When I stumbled across the Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at the Museum of Childhood on my first day in London, there was a replica of Jacqueline’s bedroom as a child, including a shelf of some of her favourite books growing up. There were several Enid Blyton titles, and E Nesbit, and What Katy Did and Ballet Shoes and Black Beauty. These were all books that I knew, and thought wonderful myself – well deserving to be on a list of someone’s favourite children’s books. But there was also a book called The Family at One End Street, which I had never read, and knew very little about apart from recognising it’s name from the 1001 Children’s Books I Must Read list.
So the next day, when I stumbled across Foyles, a large and fantastic bookshop on Charings Cross, I was intrigued when I saw it in the Children’s Classics section. Foyles, for the record, has an excellent selection of children’s classics, and I found a whole number of titles there that I hadn’t seen anywhere before. However, I had promised myself for the sake of back that while I am travelling I can only buy one book per bookshop, and this time I chose The Family at One End Street by Eve Garnett because of Jacqueline Wilson.
When I brought it to the counter, the man at the till recognised the book and told me how he remembered reading it, and the other books that followed about the family, at school, and how much he enjoyed them. Books are funny that way – I may have never heard of a book before, but to someone, they conjure up such nostalgia.
Something that occurred to me while I was reading the book was that the financial situation of the Family who lived at One End Street was mentioned almost every chapter. The family, you see, is made up of the mother and father, and their seven children. Having seven children is a financial burden enough, but the children seem to get up to a lot of mischief and cause their parents more grief – but also, more happiness as the children try to help them both look after their siblings and their work.
Money is a funny thing in children’s books. In some books, money is never considered – I just think of the Famous Five books, where the children buy bread and cheese and cake and such from farmers almost every day, and never seem to have to budget. In some adventures, money seems to turn up just in time, or children rely on their charm to avoid paying for things. But in some books (particularly books written in the 1930s and 1940s), children are very aware of their parents financial situation, and money plays a big part in the plot of the story or the children’s characters’ motivation.
I think I was always interested in stories where they named the prices of things, and tried to work out what one guinea or sixpence actually meant. My parents didn’t really discuss money with me and my sister – things were either ‘too expensive’ or they weren’t. We never really got pocket money either (not that this was a bad thing – as long as I was fed books at regular intervals I was happy) so I didn’t know how whether characters were being spoilt when they were given a crown pocket money or not. I’m sure different families teach their children through different ways the value of money. But I find it really interesting when children are aware in books of the value of money to a much greater extent that I did as a child. I wonder, when I have children, how much I will tell them about how much money I do or don’t have, and what effect it has on a child to know that kind of information?
Money is a difficult currency, in children’s books and in the real world. You never know what effect it can have. Sixpence can fulfil a character’s dream, or be their downfall. Now, I doubt you could buy a square of chocolate with it.