Rating: 3 out of 5
Reviewed by Kirsten Rawlings
Kirsten Rawlings spent her childhood with her face stuck in a series of decades-old English children's books. She grew up to be an editor at Lonely Planet.
Americans Joan Bodger and her husband were raised on English children’s literature and passed this Anglophile upbringing on to their children (aged two and nine). This foursome were terribly keen to tour the locations of their favourite books so, as told in How the Heather Looks, they set sail for England to search out the landscapes of Kenneth Grahame, Beatrix Potter, Arthur Ransome, Tolkien, AA Milne and co. It was 1957.
Whether it’s the period in which the book was written or the author’s ‘isn’t this fiddlesticks hi-ho tootle-pip fun!’ delivery, the entire jolly escapade is narrated in the style of Bodger’s beloved authors. So it’s all rather twee but no one can say that’s not appropriate. How the Heather Looks has had a cult following among children’s librarians for more than four decades. Its other purpose would be as a guidebook of sorts for anyone wanting to follow in Bodger’s footsteps. Basically, this is a book that is effortlessly uncool and about as far from an iDevice as you can get. But it is interesting as a period piece: the children often roam about unsupervised, the travel is simple and the Bodger family dynamics are Flinstones-era, with Joan’s husband, a smug bore, doing all the driving and decision-making, which at least frees Joan up to take care of the laundry.
For most of the book I found myself waiting for the guts of the story to start. It all seems a bit secondhand, with the family not really generating any drama of their own (despite the wandering children). Maybe I was hoping one of my favourite books would come to life (I also grew up with The Wind in the Willows, Beatrix Potter’s tales, Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons) but I kept thinking: why am I reading about these places as visited by another fan? Why would I not just reread the originals – or go myself? And some of it is just too obscure: the Bodgers’ search for the ‘Pooh-sticks’ bridge or some other landmark left me wondering why they were being so literal (after all, did Milne et al not write fiction?).
How the Heather Looks is genuine and sweet, but is not really a rollicking travel adventure. One for the children’s lit obsessives.Publishers: Please send titles to be considered for review to:
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