(Ann) Philippa Pearce Introduction

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

(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...

(The entire section is 643 words.)