Book Review: A Spoonful of Sugar by Brenda Ashford

spoonful of sugar

This is a book I reviewed for I Read a Book Once:

I really liked this book.  I was intrigued by the plot summary because I currently have a kindergartner and I love memoir.  Also, it was very interesting to read about a different culture’s philosophies on child rearing, especially in a very difficult time in the history of British people.  Here is the plot summary from amazon.com:

Brenda Ashford is the quintessential British nanny. Prim and proper, gentle and kind, she seems to have stepped straight out of Mary Poppins. For more than six decades Nanny Brenda swaddled, diapered, dressed, played with, sang to, cooked for, and looked after more than one hundred children. From the pampered sons and daughters of lords ensconced in their grand estates to the children of tough war evacuees in London’s East End, Brenda has taught countless little ones to be happy, healthy, and thoroughly well bred. In this delightful memoir, Brenda shares her endearing, amusing, and sometimes downright bizarre experiences turning generations of children into successful adults.

From the moment Brenda first held her baby brother David she was hooked. She became a second mother to him, changing his nappies, reading him stories, and giving him all the love her warm heart contained. Knowing a career caring for children was her calling in life, Brenda attended London’s prestigious Norland College, famous for producing top-notch nannies. It was a sign of privilege and good taste for the children of the well-to-do to be seen being pushed in their Silver Cross prams by Norland nannies, who were recognizable by their crisp, starched black uniforms with white bib collars, and their flowing black capes lined with red silk. And what skills were these trainees tested on daily? Lullaby singing, storytelling, pram shining, bed making, all forms of sewing, cooking simple meals, and dispensing first aid—including knowing the best way to help the medicine go down.

In A Spoonful of Sugar, Brenda recalls her years at Norland and her experiences during the war (after all, even if bombs are dropping, there’s no reason to let standards slip), and recounts in lovely detail a life devoted to the care of other people’s children.

Sprinkled throughout with pearls of wisdom (you can never give children too much love, and you should learn how to sew a button, for goodness’ sake), this delightful memoir from Britain’s oldest living nanny is practically perfect in every way.

The beginning starts out very slow.  Although I appreciated the knowledge about Ms. Ashford’s specific training, I wanted to get into the meat of the book, her experiences with children.

I loved the beginning of the chapters which included a nursery rhyme, tips on child-rearing and sometimes a recipe for a British dish.

In particular, the tips on child-rearing have already helped me with my child.  I love the fact that Ms. Ashford believes in raising children with love, not strict discipline.  Her school’s motto:  “Love never faileth” is demonstrated time and time again throughout her interactions in the book.

I particularly found interesting her experience running a nursery during World War II. I literally felt tired just reading the descriptions of her schedule for the day which also graced the beginning of every chapter.

Also, Ms. Ashford’s long career illustrated the changes that have occurred in Western society throughout the 20th century.  When Ms. Ashford graduated Norlan in 1939, children were expected to be seen and not heard.  Additionally, children were often segregated from much of family life.  Parents often “visited” their children in the nursery for maybe two or three hours per day.  All of the care of the children, from bathing, to feeding, to playing was carried out by the nanny.  Newborns were often kept in the nanny’s room for the first few months with the nanny having the parents perform a few feedings per day.  This is just the way it is done, especially at that time in Great Britain.

Nowadays, especially in my own case, my child slept with me in my room for the first four months.  I was responsible for day to day care and took my child to another location to be cared for while I worked.  I would have loved having Nurse Brenda help me out during those first three months because I can no longer recall them.

One issue I do have with the book is the language issues.  This book looks like it was written for American audiences or at least modified for this purpose.  The spellings of particular words are in American English, such as neighbor and neighbour. With the recipes included in the book, the measurements of different ingredients are given in the units customary to the United States.  However, strictly British lingo is used throughout.

I could determine that “nappies” are diapers, and a “pram” is a stroller, but some words I couldn’t figure out.  I tried using my dictionary, and sometimes it would help, but at other times, the term was not found.  I would have appreciated a type of glossary, or just the American equivalent inserted next to the word in question in parentheses.

I enjoyed this book immensely, I loved the way it was written like you were sitting next to the author and listening to her review her life.  This book is highly recommended if you like memoir, history and those who have an interest in child-rearing.

I also wish Nurse Brenda was available for on-call duties to assist me with my spunky child.

You can head on over to I Read a Book Once and enter the drawing for a chance to win a copy of this book.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Indra
    Apr 11, 2013 @ 21:23:34

    Wow, I really want to read this book! I love memoirs and history. This must be an elderly lady writing and recalling another era. She also sounds non-conventional for her background. I am very familiar with British slang but few people are (you have to watch a lot of BBC). Their English, like ours, is rife with slang and colloquialisms that would not be in a dictionary so I love your idea of the American equivalent in parenthesis after the slang. I know we can’t judge a book by its cover, but I really love the cover design.

    Reply

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