Originally, I was very clear on my brief for this blog. I would provide reviews about children’s fiction. I would steer well clear of non-fiction, as it is easy to find out about, plentiful and either you want to find out about dinosaurs or you don’t. Also, if you buy a book about dinosaurs, you don’t have to worry that the velociraptor will have unexpected sex on page 14, or that someone might swear. This makes buying non-fiction books for children a lot easier than buying them fiction books.
I am going to make an exception to my rule here, to recommend the exceptionally lovely book: ‘High Street’ by J.M. Richards and Eric Ravilious.
This was a gift to me from some lovely friends who know me very well. Eric Ravilious is a particular favourite of mine, and in this book his wonderful illustrations really bring the book to life.
It features a collection of shops that you would find on the High Street, according to the foreword. Bearing in mind that this book was published in 1938, this is no longer true at all, and the afterword in this latest republishing points out that only two of the shops featured still exist, despite all of the shops in the book being real, individual places at the time of its original publication.
Of the remaining shops, some do not exist anymore as a type of shop, let alone as an individual establishment. We do not see carriage makers, or shops which stock submarine equipment, or shops for the home fireman, and there are very few high street taxidermists left.
This however, is part of the charm of the book. It is very much of its time, and it is as much of a history book as anything else.
I was pondering, as I read it, whether it was a children’s book at all. The foreword says that it was written originally as a children’s book, and it has elements of the later, Ladybird books factual series which featured how things worked and jobs people did. It is however, also quite amusing and written with a kind of adult wit and perception that is lacking from the Ladybird books.
The book is an absolute delight from my own personal viewpoint. I loved reading it and savoured every moment.
I do think it would make a fun book to share with children in school if you were doing a project on your town, or your high street, or where you live. It is so engaging that I think it would make a wonderful aid to show how the shops we take for granted didn’t exist not so very long ago, and also that shops we might consider exotic, or might not even consider at all, were part of a normal high street set up within the lifetime of our parents or grandparents.
If you are thinking of stocking it for a school library, rather than sharing it with children I would recommend it for children aged 8-12 who are confident readers. There is not a huge amount of text, but it is rather old fashioned in tone and the language can be complex.