ask Emma Thompson. Perhaps it was thought that the term ‘nurse’ was no longer familiar enough to the modern audience as ‘one who looks after children’. That’s fair enough. I’m sure when I was a child reading classic English tales, I struggled with the idea of all these children being cared for by some version of Florence Nightingale. And don’t get me started on the dog in Peter Pan being both a Nana and a nurse!
The Nurse Matilda books stick to a few simple plot points:
1. A very stupid, wealthy couple have a crazy amount of terribly ill-disciplined kids (like forty or something, the narrator doesn’t know all their names)
2. The very naughty children terrorise everyone.
3. The agency sends a very ugly woman called Nurse Matilda who uses magic and a kind of early twentieth century ‘tough love’ to tame the wild young people. No spoonfuls of sugar here.
4. As the children become better behaved Nurse Matilda becomes better looking.
5. Once the children don’t need her, but want her, she must leave. Ohhh.
6. Oh and there’s some crazy, deaf old aunt who the stupid couple are hoping to inherit from.
The Nurse Matilda stories are cute. I have an affection for old-style narration. Are they brilliant? Timeless? Classics? … As an adult I can appreciate them for what they are, but I’m not swinging from any lampposts to shout about them. If I was child? Well, what a question for a start, I don’t think I was a child when I was one, if you know what I mean… but if i was, I don’t know if they’d be my guarana-packed energy drink. A little too twee, a little too old-fashioned without the substance to keep you keen?
It’s hard to know. I’m quite terrified to read books I adored as a child for fear that my memories will be destroyed by adult reason and criticism. A friend who recently re-read The Faraway Treeclaims it was boring tosh – imagine! And there is so much you can read into a story as an adult that you can’t, and don’t need to, as a child, and possibly isn’t even there to be explored. (Although, have you read Peter Pan as an adult? We should talk about the relationships in thatone day. See. Doing it.) I wonder about it too whenever a friend’s child has a special birthday (or are, you know, born) and I watch the boxed sets of Beatrix Potter and A.A. Milne get trotted out for a 12-month old, who can barely hold a spoon let alone those tiny Jemima Puddleducks, often by people I’d never considered to be all that literarily-minded in the first place (yes, that was your snob radar pinging in the background).
I’m not knocking those books or the people who give them, I’m just as guilty, but I think it’s interesting how we all go THE CLASSICS when we think of a special book for children. We think we can’t go wrong with a book that’s been around for yonks and comes in a little hardback with illustrations and a fancy ribbon down the middle. Whether or not it’s something the child would like. Whether it’s appropriate. Or whether we’re simply giving the kid something because some well-intentioned adult once gave the same book to us. I used to love the Pen Pals books, but I ain’t going to be recommending those to any 12-year-olds (Tho’ check out this blog re-capping tween book series etc – mostly Sweet Valley High.)
If you asked me what books I loved as a child, I’d rattle off many, many ‘classic’ titles from Enid Blyton and Beatrix Potter, to Mrs Pepperpot and Wind in the Willows. And when I see these in the shops, especially when in their super dooper collectible editions I want to have them and I think about buying them for some tiddlywink in my life. I guess I’m just starting to wonder about how we decide what children’s books are classics and maintain that worthy tag. And if everyone always gets the boxed set of blah blah blah when they come into this world, are we always going to give the boxed set of blah blah blah? Perhaps sometimes we say ‘classic’ but merely mean ‘old and familiar’.