Helen Cresswell Week – How I became a fan

Today, I’ll tell you about how I became a Cresswell fan.

You may not need to read all this, but what interests me is how many memories I have of the books and when I read them and where I got them. It was all rather miraculous for these UK-centric books to find their way to the Virginia boondocks.

My mother brought me a set of the first three Bagthorpe books from the Green Valley Book Fair circa 1982. (The Green Valley Book Fair is still great, but back in those days it was sort of wild and wooly and random.) I think the books may have been tied together with string.

The covers were amazing. These are the Trina Schart Hyman covers I’ve discussed before and will again before the week is over.

 (Thanks to Alkelda for this cover!)

But I started the first one, Ordinary Jack, and did not like it. I think I can recall even telling my mother that they weren’t very good. (How sharper than  serpent’s tooth is a thankless child.)

The first chapter of Ordinary Jack IS difficult. A multitude of characters are introduced and it’s all very hit-the-ground-running and confusing and I think I can understand why young Sammy didn’t like it. What I’m not sure of is why I gave the book a second chance.

 But I did and I was quickly hooked. “Ordinary Jack” is a great read. Wodehousian plotting * mid-grade angst +13 amazing, real-as-life characters = disaster. (Full review coming this week.)

The next too books were even bigger and crazier. Somehow I acquired book four. Then came years(?) of searching in bookstores to no avail for more Bagthorpe books. I checked everywhere. (Also, conveniently checking out the rest of the C shelf for John Christopher.)

Then one day, out of the blue, there was a new book — at Scribner’s in Williamsburg, a great kid’s section back in the day. It cost a lot, but it was money well spent. Another great book. I think this was the one that had me laughing my head of in math class.

My “correspondence” with Helen Cresswell I’ll save for another post, but it’s certainly part of my personal history with her and her books.

Being a Cresswell fan in the U.S. was a lonely thing. (Until Fuse #8, I can’t recall meeting another Bagthorpe reader, except those that I tried to convert. ) But that was alright. This was my secret and in some ways its unshareable. The Bagthorpes came along when I was still malleable and it’s easy to find evidence that they really did shape my sense of humor.

In preparing for this week, I’ve been rereading some Cresswell and one big question was: Will I still laugh out loud at the Bagthorpes? The answer is yes! Nothing uncontrollable. Those days may be gone. But they are still funny after 25 or more years and many rereadings.


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