Mashed Potato Reads for Troubled Times
When the world feels like the grown ups aren’t in charge (on a global scale!) and everything feels a bit scary – sometimes comfort foods and comfort reads are what is called for!
Allison Rushby and I were talking about this the other day and I realised that we might not be the only ones who are needing the comfort which comes with re-reading old and new favourites – for me this is always ‘Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’ or cookbooks which are heavy on story – ‘Saha’ and ‘A Year in My Real Food Kitchen’ in particular.
Allison describes comfort reads as ‘mashed potato reads’ and I just love this description. Agedashi Tofu is my comfort food – it is always the first thing I seek out when I’m sick or miserable and would be my death row meal. What is your ultimate comfort meal and ultimate comfort read?
Thanks Allison Rushby for this (very comforting) guest post ‘Mashed Potato Reads for Trouble Times’…
There’s a certain type of post that pops up every so often on Your Kid’s Next Read – the fantastic Facebook group on which Megan Daley, Allison Tait and I are admins (join us here to find the perfect next read for the kid/s in your life!). The post will usually start something like this, “So, I’m looking for this book that I loved when I was a kid …”. Sometimes the person posting will remember the colour of the cover, a specific illustration, a plot detail, or the year it might have been released. It’s never the same. But, without fail, every single person who posts this question remembers what that book meant to them.
They remember how it made them feel.
Books are such a personal journey. The same tale can provide a completely different experience for every single reader. It was exactly this that I wanted to explore when I had the kernel of an idea for my latest book for 9+ readers, ‘When This Bell Rings’ (Walker Books Australia). At its heart, ‘When This Bell Rings’ is about what books mean to us. It dives deep into the relationship between not just author and reader, but author and reader and characters and looks at how all those relationships intersect. Most importantly, it touches on just how real fictional worlds can become. For Tamsin, the heroine of ‘When This Bell Rings’, her favourite fictional world – the London of the Bells – becomes all too real. Tamsin finds herself called upon to draw herself into the pages of her favourite graphic novel series in order to save its author and help her bring the series to a close.
2020 has been such a strange, unsettling year for all of us, with vast amounts of time spent at home nursing fractured attention spans. For many, it’s been difficult to concentrate on every day tasks, let alone work through the reading pile beside the bed. Not so long ago, I needed to look up a detail in a favourite childhood book for research purposes. I soon found myself reading that book cover to cover. Devouring it, in fact. This book was Mary Norton’s The Borrowers. When I finally put the book down with a contented sigh, I wondered why I hadn’t thought to re-read when things felt strange and odd. To have somewhere to escape to where everything feels completely normal again is an amazing sort of therapy. Green Gables. Wonderland. The Hundred Acre Wood. No surprises there. And sometimes no surprises is exactly what you need.
I turned to them then. My book best friends. My mashed potato reads (for what food is more comforting than mashed potatoes?). Over the past months I’ve taken great comfort in re-reading some of my favourite books. I thought I’d list ten of them here today. Maybe some of my comfort reads are the same as yours. Perhaps our lists are entirely different. Either way, I would love to know what yours are. I don’t know about you, but I need some new friends I can run away with for the rest of the year …
Mashed Potato Reads
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‘Dogger’ by Shirley Hughes – On a rough day, you sometimes need to go right back (right, right back) and dig out your picture books. Remember when Dave lost Dogger? I’m not sure I’ve ever really gotten over it, even though I know Dogger will be recovered every single read.
‘Mog’ (series) by Judith Kerr – Oh, Mog. You silly sausage with your endless pussy-cat scrapes. I do love you so. (Tip: skip ‘Goodbye, Mog’ unless you feel like crying absolute buckets). And now we shall leave picture books before I start listing ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ and ‘Meg and Mog’ and ‘Each Peach Pear Plum’ and … okay, I really will stop now.
‘The Borrowers’ (series) by Mary Norton – Every time I lose a little something around the house, I am quite quite sure the Borrowers have pinched it. Thinking that there are tiny little people living underneath the floors/in the walls of my house gives me inordinate joy. So much nicer than reading the news for the tenth time today or getting into a fight on Twitter.
‘The Wind in the Willows’ (series) by Kenneth Grahame – Messing about in boats with Ratty and Mole, checking in on Badger in the scary Wild Wood and dealing with the antics of silly Toad (poop poop!) will never get tiresome. Let’s all move into Mole End today.
‘White Boots’ by Noel Streatfeild – Oh, that Lalla Moore! What a madam! The tantrums! The entitlement! The bullying! Lalla certainly never fails to capture your attention. And all the while you know that she and hard-working little Harriet will be BFFs on the chilly ice by the end of it all.
‘What Katy Did’ (series) by Susan Coolidge – Poor Katy Carr. You do feel so sorry for her after her broken swing in the woodshed accident, cooped up in bed in her dark, dreary, unkempt room, eyes red from crying and no one wanting to see her because she’s turned snappy (as you would if you found yourself with a spinal injury in the 1860s). Don’t worry, Katy, it will all come good (I know it will because I’ve read the entire series many times over and will most definitely do so again).
‘Hating Alison Ashley’ by Robin Klein – I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve read this book. So many times, I’m pretty sure I could re-connect with Erica Yurken on Facebook if I wanted to. If you grew up in Australia in the 80s, you know these people. Every single one of them. Read away and put off adulting for a while. Unfortunately it will be waiting for you when you get back.
‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’ by Philippa Pearce – Anyone who has read this book has never looked at a grandfather clock the same way again. When times are tough, it’s lovely to imagine being able to escape into a time gone by in the middle of the night.
‘Miss Happiness and Miss Flower’ by Rumer Godden – This is such a lovely, quiet, restful book about a displaced girl called Nona, who makes a special dollhouse for two Japanese dolls. Just right to settle the mind before bedtime.
‘Milly-Molly-Mandy’ (series) by Joyce Lankester Brisley – Nothing could ever go really wrong in Milly-Molly-Mandy’s village. It simply wouldn’t be right! Millicent Margaret Amanda lives in a nice white cottage with a thatched roof in said village. She wears a fetching pink and white striped dress. She has lovely friends like Little Friend Susan and Billy Blunt and a lovely family, too. Move over MMM, we need some downtime in the village to make the world feel right again.
Allison Rushby is the author of several award-winning Middle Grade reads for children. These include ‘The Turnkey’ series (‘The Turnkey’, ‘The Seven Keys’), ‘The Mulberry Tree’ and now ‘When This Bell Rings’, all published by Walker Books Australia.