Review Blog

Apr 13 2018

A garden of lilies: Improving tales for young minds by Judith Rossell

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ABC Books, 2017. ISBN 9780733338229
(Ages: 9+) Recommended. Themes: Morality tales, Social life and customs, Manners, Alphabet books. Judith Rossell's award-winning novel Wormwood Mire, referenced the cautionary tales of the fictional Victorian writer Prudence A. Goodchild. Young Stella Montgomery's aunts had gifted her with this little book 'full of depressing stories of children who did wrong and met with tragedy.' Reminiscent of Hilaire Belloc's witty parodies containing sage advice on children's manners and life skills, Rossell's short volume written in alphabetical order is beautifully written and beautifully presented. From the black hardcover with the title debossed in gold, surrounded by a bouquet of lilies to the marbled endpapers and detailed sketches of Victorian life, this is a visual delight. Each of the children are given delightful Victorian names, Drusilla, Zenobia, Yaxley and Hubert and the settings redolent with period features.
Each tale begins with a large letter entwined with foliage and ends with a witty and pertinent moral. When Florence and Gilbert wander off the path to the way to their grandmother's cottage, they are 'unexpectedly eaten by an escaped tiger from a nearby circus.' The moral reflects their untimely choices:
'Always go the way you should
When you are walking through a wood.'
Horatio's untidiness and grubby clothing sends him below deck to change and unable to advise the ship's captain of impending disaster, a crash with an iceberg. Euphemia's dreadful table manners and her inability to use the correct cutlery lead to her disappearance, tumbling into an oubliette, a secret dungeon. Rossell's dark humour is creatively demonstrated by the choice of the children's fates, gobbled by an enormous fish, whirled away in a waterspout and squashed by a marble bust of Prince Albert. As a counterpoint, the author includes household hints, recipes, crafts and parlour games perfect for the nineteenth century child.
Stella Montgomery read this 'vivid and rather unpleasant book' three times on her long train journey to the boarding school. Judith Rossell's A Garden of Lilies: Improving Tales for Young Minds opens up conversations and discussions comparing children's lives and their social life, etiquette and customs with current norms and lifestyles. Inspirational, humorous, a little tongue in cheek, Judith Rossell's Victorian short novel is picture-perfect, just right to share across the generations.
Rhyllis Bignell

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