When I was a child my mum bought me a copy of a book called: “Miss Happiness and Miss Flower,’ by Rumer Godden. We didn’t have lots of money to spare on new books, but books were important to us as a family, and buying secondhand books was totally acceptable if it meant you could keep feeding the reading habit. I say this because my copy of Miss Happiness and Miss Flower had already been well loved by the time I got it.
I still have it, and it has sailed through oceans of love over the years. It was a book I read and re-read as a child and one of those books I cherish so much that I would make an effort to take it with me if fleeing from a burning building.
It tells the story of Nona, a sad and lonely little girl, sent from India to live in England with her cousins. One day she receives a mysterious parcel with two, beautiful Japanese dolls inside. A slip inside the parcel says that their names are Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. In learning to care for them, Nona finds friendship, love and connects with her family as well as learning all about Japan and its ways, as the family rally round to help her to build and fill a Japanese doll’s house.
What particularly fascinated me was that in the back of the book it gives you precise instructions on how to build your own dolls house, and oh, how I wanted to.
I never have. It is going on my bucket list.
Little Plum, which is the book I’m actually reviewing here, is the sequel story to Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, and it has taken me over thirty years to find and read it.
It is, in its own way, as charming as the original story, although nothing will beat the thrill of Nona’s creating the house for her dolls for me. In this story, a rich family move into the house next door to Nona’s house, and although they have all the money in the world it is clear that they are not happy.
They have a little girl called Gem, who is being cared for by a very strict and snobbish aunt while Gem’s mother is in hospital. Gem is not allowed to play with Nona and her cousin Belinda, and it seems initially as if she is as snobbish as her aunt. Belinda in particular is very nosy about the new family and Gem in particular, and ends up going to extreme measures to get Gem’s notice, particularly when she finds out that Gem has a Japanese doll of her own which Belinda and Nona christen, Little Plum.
Belinda starts out on a half wooing half bullying campaign that gets her into a lot of hot water, but eventually, as in all the best stories, it all comes good for all the people that matter most.
I like the fact that although this is a very old fashioned, traditional type of story, it has humour and attitude in spades in the character of Belinda, who is a perfect foil for the quiet Nona and the starchy, unhappy Gem.
I loved being able to continue my journey with the dolls. The book is sweet and beautifully written, but only really works in relation to the first book. Buy them both and share the delight.
It is, pretty obviously, a book that will appeal very strongly to girls, particularly girly girls, although the learnings about Japan through both books would make it interesting to use if you were a teacher doing a class topic on the cultures of different countries. I’d recommend them to children aged 6 and up as independent readers and younger if you want to share it as a bed time story with some lucky child.