Pearce, (Ann) Philippa
(Ann) Philippa Pearce 1920–
British novelist for young adults and younger children and short story writer.
Pearce is among the most highly respected writers of books for young people. Although not prolific, she is considered among the foremost of the British writers who emerged at the end of the 1950s, such as William Mayne, L. M. Boston, and Rosemary Sutcliff. Her books probe the realities of childhood on many different levels. She uses elements of fantasy and the supernatural to complement the realism of her stories, and often demonstrates how heightened experience or a strong need can cause a supernatural event. Other themes concern the past and its influence on the present and future, social differences caused by class structures, and the loneliness and isolation that can exist within the family unit. Adults play important roles in Pearce's works, rather than being absent or ineffectual as in some other books for this audience. She uses the Cambridgeshire countryside of her childhood as the setting for most of her books, and her precise descriptions and vivid sense of place are often noted.
It is unanimously agreed that Pearce's greatest achievement is Tom's Midnight Garden, in which a lonely summer spent with his aunt and uncle leads Tom to discover a garden and a girl from the past. Essentially, this is the story of a desire for companionship so strong that it breaks through the barriers of time; Pearce firmly links fantasy with reality to suggest the effectiveness of imagination in overcoming limitations. She was praised for the originality of her theory of time and the consistency and logic of her approach. Some critics have called this work the most perfect book ever to have been written for children. A Dog So Small deals with fantasy in a different manner as it describes Ben's escape from reality in the form of an imaginary puppy. Triggered by his intense longing for a pet and the loneliness he feels as an excluded child, Ben learns through experience to distinguish possibility from impossibility. The unfolding of his thoughts and emotions is characteristic of Pearce's style, and is represented in several of her other titles.
Pearce's collections of short stories are often felt to be as successful as her novels. In What the Neighbors Did and Other Stories, she concentrates on everyday actions and events, and conveys their deeper essence as well. In The Shadow-Cage and Other Tales of the Supernatural, Pearce writes a series of ghost stories in the classic tradition, but with her own distinctive approach. In The Squirrel Wife she emphasizes human emotions and values, thus giving an uncommon immediacy to the fairy tale genre. As a collaborator, Pearce provided a novelistic structure for Brian Fairfax-Lucy's autobiographical reminiscences of his Edwardian youth, The Children of the House; directed to young readers, the work was praised for its unusual viewpoint and for the beauty of its sad though unsentimental ending. Ironically, the book was criticized for its unclear explanation of the passage of time, a feature felt to be handled successfully in Tom's Midnight Garden.
Several of Pearce's later works are considered minor by critics, some of whom have stated that she has yet to regain success on the scale of Tom's Midnight Garden. However, it is generally agreed that her combination of reality and fantasy is unique, and that her writing style has been exceptional throughout her career. Young people attracted to her works have found believable characters and situations with which to identify, while discovering a writer of imagination, depth, and quality. Pearce won the Carnegie Medal in 1958 for Tom's Midnight Garden, which was also given the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1963, as was The Minnow on the Say in 1958. The Battle of Bubble and Squeak was given the Whitbread Award in 1971. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed., and Something About the Author, Vol. 1.)
The Junior Bookshelf
[Minnow on the Say] is captivating from the beginning…. There is a neat balance of hopes and disappointments, and the reader's concern for Adam and his aunt causes him to share their feelings for the shabby old house whose future is threatened with their own, and heightens the suspense. At the same time the aunt's outburst when Adam uproots a prize rose in his mania [to find an Elizabethan treasure] is a welcome reminder that some things matter more than treasures, and the same sense of proportion is maintained elsewhere. The boys are a well matched, likable pair, and their conversation rings true, while the adults, who might easily have been only "character" parts, have character instead. Many children will recognise something of their own fathers in David's…. And what a relief to meet a bus-driver who is a person instead of a conscientious exponent of lower-middle class virtues! The other characters are just as clearly seen, the humour is quiet but constant, and there is that ingredient of consciousness of the past working in the present—the past of individuals, families, and the town—which always adds a special dimension. The interest of clue-detection during a first reading is replaced in later readings by an appreciation of the clues themselves and by increased pleasure in the people encountered on the search. The final scenes are all that could be desired…. (pp. 234-35)
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Margaret Sherwood Libby
We can think of no other [story] which has such an unusual combination of plot, characterization and vivid sense of place [as does "The Minnow Leads to Treasure" (published in Britain as "Minnow on the Say")]. There is a cleverly detailed challenging puzzle. The alert reader is in constant suspense and eager to unravel the clues with the boys. The study of the two heroes, their families and minor characters is perceptive, and dominating the whole book is the wonderful feeling for the river, with all its twists and turns.
Margaret Sherwood Libby, "Books for Boys and Girls: 'The Minnow Leads to Treasure'," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), March 9, 1958, p. 13.
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For all its search and puzzle, ["The Minnow Leads to Treasure" (published in Britain as "Minnow on the Say")] is no one-dimensional mystery yarn. Here are real people…. There is a villain, but his villainy stems from obtuseness rather than cold-blooded wickedness. And the other grown-ups are all rounded characters, each of whom has an essential function in the dénouement. There are drama and old, remembered heartache in the story, but it is as if it had happened "all on a golden afternoon, full leisurely∗∗∗."… [One] sees and almost smells the garden and fields and shares the joys of exploration and discovery.
Ethna Sheehan, "Search on the River Say," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1958 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 4, 1958, p. 32.
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The Junior Bookshelf
The second novels of brilliant beginners are so often disappointing. Miss Pearce's successor to Minnow has now appeared after three years, and her most enthusiastic admirer need have no fear. Here is no second and inferior Minnow, but a book entirely different in every respect except excellence. (p. 333)
[Tom's Midnight Garden] is an original treatment of a "time" theme, with a brilliant surprise ending—at least it took one reader completely by surprise.
Miss Pearce's magic comes from several sources, from her deep understanding of her characters young and old, from a sense of time, most of all from a mastery of words. Her prose is a miracle of simplicity. Using no tricks, she evokes the atmosphere of the lost garden so vividly that the reader shares Tom's experiences in it and sees with him its ghostly inhabitants. This is a very clever book, but its greatest cleverness is that only on reflection does the reader realise how brilliant the writing is, how sound the observation, with what minute care every detail of the story is fitted into the mosaic. Most children will see none of this, but will surrender readily to its charm and interest and come under the influence of its beauty and wisdom. Don't let us say: "Better (or less good) than Minnow." Merely: "Thank you, Miss Pearce, for a book of rare quality!" (p. 334)
"The New Books: 'Tom's Midnight...
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Personal experience, transmuted by imagination and fine writing—these are found … in Philippa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden. In this story, time loses its limits. (p. 122)
Although time stands still in Tom's world while he is in the past, it does not stand still for Hatty [Tom's playmate in the garden]. She is growing up even as Tom plays with her, and the magic, the wonder of the garden, the transcending of time must come to an end with the ending of her childhood. This familiar ending to time fantasies is beautifully handled, with great sympathy for the boy who suddenly sees his companion as a young woman. And there is a bold twist to the ending which sends the whole book back on itself, sends the reader rethinking the whole. For Tom, on the very day he is due to go home, meets the owner of the house, old Mrs Bartholomew, who lives in seclusion upstairs. He climbs to her flat, opens the door—and finds that she is Hatty. So, did he go back in the past, or did she create the past with her dreams as she lay in bed, an old woman?
The subtlety of this circumstance is something children may pay more attention to if they reread the book in their late teens. As a child's story it is magnificent. It is at once philosophical, swift and gay. The conversations of Hatty and Tom are natural, the incidents probable and presented with beautiful clarity. The style is impeccable—loose-jointed and flexible, colloquial...
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The Times Literary Supplement
[A Dog So Small is] most moving….
Philippa Pearce's book is full of truth and truths for all sensitive readers to pick up if they will. She never writes "between the lines" for a grown-up audience. Everything is outspoken. Ben feels deeply, but his emotions are all those that children will recognize. This is not the best of this distinguished writer's books, but it has a fine finish, and like the work of a craftsman seems carefully made to satisfy, firstly, her exacting self.
"Animal Challenge: Opportunities for Heroism," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1962; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3144, June 1, 1962, p. 397.∗
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The Junior Bookshelf
A Dog So Small is [excellent and unusual], and more….
Miss Pearce, in addition to her command of words, characterisation and setting, is a master in the invention of complex, unexpected and convincing plots….
Much of the action goes on in Ben's head, which is difficult enough for many children; and the relationships between Ben and his mother and Ben and his grandfather, which are fundamental to the story, depend for their understanding on hairline subtleties. A Dog So Small in fact is likely to be a "minority" book but one which, with its wisdom and sympathy, its profound understanding of human behaviour, its fresh and lively portrayal of town and country society, is likely to be for a few children a rung in the ladder by which they mount to adult life.
"The New Books: 'A Dog So Small'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 26, No. 3, July, 1962, p. 139.
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The Hattons of Stanford Hall [in The Children of the House] belong to the privileged classes but life for the children is one of scant food and strict discipline…. [The] Hattons led a strangely tribal life, ceremonial, ingenious and tolerably happy.
This life is pieced together in one episode after another. A lucid prose style in which every word counts makes these episodes unsensationally vivid….
Lucky the child who acquires a sense of period from reading such books as this, books which do not set out to teach but, by the wealth and choice of detail and by the behaviour of their characters, do pass on the flavour of a particular world…. Brian Fairfax-Lucy writes of a world he knows from inside, Philippa Pearce with intuition about just such periods and estates.
The three interlocking yet separate groups at Stanford are kept precisely clear. We perceive the children's innocently sharp view of servants and parents; the servants are seen on both sides of the baize door; the worried contrivances and remote affection of the parents are demonstrated as they talk to each other, to the servants, to the children. We see how the four children, while accepting rules and influences, remain triumphantly themselves.
This has been a most successful collaboration. There is no visible join or jarring of mood in the book. Humour and grace decorate a confident picture of inheritance and...
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Mrs. E. D. Moss
"The Children of the House" is an elegant piece of writing, sad but at times wryly humorous…. The four children are alive and individual; their exploits, under Tom the heir, those of imaginative, country-loving children. Philippa Pearce has given this chronicle, which is a tragedy in muted tones, shape, form, and meaning. Her sense of period is exact, enhanced by an extraordinary flair for dialogue; her love of fun is much in evidence in this [story].
Mrs. E. D. Moss, "Historical Fiction: 'The Children of the House'," in Children's Book News (copyright © 1968 by Baker Book Services Ltd.), Vol. 3, No. 4, July-August, 1968, p. 205.
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The Junior Bookshelf
[The Children of the House] is a most interesting and unusual experiment in authorship. It is collaboration of a sort but not joint authorship in the normally accepted sense. The foreword informs us that Brian Fairfax-Lucy wrote a story for adults and that what we now have is a re-writing of this story by Philippa Pearce for juniors—a case of ghost-writing in which it is not a matter of "as told to" but "from a story by". From Miss Pearce's pen we expect a book to be readable and she has not failed us. She has succeeded in a most interesting way in her presentation of the events in Mr. Fairfax-Lucy's story of another age….
In an age when servants were kept in their place, the wish of the children to be friendly with them is nicely told. The drawback to the story is the lack of a sense of the passage of time. It is difficult to get a feeling of the ages of the children from one chapter to another, and too abruptly they pass from childhood to a kind of semi-adulthood—at one moment a boyish escapade and the next a commissioned officer. Apart from this, it has a great deal to commend it.
"The New Books: 'The Children of the House'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 32, No. 4, August, 1968, p. 237.
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Jean C. Thomson
[The Children of the House is a] book designed to leave its readers downcast…. [It is] a juvenile book reduction of the Sitwells' dilemma. The fantasy play that [E. Nesbit's] characters indulged in under similar circumstances is absent here…. [The children] never have any real adventures. An epilogue reveals the children's fates: Tom and Hugh killed in World War I; Laura dead from a disease caught while nursing soldiers; Margaret, the sole survivor, living abroad alone. Though the theme and tone are more appropriate to an adult short story …, this slim, well-written novel may have a certain melancholy charm for pre-teen readers. Presenting an emphatically gloomy statement about a side of aristocratic life seldom well and truly exposed elsewhere in juvenile books, this can also be read as a social document—an interesting, if weird, experience for young readers. (pp. 84-5)
Jean C. Thomson, "Grades 3-6: 'The Children of the House'," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the November, 1968 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1968), Vol. 93, No. 20, November, 1968, pp. 84-5.
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Every so often, one finds a book that speaks for its generation—and "The Children of the House" is such a book….
These are the memories of Brian Fairfax-Lucy's childhood—and, as told by Philippa Pearce, they are eloquent. The simplicity, truth, and lack of emphasis in this story are virtually Chekhovian, and it is a stouthearted reader who will not weep.
Barbara Wersba, "'The Children of the House'," in The New York Times Book Review, Part II (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 3, 1968, p. 38.
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Unlike traditional fairy tales, this beautifully written fantasy [Tom's Midnight Garden] does not depend on supernatural performance to turn the trick. Rather, it is the magic of the characters' personalities and of the mysterious movement in time that lifts this story beyond the usual time and dream fantasies in children's literature. (p. 270)
Philippa Pearce's particular contribution to this fantastic adventure in time is in the way she makes her characters come alive with natural dialogue, colloquial at times, but breezy and clear-cut. Tinged with poetry, the beautiful narrative is firmly rooted in reality and presented in probable terms. (p. 271)
Constantine Georgiou, "Fantasy in Children's Literature," in his Children and Their Literature (© 1969 by Prentice-Hall, Inc.; reprinted by permission of Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey), Prentice-Hall, 1969, pp. 241-302.∗
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Ruth Hill Viguers
In Philippa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden … the idea that time has no barriers was embodied in nearly perfect literary form. No loose ends, no inconsistencies mar the book. Miss Pearce can explain with few words but great conviction such supernatural events as Tom's passing through a closed door or the actual process of a room's transformation from its unfamiliar past appearance to its familiar present. Tom's acceptance of the fact that he can enjoy a garden that had existed long before his birth and friendship with a girl who had played in the garden more than half a century before is wholly believable. The book is a model of what can be done with an intricate theme by a writer endowed with literary style, understanding of children, and a clear insight into her own vision. (p. 477)
Ruth Hill Viguers, "Worlds without Boundaries: Literary Fairy Tales and Fantasy," in A Critical History of Children's Literature, by Cornelia Meigs, Anne Thaxter Eaton, Elizabeth Nesbitt, and Ruth Hill Viguers, edited by Cornelia Meigs (copyright © 1953, 1969 by Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.), revised edition, Macmillan, 1969, pp. 446-83.∗
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[In Minnow on the Say] one finds the same devouring awareness of the natural world, the same complexity and maturity of thought …, the same artistry of phrasing, and the same unwillingness to compromise in any of these areas [as in the books of Lucy Boston] because she is writing for children that we find in Lucy Boston's and William Mayne's work. Therefore in her time fantasy [Tom's Midnight Garden] one is not in the least surprised to discover, woven into the firmly plotted movement of the story, certain philosophic overtones in her handling of Time as it relates to Tom's gradual understanding of what he has been experiencing in the garden. In this work, too, as in Lucy Boston's, is found what I can only describe as an atmosphere of poetic dimension, tenderness without sentimentality, though expressed quite differently: not so much in paragraphs one can read aloud as examples as in the effect of the book as a whole, in Tom's relationship to the child Hatty and in his almost visceral love for and need of the garden. Here … is passionate attachment to place and person. (pp. 118-19)
In a book such as this …, one sees the fertile and perceiving mind of the writer joyously at work, unafraid of convolutions (so unexpectedly playing Hatty's time against Tom's Relative Time), ready to explore to the end every possibility opened up by each new pattern of circumstance. Such writers never cease searching for all that any...
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[Philippa Pearce's] achievement, wonderful enough in itself, is representative of how (without forsaking the adult note) a truly gifted writer can now write directly for the child, and for the ordinary child, in a way seldom achieved before….
[Minnow on the Say] has the hypnotic craftsmanship of a first class detective story. And as the story winds its fascinating course, the book engages the reader even more deeply in the lovely recreation of a boy's life in a small East Anglian village. In doing so, it brings back many childhoods…. It spills over with a child's geography, places that only a child would know…. (p. 196)
It is, if you like, a very conservative book. Children are expected to be polite to adults, to make things—scraping and varnishing their canoe—not to destroy. There are all the tiny ceremonies of inviting friends to tea, or calling on strangers. Pocket money is earned and carefully counted, and very neatly you pick up the nuances of children and adults observing the codes….
Of course, the boys—being boys—are sometimes rude and destructive, thoughtlessly or at moments of stress. There is the moment when Adam, obsessed by the treasure, suspects treasure under the lovely pinky-yellow rose bush that stands by itself in the garden…. (p. 197)
Without being in the slightest moralistic, the book has the rare capacity to create goodness, to make the...
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There is the most explicit attempt in Tom's Midnight Garden to understand the nature of time, one's attitude to it, its relation to one's own existence. Many aspects come over powerfully: the child growing up and changing; the destruction of the garden and its transformation into a housing estate; and a mean little yard mirroring a whole changed pattern of society. But I think that Philippa Pearce's resistance to the new polluted environment loses its impact because it becomes identified with the feelings towards the loss of childhood, which is an inevitable process, whereas the pollution of the environment need not be….
Tom is only really aware of time in relation to his own immediate living, and to the things he wants to do…. (p. 79)
This refers only to a week in Tom's life, but it reflects the larger truth of time as the creator and the destroyer. Thus we have in this book the sense of Tom's own holiday and the larger sense of Hatty's whole life, and even the background—the objects—changing and being destroyed. The sense of loss, as shown by the central image of the tree falling, is stronger than the sense of creation and growth. This is what the novel emphasizes. Yet these are essential truths about time, in which we are bound to have our achievement and our termination. And it is the truth of Tom's Midnight Garden that conflicts with the magical aspect—why the thirteenth hour? Is it...
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Minnow on the Say employs a familiar formula for a children's book—the successful search for a long-buried treasure, with its usual attendant props, the false clues, villain racing to beat the children in their quest, etc. If the book were no more than this it would scarcely be worth writing about but it is however an unusual book in many respects; and it is worth noting that none of the subsequent novels employs such a well-tried device. The main characters—Adam, David and Miss Codling—are drawn with a convincing detail that immediately places the book on a higher level than its plot suggests. Adam has many of the characteristics of the heroes of Tom's Midnight Garden and A Dog so Small, particularly their passionate obsession to achieve their hearts' desires. Adam is irrational, often bad-tempered, often depressed; he swings mercurially from one extreme emotion to another…. He is much the most interesting character in the book, and altogether a surprising person to find in a quiet and leisurely English children's novel.
David, in contrast, is practical and down-to-earth, much the sort of son we would expect of Bob Moss, who drives the country buses and grows prize roses. Yet Bob Moss was once known as Bab Bobby Moss, Terror of both the Barleys; and David too, experiences the longing, the unfulfilled desire that torments all Philippa Pearce's heroes…. (pp. 40-1)
[Mr Smith] is one of the...
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In this grave and beautiful piece of writing in traditional storyteller's style [The Squirrel Wife], magic rises naturally from the impulses of generous or unkind temperaments, with love and loyalty given full value in the working out of the fortunes of two brothers. Philippa Pearce shows no trace of uneasiness in following the patterns, in rhythm and vocabulary, of the fairy-tale tradition which she is not imitating so much as continuing with complete confidence. Like Hans Andersen, she has put human emotion and human values in the forefront of a tale that has its own strong magic.
Margery Fisher, "Legend and Fairy Tale: 'The Squirrel Wife'," in her Growing Point, Vol. 10, No. 6, December, 1971, p. 1852.
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[Tom's Midnight Garden is] the perfect fantasy of our time…. This deeply moving, beautifully written and completely convincing time-fantasy is one of the most perfectly conceived and executed children's books of the past twenty years. (p. 128)
The author makes beautifully subtle and complex use of [the] time-shift….
Such a story in other hands could be mawkish and unconvincing, just another time fantasy. In Philippa Pearce's it becomes almost unbearably moving. A wonderful book…. (p. 130)
Although it is typical of the author's highly individual outlook that the social problem [in Minnow on the Say] should be turned upside down and it is the bus driver's family that leads the happy, secure and well-fed life, while the upper class family is in difficulties, this is not a 'social consciousness' novel. It is a straightforward adventure story, with a long-sustained search for buried treasure by the river; a moderately nasty villain, an old mill, lovable (and unlovable) country characters, and even a happy ending. But the author's style and manner transmute these ordinary ingredients into pure gold and this is a fine book which, although not a fantasy, is unmistakably by the author who was shortly to produce Tom's Midnight Garden. To have been runner-up for the Carnegie Medal with one's first book and win it with one's second must be a rare feat, but Philippa Pearce achieved it,...
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As a child, I intended to be a writer—a novelist, of course. It's a common dream. The nearest I seemed likely to get, as an adult, was in the job of scriptwriter-producer for the School Broadcasting Department of the BBC. This experience, over thirteen years, must have helped as much as any to make me into a writer of children's books. I wrote for the same public, changing only the medium. (p. 169)
In 1951, while I was working for school broadcasting, I contracted tuberculosis. I went into hospital in Cambridge for most of that summer, a particularly fine one. I didn't feel ill at all, and it seemed almost unbearable to be lying in bed missing all of the summer on the river, only five miles away, in Great Shelford, where I had been born and brought up…. Imprisoned in hospital, I went there in my imagination as I had never done before—as I had never needed to do, of course. I knew, by heart, literally the feel of the river and the canoe on it. It became hallucinatory, like vividly-imagined fiction.
At last I went back to work; but now began to dawn on me the idea that I could do it too—write a children's story. One needed a good, reliable plot, of course: a search for treasure; a family home on its last legs; and so on. As for the setting, I had that already; and that was what really interested me.
I wrote Minnow on the Say mostly with pleasure. I was just about to let the heroes...
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[The Squirrel Wife] is constructed of fairy-tale components: a protagonist, Jack, an overworked young swineherd; a species of fairymen—the green people; and the motif of kindness rewarded by magic. Paralleling the seal-wife or fox-wife of folklore is Jack's brown-haired, brown-eyed squirrel-wife…. Jack's older brother, jealous of Jack's well-being, caused him to be jailed and lose his squirrel-wife. But a perfectly wrought solution sweetens the tale…. Relayed with the directness of a long-known tale, but with more shadings and tenderness, the narrative is as totally pleasing as any long-lived story. The creation of the little wife is charming….
Virginia Haviland, "Spring Booklist: 'The Squirrel Wife'," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1972 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XLVIII, No. 3, June, 1972, p. 265.
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To use Edward Blishen's invaluable phrase, [the stories in What the Neighbours Did and Other Stories] have "a child's eye at the centre" but they do not reflect an exclusively child-centred world.
It is the world of the Barleys, Great and Little, the Cambridgeshire world of Ben Blewitt's grandparents, the scene of the river adventure of Minnow and of Hattie Bartholomew's child hood…. In a sense the story [Still Jim and Silent Jim] celebrates—as they all do—that pace and closeness in village life of which one aspect is that crabbed age and youth can and do live together.
Let nobody suppose, though, that these are not stories for children to read. They describe with memory and with verbal skill the doings of childhood…. The impeccable art in the stories, the prose that never obtrudes but is always active, pointed, lucid—these are for adults to enjoy consciously and for the young to absorb without having to indulge in any comprehension exercise. Such books form taste, through delight. (pp. 2051-52)
Margery Fisher, "Special Review: 'What the Neighbours Did and Other Stories'," in her Growing Point, Vol. 11, No. 6, December, 1972, pp. 2051-52.
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The Times Literary Supplement
Philippa Pearce's book of short stories, What the Neighbours Did, confirms her, if confirmation were needed, as the most important writer for children at the present. It is exceptionally finely written and conceived—indeed it is hard to think of another children's book this year that could be considered in the same class. Such high claims must be insisted on partly because the book seems to make none for itself. It is a collection of stories written over a dozen years or so, in consistently understated and low-keyed tones, describing the quiet lives of country children. Yet its impact is the greater because Philippa Pearce has deliberately dispensed with all the usual props of children's fiction—whimsy, fantasy, magic, talking toys or animals, the looking-glass world of the past. Instead she has limited herself to the severest realism. The unlikeliest event in the volume is Still Jim's return from Little Barley in his bath chair…. It is probably significant that this particular story, "Still Jim and Silent Jim" was the earliest of these tales to be written. The later pieces reject even this degree of delicate farce in favour of simpler, more ordinary activities—getting up in the middle of the night, picking blackberries, retrieving an old tin box from a pond.
Yet everywhere the commonplace surface of life is parted to reveal the deeper mysteries of existence. Like Sausage, the short-sighted hero of "Return to Air", we...
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Tom's Midnight Garden … is one of those rare, miraculously individual books which belong to no category and demand absolute acceptance from the reader. Philippa Pearce wrote here a kind of ghost story, except that the ghost was still alive, and a kind of historical novel, its period carefully concealed from the reader. (p. 198)
The concluding passages have a perfection unmatched in children's literature.
Part of the wonder of Tom's Midnight Garden lies in purely literary qualities. Philippa Pearce is a master of style. Unlike William Mayne, a greater virtuoso performer who is often carried away by the enchantment of his own skill, she is always in control. She uses words as if she had just discovered them. With them she discloses the mystery of the garden and explores in depth the complex personalities of Tom and Hatty. No one, not even E. Nesbit in the 'Arden' books, has managed better the transition from present to past….
Minnow on the Say … is an enchanting story of a treasure-hunt …, as fresh and fragile as a spring day. It is structurally disastrous. In three years Miss Pearce learnt all about her craft. The construction of Tom's Midnight Garden, its firm development, the subtle variation from episode to episode, is beyond criticism. (p. 199)
Marcus Crouch, "Self and Society," in his The Nesbit Tradition: The...
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[Philippa Pearce] writes with a hushed expectancy that does not necessarily end in solemnity, but—on many occasions—spills over into humor or into plain realism…. [All the stories in What the Neighbors Did and Other Stories] capture the environmental experiences and the domestic adventures of children living in a present-day English village…. As in the stories of Sara Orne Jewett, the effect of the narratives depends upon the author's powers of observation and sympathy; and the exquisite simplicity of her style is never precious. (pp. 592-93)
Paul Heins, "Stories for the Middle Readers: 'What the Neighbors Did and Other Stories'," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1973 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XLIX, No. 6, December, 1973, pp. 592-93.
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"In the Middle of the Night," the best story here in Philippa Pearce's ["What the Neighbours Did and Other Stories,"] is very funny…. [It] is as finely structured as music; at the last note, sighing pleasurably, you wish for nothing more: a distinct achievement. On the other hand, some of these stories are often oddly unsatisfactory. The tone varies, of course. Two are first person, some slangy, others formal or detached or both. But all have Miss Pearce's strong sense of place, her wit and slyness of observation (adding, incidentally, to her special gallery of obstinate old men). Some may not be children's stories at all. The title one, for instance, shows a small, awful, adult wasteland. The best are too good to be confined to children anyway.
A few, inevitably, work less well—"Lucky Boy" perhaps or "The Great Blackberry Pick"—though the human observations are as good as ever. I find in some respects, the most interesting story "Fresh," the most introspective, reminding me of the strangeness and intensity of the best of Philippa Pearce's earlier work….
[It's] sad that a writer of this quality appears to have turned so resolutely from certain facets of her talent; and not just her talent for fantasy; her realism was often as powerful. Then I think of the end of her "The Squirrel Wife"—significant not so much for the hero's acceptance of the loss of his wife's forest powers, as for his lack of apparent...
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John Rowe Townsend
Miss Pearce has … the storyteller's gift,… the novelist's power to create memorable people and the almost-architectural ability to complete a properly balanced and proportioned work. Tom's Midnight Garden (1958) is as near as any book I know to being perfect in its construction and writing, while satisfying also as fantasy and as a story about people. Only Philippa Pearce could have written it. (p. 246)
The book has a profound, mysterious sense of time; it has the beauty of a theorem but it is not abstract; it is sensuously as well as intellectually satisfying. The garden is so real that you have the scent of it in your nostrils….
If I were asked to name a single masterpiece of English children's literature since the last war—and one masterpiece in thirty years is a fair ration—it would be this outstandingly beautiful and absorbing book. (p. 247)
John Rowe Townsend, "Not So Flimsy," in his Written for Children: An Outline of English-Language Children's Literature (copyright © 1965, 1974 by John Rowe Townsend; courtesy of J. B. Lippincott, Publishers; in Canada by Kestrel Books), revised edition, Lippincott, 1974, pp. 235-47.∗
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Just as M. R. James lures his readers, word by word and paragraph by paragraph, till they feel the un-ordinariness of the curtains, the sheets on the bed, the dusty old book, so Philippa Pearce leads us—cunningly, with a disarmingly conversational reporting of people's talk and actions—to a state of acceptance [in The Shadow Cage and Other Tales of the Supernatural]. (p. 3113)
In many of the stories the supernatural element is skilfully projected from the recognisably ordinary behaviour of ordinary people, part of the fabric of themselves.
This novelistic element makes Philippa Pearce's stories subtly different from those of M. R. James, while inviting comparison for certain qualities of elegance and concentration in the writing. There are other tales in her book whose supernatural apparitions are extra-human in every sense…. The shiver, the shock of surprise, always come slowly, after an everyday setting has been firmly established—a village school, a mill on the river, a bungalow "in the middle of nowhere in particular". Such clichés of "ghost stories" as attics or isolated, shrub-shrouded mansions, come up as good as new with Philippa Pearce's polishing.
People, their sad or wicked memories, their present alarms and astonishments, are the activators of the stories, but places supply their inspiration and their poetic force. Perhaps the most tightly wrought of all, The...
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The Junior Bookshelf
[The short stories in The Shadow Cage and Other Tales of the Supernatural] are not 'ghost' stories in the usual sense of the word, but something much more spine-chilling and evocative of atmosphere. The author has used ordinary things and places as a springboard for her imagination … and created with them a feeling of the supernatural and a sense of foreboding that makes the reader almost afraid to turn the page. Each story is unexpected in its ending…. The reader is never insulted and deflated by explanations which reduce the happening to the commonplace. Here too is the perceptive observation of character and the felicitous and effective use of words, which the reader has come to expect and appreciate from this author….
A collection which will join the connoisseur's shelf of stories of the supernatural world of which we know so little.
"The New Books: 'The Shadow-Cage and Other Tales of the Supernatural'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 41, No. 3, June, 1977, p. 182.
(The entire section is 161 words.)
The power of imagination and memory to transfigure everyday life, to create a subtle haunting, has always distinguished Philippa Pearce's writing—when Tom entered his midnight garden, he and Hatty experienced each other almost as spirits, traditional ghostly playfellows. So the title of her latest book, The Shadow-Cage and Other Tales of the Supernatural, sounds particularly promising. Her previous and much underrated What the Neighbours Did recreated ordinary events with the intensity of vision of the child—or the artist. It seemed as if the new book might play [Samuel Taylor] Coleridge to the [William] Wordsworth of the earlier collection, the charm of novelty imparted to "things of everyday" giving place to those shadows of the imagination that set out to procure for themselves a "willing suspension of disbelief"….
Philippa Pearce has tried to soften the uncompromising terrors of the ghost story, preferring to end, where possible, with the evil exorcised…. Two stories deal with the misery gathered around the object of a childhood trauma, although this is probably a subject that requires an adult perspective to gain its full force….
Two pieces make no concessions to nervous readers, and both, in their different ways, are notable contributions to this kind of writing. I disliked the first as much as I liked the second: "The Dear Little Man with his Hands in his Pockets" is a horror story…....
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[The Shadow Cage and Other Tales of the Supernatural] is not a collection of ghost stories intended to appeal to children of a certain age who, as is well known, like spooky stories. It isn't a way of keeping children quiet for an hour, or a way of persuading them to exercise new-found skills in reading. It isn't designed to make them more understanding, more sensitive or more aware of the world around them. It is not, in short, an educational device. It is literature.
Most children must know the feeling that some places and things are frightening for no obvious reason. Philippa Pearce knows about them: the dark place at the back of the cupboard, the space behind the window of the empty house, the inexplicable nastiness of the old biscuit barrel. She expresses this sense of mystery and menace without in any way explaining it away.
Dorothy Nimmo, "Seven to Eleven: 'The Shadow Cage and Other Tales of the Supernatural'," in The School Librarian, Vol. 25, No. 3, September, 1977, p. 245.
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One of the few … books for children which uses an adult and modern open-ended form is the very fine novel by Philippa Pearce and Brian Fairfax-Lucy, The Children of the House…. In this story, the reader shares in the tragic damage caused in the lives of four children by unloving parents, external events—in particular the First World War—and time. The tragic note is sounded in the first sentence of the Epilogue: "No children live in Stanford Hall now." In the last two pages of the novel, the full extent of the loss is suggested, and the process is seen as an inevitable one. Only echoes remain in the old house. It seems to me that such books are necessary if the younger reader is to make the transition from the comfortable, closed world of children's fiction to the more challenging and uncomfortable world of the adult novel. (pp. 20-1)
Roger Alma, "The Novels of Molly Holden" (copyright © 1978 Roger Alma; reprinted by permission of the author and The Thimble Press, Lockwood Station Road, South Woodchester, Glos. GL55EQ, England), in Signal, No. 25, January, 1978, pp. 16-24.∗
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So many superlatives have been applied to Philippa Pearce's work that a new book from the Pearce stable is in danger of being treated with undue deference by reviewers.
With The Battle of Bubble and Squeak, however, superlatives are definitely in order. Philippa Pearce returns to the theme of a child's intense longing for a pet (first treated in A Dog So Small) and the repercussions that this yearning has within a family….
The theme sounds rather tortured but Philippa Pearce writes with a dry humour and lucidity that capture for the young reader the complexity of people, especially adults, and makes them comprehensible, even sympathetic. Indeed the book treats family interaction so subtly and with such acute observation that it will be read and reread.
Rosemary Stones, "Life Savers," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3979, July 7, 1978, p. 771.
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The successive stages in Sid's attitude to the animals [in The Battle of Bubble and Squeak]—enthusiasm, indifference, a fury of protectiveness, desperate misery—accompany and give point to each chapter of this small, significant domestic drama. There is enough colour and movement in the narrative, enough precise detail of sound, venue and personality, to hold the reader's attention. There is, though, much more. Alice Sparrow's reaction to the gerbils, a necessary guiding line for the plot, is also part of a silent, secret, continuing battle between this house-proud, inhibited woman and her warm-hearted second husband, who once kept white mice and whose sympathy with the children involves him in divided loyalties. This is no deep marital probe but a suggestion of family tensions as quiet and inexorable as the definition of parental roles in that memorable short story, "In the Middle of the Night". Philippa Pearce has always written expandable books, direct and open in style, simple in plot, but with so much in them of wisdom and humour that they offer new insights at every reading. Her new story could be understood and greatly enjoyed by children as young as seven or eight, as the tale of a pair of gerbils and their disruption of the family life of the Parkers and Sparrows. But when one has said that, one has only just begun. (p. 3415)
Margery Fisher, "Points of Intersection," in her Growing Point,...
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The Junior Bookshelf
[A writer of Philippa Pearce's] unmatched integrity can do nothing trivial, and even her slightest book has the Pearce fingerprints all over it. In [The Battle of Bubble and Squeak, a] nice little tale of how two gerbils capture a family's affections and in so doing transform the life of each member, she demonstrates the famous use of language. Each word is weighed, measured and then fitted into place with a craftsman's precision; nothing could be farther from the clichés and the secondbest of much present-day writing, for children as for their elders. There is no cliché either of character or situation. The story works itself out in terms of people and their reactions to crisis and to one another.
This however is only the machinery. What matters is what it produces. The story of how the Parkers came to terms with their pets has warmth and tenderness and a little heartbreak. Above all it is the story of Mrs. Parker …, not at all the conventional mother, who finds it hardest of all to love the gerbils and plays a key part in their salvation. Here in a little book is a big study.
"The New Books: 'The Battle of Bubble and Squeak'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 42, No. 6, December, 1978, p. 302.
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Elm Street in North London, bounded by the stump of a tree at the Park end and by Woodside School (and gimlet-eyed George Crackenthorpe) at the other, to the outward eye a row of terrace houses like any other, is a territory to the children who live there, their cohesion proved by the fact that at school they are known to their peers from other streets as "the Elm Street lot". The six stories that chronicle their adventures [in The Elm Street Lot] were written ten years ago … but at least the passage of time has showed the dateless character of Philippa Pearce's writing. Progress has not yet put an end to the self-contained, village atmosphere of many London streets which is reflected in this book….
Elm Street's individuality is supported by the device of "populousness", the method by which an author, defining only a handful of characters, creates the illusion of a far larger cast…. The illusion of populousness is simply and elegantly sustained…. (p. 3538)
The quiet humour that illuminates all Philippa Pearce's books rises naturally out of situations in these tales. A bath too big to go through the door, a lost kite, a broken window, a leaking roof, a hamster escaped, a cat run over—each circumstance engages the attention of the neighbourhood in varying ways, and while the energetic improvisations of nine-year-olds sets the tone, there are plenty of hints of more mature confrontations and...
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Ghost stories, especially those which concentrate on the relationship between a single person and his ghost, as in the work of Philippa Pearce, are anti-fatalist. The person and the event are singular and positive, but they are shadowed by their negatives, which are many—all the people we might have become, and did not; all the things we might have done, and did not. The richness of our lives and being is in the depth of their shading. This perception lies behind the title story of The Shadow Cage, Philippa Pearce's collection of ghost stories.
The making of identity is a continuous process which involves selection of one course and rejection of all others. Ghost stories show us how to escape from the finality of this choice, and from a fatalism which makes us suspect that there was actually no choice in the first place, so that the way we went was the only way we could ever have gone. They allow us to keep alive parallel possibilities forever, enriching the way that was chosen by making us experience other ways, and confirming through this expansion our current sense of ourselves. The present unity of the me-now points in the ghost story to the plurality of all those not-mes, not-now.
For example, in Philippa Pearce's "Guess," in The Shadow Cage, Netty is connected with Jess, a ghost-girl released by the fall of a tree in a gale. Jess is clearly a part of Netty, both alien and intimate ("there was...
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Beneath [the top tune of the plot of The Battle of Bubble and Squeak] are played variations on the themes of family relationships, developing independence in children, the learning of social give-and-take, and the urgency of emotional desires and compulsions.
It's not hard to see resemblances between this story and the author's earlier novel A Dog So Small…. A boy's desire for a pet, his distress at not being allowed one, a family living on an ordinary housing estate, an act of emotional and psychological withdrawal, and a happy resolution with everyone's honor satisfied—these are common elements in both books. But there is nothing tired or repetitive in the treatment. On the contrary, Bubble and Squeak feels fresh, vigorous, and contemporary and places its emphasis differently—on social interactions rather than on one character's point of view and interior life. The book is primarily about living together.
What one enjoys at once, as with anything she writes, is Philippa Pearce's pellucid style. (p. 229)
Another of the qualities that impresses me about this short book is the way the author opens up an adult's interior life for … young readers…. Mrs. Sparrow is very nearly a central character, along with Sid—it's as much her story as his. She has remarried after the death of her first husband, who was the father of all the children.
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