Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Diddakoi (aka Gypsy Girl)
Rumer Godden
1972, The Viking Press

Kezia - Kizzy - Lovell is a half-gypsy orphan being raised by her grandmother in a horse-drawn wagon. But Gran is old and they've stopped travelling, camping permanently in an orchard owned by the reclusive Admiral Cunningham Twiss. When Gran dies and Kizzy's remaining relatives plan to sell her old horse, Joe, to the knacker, she appeals to the Admiral for help. With Joe taken care of, however, Kizzy is in need of a home. She reluctantly agrees to go live with Miss Brooke, but battles between them, and between Kizzy and her suspicious schoolmates, throw her future into question.

Kizzy did not have toys, except an old skipping rope that Gran had bought with some jumbler - travellers are forever buying and selling things. Kizzy did not need toys when she had Joe. She combed him with an old curry comb and brushed his mane and tail; she would sit beside him in the grass, giving him buttercups, of which he was fond; if she lay down beside him he would sometimes push her with his nose; the breath from his nostrils was warm and now and again he would gently lick her face. A horse's lick is clean to a traveller.

Rumer Godden had a unique writing style, one where sentences wend onward until you'd think it was impossible for them to sustain their own weight. But they do. Her simultaneously romantic and practical view of childhood is also unique; her children are both brutal and pragmatic, in a way I do not find completely believable or appealing, but which is a refreshing change from the "What's wrong with poor little Devon that he stuck a pencil through his classmate's head?" approach.

Current Re-Issue
The Diddakoi was re-issued in 2008 by Macmillan, which has also re-issued several other Godden books for children.

The Diddakoi was made into a TV-movie called Kizzi for the BBC.

About The Author
Raised in India, Godden spent much of her life living outside England. The autobiographical Two Under The Indian Sun is about her childhood, while Kingfisher Catch Fire is a novel which draws heavily on her experiences as a young woman living in the Himalayas. She also wrote the novels In This House Of Brede, Black Narcissus, The Battle of the Villa Fiorita and The River. Black Narcissus and The River were both made into films, as were several other works.

Other Children's Books by Godden
Godden wrote several books about dolls and doll houses.
The Doll's House
Four Dolls
The Fairy Doll
The Story of Holly and Ivy
Miss Happiness and Miss Flower


Home is a Sailor
Operation Sippacik

The Mousewife

Impunity Jane
The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle
Mr McFadden's Hallowe'en
Mouse House
The Rocking Horse Secret

The Kindle of Kittens
Candy Floss

The Dragon Og

St Jerome and the Lion
The Valiant Chatti-Maker


The Little Chair

Listen to the Nightingale

The Kitchen Madonna

Related Websites
Rumer Godden Literary Trust
IMDB page for Kizzy

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Searching For Shona
Margaret J. Anderson
1978, Alfred A. Knopf

Orphaned heiress Marjorie Malcolm-Scott is on her way to Canada to live with relatives when she spots sometime playmate and orphanage resident Shona McInnes awaiting evacuation to the countryside. Dreading the long ocean voyage, she suggests they swap identities. The bold Shona, who has a limited sense of consequences, jumps at the chance to swap clothing. So the real Shona goes off to Canda while the pretender goes to a quiet Scottish village to stay with the Campbell sisters. Marjorie is quite happy with the results, but one thing nags at her - the village where she was sent turned out to be the same place Shona's long-lost mother came from, and Marjorie feels terrible that her friend lost out on the chance to discover her family background.

This is a cozy family book, beneath the appearance of a mystery/adventure story. It has many of the classic ingredients of a thrilling mystery/adventure story - an identity swap, a poor little rich girl, orphans, wartime privitation and an abandoned house with a tower and a tragic background - but the real well it draws from is that of a neglected child who finds happiness with unlikely parents in a chaotic time.

When they reached home, they hung up their wet coats. Miss Agnes had socks and slippers warming by the fire for them because she was sure their feet would be cold and wet after walking all the way from the picture house in that awful rain.

Searching For Shona is unusual in several ways. It's set in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the heroine is atypical, a unadventurous sort who never changes much - she's more confident at the end, but no more bold. I like that - enough with the introverted heroines who must magically transform into extroverted ones. Marjorie is old for her years, a practical and worried child for whom the magical house and the haunting mystery of its former owners are mildly diverting but not nearly as important as the reality of her life. Her adopted sister, Anna Ray, is more of a typical heroine, dreamy and childish and prone to running off on adventures. Anna drives the plot by forcing Marjorie to do things like break into the deserted house.