How the Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children’s Books is my most favorite book of 2014 so far. I absolutely adored it, and am grateful to my friend Heather of Blackberry Rambles for the recommendation.
The book chronicles a fabulous trip undertaken by an American family of four in the 1950s, in which they traveled around the UK finding locations of all of their favorite children’s literature. I have LONG wanted to try something similar, visiting all of the spots I’ve read about all of my life, and it was pure pleasure to read about someone who had actually done so! The book was very well written and researched, and helpful in reminding me of books I read in childhood but haven’t remembered to read to my own kids, plus many more I never read (sadly, many of which are out of print). Apparently–although I’m not sure how you’d find this statistic–How the Heather Looks is the book most stolen by retiring librarians! I can’t countenance theft, but I can understand why they do it. I’d love to own a copy of this book myself.
I felt like Bodger was a kindred spirit, especially after I read how she had used actual maps to figure out if the Borrowers could have engaged in commerce with Lilliputians. As much of my childhood imagination play revolved around little people of various sorts that I read about in books, it seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to map out.
Bodger’s children were 9 and nearly 3 at the time of their trip. She notes that at the outset people asked why they would undertake such a journey when their little girl was so young. But the book really captures the joy that Lucie (the preschooler) and the whole family had as they explored the settings of their favorite books. I could see turning to this book again and again for historical and setting context and book recommendations, and as a thoroughly enjoyable travel memoir.
After reading the book I googled Bodger and found, to my horror, that shortly after returning from the trip Lucie was diagnosed with a brain tumor, from which she died at the age of six. During that time Bodger’s husband was diagnosed with schitzophrenia and left them, and thereafter her son was also diagnosed with schitzophrenia and ran away and got caught in the drug culture of the 1960s and was never part of her life again. Bodger went on to start programs for at risk women and children using literature as therapy, wrote for the New York Times Book Review, and led initiatives for storytelling and literature for the rest of her life. I was aghast to hear about how the family shattered, but felt so glad for Bodger that she had this document of a happy time, rather than just memories of illness and death and loss. The book and my subsequent reading about the author struck me with a deepened sense of how important it is to cultivate joyful memories, and to really document those moments because they may be fleeting.
In spite of the dark aftermath–which is not referenced or even foreshadowed in the book–I would wholeheartedly recommend How the Heather Looks to anyone who loves children’s literature (particularly of the British variety) or travel memoirs.
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