Not forgetting the chicken air mail.

[From the vaults at, Jul 19, 2010]

They are finally.


Bringing Betty Macdonald’s Nancy and Plum back into print. And with illustrations by Mary GrandPre, the illustrator of the Harry Potter books, no less.

nancy-and-plum Newly orphaned sisters Nancy and Plum are deposited into the untender care of the evil Mrs. Monday by their Uncle John. Even Uncle John’s chauffeur wonders “why a boarding home for little children should have such a wicked-looking fence. Surely not just to keep the rolling lawns form oozing out into the road!” But Uncle John is so relieved he won’t have to wash dishes and make doll clothes he doesn’t see that Mrs. Monday has “a general appearance about as warm and motherly as a pair of pliers.”

So for six years Nancy and Plum endure the burned oatmeal and the stewed prunes at Mrs. Monday’s Boarding Home for Children, the eye-wateringly tight braids, the ragged, hand-me-down clothes, the endless chores, and the sworn enmity of that sneaky tattletail, the wooden-head-with-the-shaving-curls, Marybelle Whistle.

We meet them alone on Christmas Eve, when all of the other orphans are gone for the holidays and they lock themselves out of the Home and have to sleep in the barn, where the food and the company is altogether better. But they have to go back into the house sometime, where an increasingly abrasive series of confrontations with Mrs. Monday lead to an escape by night.

This is not a story of high adventure, it’s just two kids doing the best they can to make it through one more day, and Nancy and Plum are such good company. Nancy is the little lady who imagines a family for them when the going gets too tough in real life, and Plum is the tomboy whose ambition is to be a cowgirl so she can ride up to the library and lasso books off the shelves. They’re not whiners or quitters, these girls, they’re proud and they’re smart and they’re survivors. There are other wonderful characters, the horrible Mrs. Monday herself, made finally and barely human by her brother, Old Tom, their ghastly niece, Marybelle Whistle, Mr. Harris the bus driver, Miss Waverly the teacher, Miss Gronk the Sunday school teacher, Miss Appleby the librarian and, later, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell. There are many, many funny scenes, too, including but not limited to Marybelle and the goldfish bowl, the Sunday school picnic, and Plum’s play “Revenge.” Not forgetting the chicken air mail. And of course there is a happy ending, at least for Nancy and Plum. How could it be otherwise?

Nancy and Plum comes from a continuing story Betty Macdonald told her daughters, Anne and Joan, every night before they went to sleep. Which may explain why this book may be one of the best read-aloud books every written. It is dedicated to them.

nancy-and-plum-hhI grew up in a town where the only books for sale were in revolving wire racks at the post office. It got so I couldn’t bear to return Nancy and Plum to the Seldovia Public Library, so I found Shorey Bookstore in Seattle, who sent me a used copy for next to nothing. The dust cover is long gone but the Hildegard Hopkins illustrations inside are still all present and accounted for and as delightful as when I first saw them at age eight. I can’t wait to see what Mary GrandPre does in the new edition. The book publishes on October 26th, 2010. Pre-order a copy for every kid in your family today.

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1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. The Egg and I!!!! Oh, for Dana’s sake! I haven’t given a thought to that book since I guffawed my way through it as a teenager … a couple of years ago. Thank you!

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