Thursday, 8 December 2016

When geography became history .............. Looking at Other Children published in 1957

Now here is one of those children’s books from the 1950s which has become a history book.

I doubt that Jean and David Gadsby who wrote Looking at other Children ever thought that the passage of nearly 60 years would turn their geography book into a wonderful piece of history.

And yet that it what it has become.  It was part of a series on Looking at Geography published in 1957 by A & C Black Ltd and along with this one included Looking at Everyday Things, Looking at Britain, Looking at the World Today and Looking at Scotland.

Sadly I only have Looking at Children which ran to thirteen chapters and compared the lives of young people in Britain with those of the Amazon Rain Forest, Greenland, Saudi Arabia along with China, Norway, India and Holland.

It is a delightful book packed with fine line drawings and some colour plates.

Of course the book misses out on much of what we might today expect of a trawl through eight countries of the world.  There is nothing on the government or politics of each country or the issues of poverty and underdevelopment but that is to be a tad harsh on what was a book aimed at a young audience.

On the positive side there is much to ponder on starting with how each of these countries has changed over 58 years.

And what leaps out of the page is how different Britain looked.

It starts with those descriptions of everyday life including a time when annual holidays were still taken at British seaside resorts and high streets looked much as they had done three decades earlier.

So as spring arrived, “mother notices how dusty everywhere looks in the sunlight [and] she sets to work ‘spring cleaning’ – scrubbing, dusting and polishing every room” while “father digs the garden, plants the onion, lettuce, and carrot seed and sows early peas and flower seeds.”

But before any one challenges this as an idealistic picture of British life shot through with middle class assumptions it is one I remember from my own childhood and could have been replicated in homes from well heeled Surrey to working class Woolwich and suburban Chorlton.

In the same way I remember in the heat of the summer “the shop keepers pulled down their blinds, so that the sun did not fade the brightly coloured hats and dresses in their windows [and] everywhere was dry and dusty, and the water cart went round the streets.”

All of which may seem nostalgic tosh but was how we lived and it is delightful to be reminded of it from a book which in its way is part of that history.

Pictures; from Looking at Other Children, Jean and David Gadsby

*Looking at Other Children, Jean and David Gadsby, from the series Looking at Geography, 1957

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