Tag Archives: Jill Murphy

Thanks Mum, For Making Me Read

If I am honest I do think that Mothering Sunday, which is upon us here in the UK, is actually a big mass of cash spinning marketing. If you like your Mum, tell her when you see her or speak to her, if you don’t like her then don’t tell her, or see her. Ha! Anyway, that aside I thought it might actually be a nice idea to do a post about my mother considering without her influence I wouldn’t be the reader I am today and I am not sure I have ever thanked her for that in person, so I thought I would do it publically. She’ll be embarrassed but that is what sons are for or is that what parents are for? Either way…

My mother (that’s her there —>) had me at the age of 16 years old back in 1982, in fact almost 30 years ago to the week how apt (apparently she is ‘fine, yes fine, why do you ask’ about being 46 and having a soon to be 30 year old son). Not that it was the dark ages, but at that time not only was it a rather shocking occurrence it was also one that could curtail your studies and career, especially if you were going to be a single mum, as my Mum was even though she had the support of my grandparents. This wasn’t to be the case with my mum, she carried on her studies and took me with her to Newcastle where she gained a degree in Classics. I always say that having been to university from the ages of three to six is why I didn’t feel the need to go myself, excuses, excuses.

It is at university that my first memories of Mum reading to me are the strongest. I can vividly remember, after me throwing matchbox toy cars at her head to wake her up at 6am, the joy of getting into bed with her in the morning and being read children’s classics like the Ladybird Fairytales, Roald Dahl, Jill Murphy and the seminal works of ‘The Adventures of He-Man’ or ‘The Adventures of She-Ra’. It was also at this point books really took on a life of their own when she would read me the stories my granddad wrote and illustrated for me, which even featured me in them (and a certain Novel Insights who I had befriended aged 4), about the tales of a witch called Esmeralda and all her friends. You can see them below and read about them further here.

Studying Classics meant I also got the entire myths and legends from the Greeks and indeed the Romans regularly, I don’t know if it was because of her enthusiasm for the subject or if it helped her revise, in fact most nights. I seem to remember this is when ‘The Saga of Erik the Viking’ by Terry Jones appeared on the scene and was read often along with the nonetheless epic ‘Flat Stanley’. However it was an illustrated edition of the story of Persephone which I vividly remember from the time and would read over and over. I lost the love for Classics when I became a teenager and my Mum was teaching it at my school, odd that, but it’s nice to see it has recently been awakened by Madeline Miller’s ‘The Song of Achilles’ where the joy of reading about the gods, goddesses and monsters (I had a moment of utter joy when a centaur first graced the pages of this book) has been reignited. More on that tomorrow…

The library was a  place we always went regularly, as were charity shops. I remember once buying a new version of the story of Perseus from Oxfam for 50p, Mum opening it impressed and then seeing the joy drain from her face as she swiftly returned it, it seemed it was a rather over racy (Perseus does porn kind of thing) version of the story and not really appropriate for a young boy of eleven. Sherlock Holmes was though, and as my great uncle memorised them on walking holidays to stop me being bored, we would pop to Waterstones (a real treat) on the way home after she had picked me up to get a new collection, this was also when we fell upon Robin Jarvis and ‘The Whitby Witches’.

A year or so later Mum gave me my first proper grown up book in the form of ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind, I wonder if my Nancy Drew obsession that summer when we went to Africa had made her worried I would end up with no taste – I still like a crime. Her attitude was if I was going to start reading grown up literature it had to be the good stuff. This was followed by attempts to lead me to Margaret Atwood but I wasn’t biting. I was studying books, and whilst my Mum might have become a good English teacher, my English teacher (one of her colleagues, oops) was slowly taking all the joy out of reading and after I left school early I avoided books like the plague. Mum had laid the foundations though.

In fact looking back whenever I ended up living back at home, which happened a few times after some particularly bad relationship decisions I made and their tumultuous endings, Mum would let me have a good cry and suggest ‘maybe pick up a book’. This could have been to show me books are always there for you, or it could have been to provide some escape, or she maybe just wanted me to stop crying and leave her alone, ha. Whatever the reason though at times of turmoil bookshelves and books would be in my head, even if I wasn’t rushing out to buy them, and they still are. When things have turned to the proverbial, pick up a good book, or a bad one.

Nowadays of course when we see each other books are one of the main things we talk about – who cares how the other one of us is, what we have been reading is far more important. Our tastes can be bang on (Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood, Samantha Harvey) or completely polar (Susan Hill, owning a Kindle) but we both love books and really that’s down to her, with some help from Gran too of course. It’s nice seeing she has done the same with my thirteen year old sister (though Twilight, really?) and eleven year old brother (Harry Potter ‘which he is reading quicker than me and won’t wait’) and she continues to do so as an English teacher, in a school where kids aren’t generally fans of books but they will be, or else.

So thank you Mum for giving me the gift of books, the encouragement to read and forcing me into the library when sometimes I didn’t want to go. Look what it lead to. Happy Mothers Day.

You can read my Mums favourite books here and see her get a readers grilling here.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Louise Savidge, Random Savidgeness

The Worst Witch To The Rescue – Jill Murphy (When What You Need Is A Childhood Read Retreat)

You could be inclined to think that this post is a belated April Fools but its not, and I am sure some literary aficionados might judge this post and that’s fine too. True, I don’t normally review childrens books, I leave that to the likes of my kind volunteers The Bookboy and The Girl Who Reads Too Much. Yet while I have been having ups and downs on the health front of late and been somewhat of an invalid I have wanted certain comforts and that includes childhood ones. In fact whilst reading ‘The Worst Witch To The Rescue’ by Jill Murphy I was eating vanilla custard slices so I really was going back to my ten year old self. ‘The Worst Witch’ series was one of my absolute favourite series as a child and so when I saw that the latest one, as Jill Murphy has brought the wonderful Mildred Hubble back a few times since the first book in the 1970’s and second and third in the 1980’s, in the library I simply had to pick it up. It proved to be the perfect comfort read and as the series was such a huge part of me becoming a reader I wanted to report back on it as it had me spellbound yet again.

Mildred Hubble, to whom the title ‘worst witch’ refers to, is as the title suggests a fairly dreadful witch. Though when you say dreadful we aren’t referring to evil, she is just a bit hopeless. In fact her least favourite teacher Miss Hardbroom often refers to her as a ‘trouble magnet’. In this, the sixth and latest, instalment of the series ‘The Worst Witch To The Rescue’ the first day of a new term at Miss Cackles Academy for Witches all seems to be going unusually well for Mildred Hubble. Firstly she has managed to come up with a surprise summer project which is sure to impress Miss Hardbroom, who she knows is her sternest critic, she shows an incredible natural aptitude at a new subject and even her worst enemy Ethel Hallow seems to be being nice. Of course though this is the world of Mildred Hubble and nothing can stay that good for long can it?

I can’t really say any more than that on the book as I wouldn’t want to ruin how it goes wrong for Mildred in case you decide to throw caution to the wind and get this yourself, which of course you should do. It was wonderful to be reunited with Mildred along with her friends Maud and Enid, plus her faithful feline Tabby and indeed the scary Miss Hardbroom and evil Ethel. It had me feeling like I did when I was much younger and wishing I too was a student at Miss Cackles Academy (the fact I wouldn’t have been able to be a witch didn’t concern me and hey its fiction anything is possible) and could join in with these gentle and enjoyable adventures. I also love the pictures, they evoke a love for the series and reading that I had as a kid.

To say that I enjoyed this book would be a complete understatement. It’s very unusual that a book series you loved in your childhood is still going, there was a gap of a decade between book three and four and again between book four and five when Jill Murphy was looking after her relatives with dementia. I am hoping that there are plans for some more outings of Mildred Hubble as to spend an hour and a half (a real little one read reading treat) in her company is just the thing. 8/10

I took this book out from the local library.

If I had been on the BBC’s ‘My Life in Books’ (or indeed the wonderful series that Simon of Stuck in a Book is doing which I loved reading) then I think it would be highly likely that I would choose The Worst Witch as my childhood book, even over Roald Dahl surprisingly. Of course this post isn’t just about how much I loved the latest Worst Witch tale; it’s about the feelings that turning to your favourite children’s books can evoke. Its also been nice reading some of this book to my littlest cousins. Have any of you read The Worst Witch series? Do you have a series that does this to you too and if so which one is it, is it still going, do you turn to it often?

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Filed under Jill Murphy, Puffin Books, Review