Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Spoonful of Sugar: Review


Brenda Ashford is the quintessential British nanny. Prim and proper, gentle and kind, she seems to have stepped straight out of Mary Poppins. For more than six decades Nanny Brenda swaddled, diapered, dressed, played with, sang to, cooked for, and looked after more than one hundred children. From the pampered sons and daughters of lords ensconced in their grand estates to the children of tough war evacuees in London’s East End, Brenda has taught countless little ones to be happy, healthy, and thoroughly well bred. In this delightful memoir, Brenda shares her endearing, amusing, and sometimes downright bizarre experiences turning generations of children into successful adults.

From the moment Brenda first held her baby brother David she was hooked. She became a second mother to him, changing his nappies, reading him stories, and giving him all the love her warm heart contained. Knowing a career caring for children was her calling in life, Brenda attended London’s prestigious Norland College, famous for producing top-notch nannies. It was a sign of privilege and good taste for the children of the well-to-do to be seen being pushed in their Silver Cross prams by Norland nannies, who were recognizable by their crisp, starched black uniforms with white bib collars, and their flowing black capes lined with red silk. And what skills were these trainees tested on daily? Lullaby singing, storytelling, pram shining, bed making, all forms of sewing, cooking simple meals, and dispensing first aid—including knowing the best way to help the medicine go down.

In A Spoonful of Sugar, Brenda recalls her years at Norland and her experiences during the war (after all, even if bombs are dropping, there’s no reason to let standards slip), and recounts in lovely detail a life devoted to the care of other people’s children.

Sprinkled throughout with pearls of wisdom (you can never give children too much love, and you should learn how to sew a button, for goodness’ sake), this delightful memoir from Britain’s oldest living nanny is practically perfect in every way.

My Take:

It's obvious from the title and the first paragraph of the synopsis that comparisons are being made between Brenda Ashford and Mary Poppins.  Having just read P. L. Travers' classic story of the nanny that Disney called "practically perfect in every way" I can tell you, Brenda Ashford is not Mary Poppins.  She's better.  The Mary Poppins of Travers' book really isn't a nanny I would have wanted.  Mary is sharp-tongued and vain and while she may love the children underneath all that--it certainly isn't obviousNurse Brenda, on the other hand, loves her charges and her boundless affection for all children comes though in every line of the story she has to tell.  All of the children who came under her care were most fortunate, indeed.  

I loved reading her down-to-earth and common sense advice for raising children.  She truly has a knack for knowing exactly how to deal with small people.  And she tells her story very well with plenty of gracious good humor.  It was also very interesting to read about Britain from pre-World War II days through the present.  I'm particularly interested in those earlier years and while I have read a great deal about that time period, it was refreshing to get an eye-witness account from someone who worked in a child-care role that many of us (particularly Americans) know very little about.  So many of my Golden Age mysteries have nannies as characters, but I couldn't really understand them since I knew so little about how they were trained and what their lives were like.  

A lovely memoir that was a quick and enjoyable read.  Four and a half stars. 

Brenda Ashford is a graduate of Norland College, a world-famous institute for British nannies. For sixty-two years, she cared for more than one hundred children, making her Britain’s longest-serving nanny. She lives outside London.

Pearls of Wisdom from Brenda Ashford

“I had puzzled many times over the ingredients for a perfect recipe for a happy home. Throw in some stability, a dash of routine and respect. Sprinkle some fun and imaginative games and stir well. But the most vital ingredient is the mother. The mother is truly the heart and soul of a family.”

“As for fussy eaters? I don’t stand for it. I have taken a hard line on this topic. This is a home, not a restaurant and you will jolly well try it before you turn your nose up at it.”

“If a child has sufficient breakfast, lunch and dinner they shouldn't need a snack. I don’t really like it today when I see children being wheeling along in a pram stuffing things in their mouth. ”

“Children cannot get up to your level, so you have to get down to theirs; try and understand how the world looks through their eyes.”

“If we respect little people then they in turn will grow up to respect others.”

“Put a book in a child’s hands or plant them in an empty field or park, and suddenly the world opens up and becomes a fantastical place of make believe and adventure.”

“Never let a house define you. You can make a home anywhere from an air raid shelter to a shed, if you have to. Riches and wealth don’t matter a jot.”

“I was always honest with my charges. In fact in every area of my life I have been most careful to never tell a lie. Why can’t everyone be more careful to tell the truth? At least we would all know where we stand in life.”

“Little folk deserve a childhood that’s full of fun. It’s the single most valuable lesson in my eyes. I have always encouraged children to have a giggle wherever and whenever they can.”

PEARLS OF WISDOM FROM A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny’s Story by Brenda Ashford

*9780385536417* On Sale April 2, 2013

Strung Together During 60 Years of Devoted Service as a Nanny

Thank you to the team at Doubleday, Ms. Ashford and Providence Book Promotions for generously offering this book to me for review. I received a free copy for my honest review and have received no payment whatsoever.
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CMash said...

Hi my favorite challenge Queen :) I am so glad you enjoyed this read. Your review is outstanding. I love what you said about Ms. Ashford. I can't wait to read this, it is in my TBR pile, especially after reading your's and all the positive reviews for it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Unknown said...

This sounds just delightful! Thanks for the review. :)

Joe said...

"Brenda Ashford is not Mary Poppins. She's better."

Love it! Thanks for the great review!

Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf said...

I've been eyeing this title, love the quotes you posted!

Ryan said...

Sounds fun, but I think I would want to read the Mary Poppins books first.