All This and a Bookshop Too

I brought this autobiography (her second volume) by Dorothy Butler back from Christmas, on loan from my sister.  Initially, I thought it nice but not astounding, and thought it in the same vein as Barbara Anderson's very nice autobiography, about which no one said anything either.  But increasingly, I found All This and a Bookshop Too quite moving.  Butler had eight children, involved herself in Playcentre, ran her own bookshop, wrote books and most of all had a very ordinary and wonderful passion for books for children and for children's books.  By 'ordinary,' I mean that she does not employ elaborate academic structures for her arguments, but passionate and intelligent observation and the deepest knowledge of the children's book publishing scene.  I loved her stories of her family life as well as those of her book-related adventures.  I had the sense of someone who approached parenting (and marriage and grandparenting) with the same warm intellect as she did her professional work, and I enjoyed that.  I cried a couple of times towards the end and emerged from the bedroom to look up Beverly Cleary for my daughter and to find out about some authors who sounded most appealing despite me never having heard of them before.

At Brighid's bedtime, an hour or two before I finishe this book tonight, we sat up in the big bed and she read me The Kiwi Night Before Christmas, which she and we all love and which she knows almost by heart.  She stopped to talk to me about silent 'k's next to 'n's, an occurrence she finds most interesting.  She is almost six.  Then she read me a Mrs Wishy Washy book and then chose "Jam" from our big Margaret Mahy book for me to read to her.  It was lovely, not least because she went to sleep afterwards without procrastination but also because I had a specific appreciation of our experiences reading together after spending the last few days with my nose in Dorothy Butler's book.

My Dad told me once that when they were expecting me (their first child), there were no antenatal classes like in the city, but they were encouraged to read to us, so they did.  We sat on Dad's knee for stories every night.  I still remember the little yellow cards in the back of the books at Stoke Library, where Mum regularly took us.  I remember winning the prize of Margaret Mahy's The Haunting at Richmond Public Library later on.  Last year we took our own children to the Dorothy Butler Children's Bookshop in Ponsonby, Auckland, where they chose books with money from kind relatives.  I've just bought the first volume of her autobiography on trademe, and noticed that she is the author of What Peculiar People, which comes to us from the children's now grown up Auckland cousins, and which Brighid chose for us to read together last night.  I love sharing books, and have little enthusiasm for the e-reader, a device likely to be most unhelpful to the poor.  If I could ban it, I would.  Unsympathetic luddite, me.

No gardening today.  It rained, which saved me from watering things.  Always an odd feeling, to be watering on the West Coast, but there is that window in January where it (sometimes) acquires a relevance...


Ruth G said…
I loved Dorothy Butler's autobiography too, especially all the stories of family and friends.

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