Glimpse of innocent age leaves novel stranded in a time warp

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 April, 2009, 12:00am

Little Plum
By Rumer Godden
Published by Macmillan Children's Books
ISBN 978 0 330 4513 7

This story provides a gentle step back in time to a more innocent world than the one we live in today. It is a children's novel of its time (1962) that has been re-issued for 2009's readers. What they will make of it, it is difficult to guess. A gentle oddity? A glimpse of an innocent age relevant only for its curiosity value? Little Plum is a tale of a time when young girls had little to distract them other than playing with dolls. How times have changed.

Some children's novels do stand the test of time, but whether something as slight as Little Plum has anything to appeal to today's young readers is doubtful. Mums searching for the nostalgia of their childhood might love it, but young female readers today are a sophisticated lot who could well look on this simple tale of a young girl and her Japanese doll as irrelevant and not very exciting.

The Fell children, Anne, Tom and Belinda, and their cousin Nona, live a comfortable life in a big house in a middle-class suburb of the city. Nona's prize possessions are two beautiful Japanese dolls called Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Nona loves them a lot.

The Fell children are polite and well-behaved, but Belinda can be headstrong and impulsive. Their house has a big garden and this is where the children play. Tom has built a tree house that overlooks the house next door and the girls play with Nona's dolls on the lawn and among the flowerbeds.

Belinda longs for adventure, and it looks like she won't have to wait much longer for life to become more exciting when the children are told the house next door has been sold and a new family will move in shortly. The Fells are excited. There might be new children to play with.

But the new family proves to be a disappointment. Mr Jones seems aloof, and his daughter Gem is spoilt and wants nothing to do with the children next door.

One day, Belinda sees a Japanese doll on the windowsill in Gem's bedroom. She watches the doll, and is upset that Gem seems to ignore it. Using the tree to climb up to the window, Belinda starts to leave presents for it along with notes accusing Gem of being an unfit doll-parent. There could be trouble ahead.

Little Plum will struggle to find new readers. This is a children's novel stuck in its time, offering little to excite. Dolls, and little girls, have moved on, leaving Little Plum stranded in a time warp.

John Millen can be contacted on