MUSINGS Children's Day is coming up, and titles for young readers, new and old, are full of secrets, quests, and discoveries.
E arlier this year I read two new books by Pseudonymous Bosch, with the kind of dire titles that have become popular since “A Series of Unfortunate Events”. Bosch's “If You're Reading This”, “It's Too Late” and “This Book is Not Good for You” are full of secrets, quests and magic. Three friends get into various scrapes, and in the second book they try to rescue child workers at a cacao farm. It may put some young readers off their chocolate, until they romp on to another sequel.
A much older book, Mary Norton's “The Borrowers”, came in a parcel for the children's library next door. I promptly borrowed it. First published in 1953, it is a charming tale of little people who live under the wooden floorboards of a house, accounting for all those missing safety pins and matchboxes that plague every householder. They borrow what they need from the leavings of the enormous “human beans” above their heads. The lives of the Clock family depend on their never being seen by humans, and Pod, the father, risks his life every time he borrows a potato. Young Arrietty knows nothing outside her home under the floor, but as she approaches adolescence she longs to see more of life. She gazes through the grating at a slice of the world and makes a daily record in her diary, usually, “Mother cross.” One day she is seen by a boy, and from him she learns there is an entire world of enormous people, and that they do not exist just for the sake of the Borrowers.
Perhaps it was the scene in which Arrietty listens to servants talking in the kitchen, herself careful not to make a sound, that reminded me suddenly of a far more famous adolescent who hid noiselessly with her family and scribbled in a diary. Anne Frank's “Diary of a Young Girl” first appeared in an English translation in 1952. It was written over two years during which Anne and seven other Jews hid in a secret portion of an office during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Those two years had their bright as well as dark days, and a precocious child wrote eloquently of love, fear and tantrums as she bloomed into womanhood.
We all know how Anne's story ended. She and most of the others were discovered and later died in the camps. Her diary survived and her father, Otto Frank, published it.
Did Mary Norton think of Anne when she created Arrietty? The Clocks too are discovered, by the housekeeper, and the rat catcher descends on them with dogs, ferrets, snares and chemicals with which to suffocate them. All the exits are blocked and it's a near thing, but Arrietty's story ends better than Anne's. The Clocks live to find a new home, and there are four sequels to “The Borrowers”.
I don't know whether any of these stories are good for you. But that's never why we read a book, is it? Happy Children's Day.