Joyce Lankester Brisley is probably best known for her Milly Molly Mandy stories, which even though they were old fashioned when I was a child, I loved, and which must continue being loved down the generations because they are still in print, and as far as I am aware, have never been out of print since their first publication.
Marigold in Godmother’s House was written after the success of the Milly Molly Mandy books, and has a lot of the same elements that make you fall in love with Milly Molly Mandy, but also some very delightful differences.
Firstly, in terms of similarities there are the gorgeous illustrations by the author. She illustrated all her own books, drawing beautifully detailed pen and ink pictures that are absolutely of the time in which she was writing. They are a hymn to the Nineteen Thirties, particularly in the style of the hair and dresses the little girls in her books wear. What I also find fascinating about both her stories and her illustrations is that because she writes about rural life, which at that point had not changed too much from the way it had been for centuries, and her stories feature characters from different generations of the family you also get a glimpse of Edwardian mothers and even Victorian grandmothers in terms of their clothes and hair. The settings are also depicted beautifully. Nobody drives motorcars, either travelling by train or horse and cart or bus. Everything is so perfectly dated and it gives such a charm to the books.
Secondly there are some similarities between the heroine of this book, Marigold, and Milly Molly Mandy, although for those of you who have read the stories, Marigold looks a lot like Little Friend Susan. Like Milly Molly Mandy, Marigold is family oriented, well brought up and obedient and yet has a quietly adventurous streak that makes her interesting to read about and not a tedious milksop.
Unlike Milly Molly Mandy, Marigold is only featured here with her mother and her godmother and not a huge, extended family. Marigold’s mother is lucky enough to know a real fairy godmother, and of course, she must have her as Marigold’s own godmother. When Marigold is old enough to go visiting on her own, she is invited to her godmother’s house for a short stay, and this is the story of that holiday.
Her godmother’s house looks a lot like Milly Molly Mandy’s house, and Marigold’s room, although magically decked out in her namesake flowers, does remind me of the little room in the attic that Milly Molly Mandy’s family make just for her. There are the same sweet touches of thoughtful attention running through both books to the detriment of neither.
Marigold has been told by her mother that she must be obedient no matter what, and although she does not want to go to bed early, eat her porridge or practice her musical scales on the piano, she reminds herself that she must do as she is told. The lovely thing is that when she does all of these things, they become miniature magical adventures which feature Marigold as the heroine and star of the piece and allow her to explore the magical world of her godmother’s making. I particularly liked the fact that none of the household, including the godmother actually refer overtly to any kind of magic, and act as if it is a normal household in which normal things happen. It allows both Marigold and the reader to have a cocoon of specially for them magic drawn about them and gives the book so much of its charm.
This is a short, beautifully written, subtly nuanced piece of writing which deserves much more recognition than it has had up to now. I rather loved it, and found its gentle manners and whimsical magic perfect. It would make a wonderful story to share over a few nights at bed time, or a great transitional or chapter book for a confident reader who may already have been beguiled by Milly Molly Mandy and want more of the same. It is sweet and clever and I wish I had read it as a child because I know I would have read it over and over again, hoping that I would one day find my own godmother’s house.
I recommend it for girls aged 6-10.
The book currently seems to be out of print, and the link I have provided is to a very expensive second hand copy on Amazon. My copy however, is a very recent edition published by Jane Nissen books, and if you would like a copy, a bit of judicious hunting around might bag you one at considerably less cost.