Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 5 July 2014

In Which I Find an Old Friend in a Bookshop, by Jennifer Young

It’s amazing what you forget. Also what you remember and what, in the end, you realise you never knew in the first place.

Browsing the children’s sections in a second-hand bookshop in St Andrew’s the other day I saw a title which triggered memories. It was Carol Kendall’s The Minnipins, a book which I haven’t thought about in years but one which immediately reminded me that I spent years when my children were smaller looking for a copy, though without success.

When I pulled it out I had a clear picture in my mind of the cover of my edition, some several decades ago. This was the same (the edition dated from 1972). I turned it over and read the back. ‘Five rebels are exiled to the mountains from their sober, respectable Minnipin village, and find that the deadly Mushroom tribe is coming to attack their countrymen.’

Of course I bought it, tattered though it was; and of course I read it at the first opportunity. Time slipped away. The more I read the more I remembered; every time I turned a page I knew what was coming and yet I was still amused by the tiny twists which I’d either forgotten or never spotted. And it isn’t even (as far as I’m aware) a classic.

The book, though short, is obviously derivative and highly reminiscent of Tolkien with its little people living in a Shire-like land unaware of a gathering threat outside. (One of them, incidentally, is called Muggles so perhaps the derivation leads forwards as well as back.) And of course our band of misfit Minnipins save the day as the invaders attacks through old mines - aided by their magic swords.

Reading it as an adult I spotted much about the lessons of the book which I must have taken in subliminally as a child. The message is about being true to yourself, about learning to accept others for what they are, about not being self-important or being bound by your own history. It isn’t a classic but it really ought to be. I have plenty of musing to do on precisely why, on all the elements which made this particular book appeal to me.

When I Googled it I discovered that The Minnipins has a sequel. This leaves me with a dilemma. Read it - or leave the original in my mind as the almost-perfect stand-alone children’s book I thought it was? What would you do?

16 comments:

  1. Lovely post, Jennifer. I would buy the sequel because if you don't you will always wonder if it was as good as the first one. And if it is a disappointment you still have the almost-perfect stand-alone children's book to read again.
    I'm still searching for a book I read as a child. I can't remember the title or the author but it had two stories in it. The first was about children on holiday who came up against a horrible women who was like - or may even have turned into - an octupus. The seocnd story involved a yak.

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    1. Hmm...maybe I will follow it up. Mary, you're about the third or fourth person I've heard of recently who's trying to track down a children's book. But I'm afraid I can't help you on that one. (You probably need a librarian of a certain age!)

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  2. I'd never heard of, let alone read, this book. Now I want to! And as for reading the sequel - I wouldn't be able to resist.

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    1. You should read it if you see it - it's a brilliant book. It still makes me laugh and there's a poet in it whose poems are derided as 'scribbles' - which is what I always call my poems. I wonder if that's where I got it from?

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  3. Sounds lively, Jennifer! I've not come across it. Books I remember from my childhood are Anne of Green Gables, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Swallows and Amazons and, earlier, Famous Five and Secret Seven - all series/with sequels. I'd definitely go for it!

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    1. All of those were terrific, too. But this one is interesting because it went out of print, although I think it was reprinted in the 90s. I wonder how many other books I loved but have forgotten about?

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  4. Lovely post, Jennifer. Yes, I'm for the sequel too. I don't know the book, though, nor yours Gill. My own memory is of a book called 'The Land of the Thinsies'. The cover had a huge Billy Bunter fat boy on it, and I discovered that the characters were thin sideways on! One of my favourites was Little Women. I also liked Black Beauty, as well as the Enid Blytons.

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  5. The Land of the Thinsies sounds vaguely familiar, Joan. I expect if I read it it'll come to me in the middle of the night!

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  6. I really do think we should keep our memories as they are. My favourite childhood book was Jessica's First Prayer by Hesba Stretton. I can see all the morals in it now that I couldn't see then but, for me, it was an essential part of growing up. I have tracked down a copy and really do treasure it...

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  7. I don't know that one. But I do find it interesting that people's treasured memories are books which haven't become classics... I also remember a book called The Land of Green Ginger, which featured a character called Omar Khayyam (I understand that now) and his donkey.

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  8. I couldn't do it. I also have treasured memories of books I read decades ago, and I've since re-read them and shared them with my children during their young years. I just don't think a sequel could/would do my memories justice. I'd keep what I have and pass the sequel on to someone else. :)

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  9. Oh yes, great post. I find these days that the more I write creatively myself the more I remember from the past. But I think the thing I remember most about reading as a child is the quiet, the being curled up in an old armchair, or propped up against the pillows in bed getting lost in a story. And does anyone else, like me, love the old illustrations from way back then?

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    1. Yes, absolutely! There are maps in The Minnipins. I remember them really clearly too.

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