Old Favourites: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

Welcome to this month’s instalment of ‘Old Favourites’, in which a guest blogger writes a review of a beloved children’s book. This month we’ve got Beth from Plastic Rosaries, a great book lover and freelance writer. She had trouble choosing a favourite, she said, so we may well be hearing more from her in the coming months reviewing her second and third choices!

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr


I have hundreds of favourite children’s books. Hundreds isn’t even an exaggeration but there are some I could still read now and love in exactly the same way and feel exactly the same thing – When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is one of them.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is very close to Judith Kerr’s autobiography as it plots the stories of Anna, Max and there family as they have to leave their home in Germany due to being Jewish in the run up to the Second World War. Like Kerr herself, Anna and Max’s father is high on Hitler’s ‘hit list’ and they simply have to move. The move takes place and as they’re packing up all their worldly belongings they have to make some pretty rash decisions when it comes to their toys.

Choosing between toys may seem like no kind of horror but when you’re so very young and everything is about to change it’s a big deal and it’s in this initial decision that the title of the novel comes. As the excerpt below shows, Anna chooses a brand new monkey toy instead of her beloved Pink Rabbit:


Now the first time I read this book I thought very little of this but every other time I’ve wanted to dramatically shout “Anna NO!” as nothing will ever be the same for them and there never is an occasion to return for Pink Rabbit. Within a few pages Anna realises as much:


This is a novel that even had 10 year old me nearly in tears. No one wants to think of Hitler playing with their beloved toys and it’s a very powerful way of expressing the horrors of war for younger children. It’s beautifully written and illustrated too and even though they’re uprooted time and again Anna and Max find moments of humour and enjoyment in all their homes.

Judith Kerr is an author you can enjoy from the day you’re born. The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Mog are firm favourites with younger children and then you can move onto When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and get some real insight into how wonderful Kerr is as an author as well as an illustrator. It takes real skill to live through such testing times and come out the other side with a story to tell and the eloquence to be able to tell it.

A beautiful beautiful book that I have read time and time again!

WhenHitlerStolePR Pages


Virtual Birthday and Clip Show

Happy 1st birthday, Secrets of the Sandpit

Happy 1st birthday, Secrets of the Sandpit

I realised today that I missed my blog’s first birthday. It was a few days ago I think. Although I am a little late, I didn’t want to let this milestone gone by unmarked, and so I present you with the dreaded “clip show” episode. You know the one: you sit down with a mug of tea and some biscuits/chocolate/crisps/cake to enjoy your favourite show, and instead of a proper story you get little snippets of episodes gone by to remind you of what has gone before. Annoying, right? Well, buckle up because this is a ‘greatest hits’, if you will – the best, most relevant, most ignored or most read of Secrets of the Sandpit. Celebrate its birthday with me by taking a look around and reminiscing on the first year of my blog’s life. May there be many more!

Sandpit. Best thing ever.

Sandpit. Best thing ever.

So, to start at the very beginning, you can read my very first post here, in which I explain what the “sandpit” is all about. A year ago when I started this blog, the Boy would express his extreme excitement about The Best Things Ever by exclaiming “sandpit!”. In fact, if you look in the side bar you can see my running log of things that elicited this response over the past year. Faithful readers will have noticed that the list stopped growing about six months ago. He has sadly grown out of “sandpit!” and now just tells us “love-a guinea pigs” or “That’s a fun filled fest!” for special occasions. He has grown up so much over the past year, and his language has developed massively. I marvel every day at how long his sentences are getting and how complex, at his awareness of his own bilingual-ness and his ability to express his emotions in words. My Boy is three and is becoming a whole grown up little person.

My blog has changed over the past year as well. Like most people, I started writing with only a vague idea of what the ‘flavour’ would be. It began as a more durable log of funny things the Boy had said and done, not wanting all his best material to get swallowed up by Facebook. In fact, sometimes my posts were actually no more than a slightly longer status update.

Soon themes began to emerge, though:

* The Girl, who is only a month older than Secrets of the Sandpit, inspired me to  share the reality of breastfeeding in the hope of helping other Mums who were having a very tough start but nevertheless wanted to carry on, as well as pregnant women who wanted to be properly prepared.

* I started using my blog to follow my Boy’s language development, especially how he was coping with growing up bilingual.

* I also began a monthly children’s book review, as a way of sharing my love for children’s literature. The first one is here but you can read the others by clicking on ‘Children’s books‘ in the menu at the top. Keep an eye out for the next instalment this coming Monday!

* Then I went a little bit crazy and decided to reinvent education, which I got so excited about that I started a whole separate blog about it called Clean Slate. As The Caterpillar says in Alice in Wonderland, you should start at the beginning, and when you get to the end, stop.

* Thursday became poetry day courtesy of Prose for Thought. It has become one of the highlights of my week, turning my thoughts on family, sleeplessness, changes, identity, God and Weetabix into poetry, experimenting with form, verse and imagery.

* Other voices turned up and wanted to put their two cents in, like the Boy on play, the cats on the rules of the house and the Girl, updating us on the l33t skills she is learning in Life Game.

A year in, how is Secrets of the Sandpit doing in the playground? Well, like her author, she is not the most popular kid in school, but she has a group of faithful, close friends she hangs out with on play dates and sleepovers, that she can turn to for advice and pass notes to in class when the teacher isn’t looking. She also had one amazing day of fame when my Guide to Cbeebies was picked as Mumsnet blog of the day and a gazillion people dropped by to read it.

So happy birthday, Secrets of the Sandpit! I look forward to what the next year will bring.

Thanks for the cake, it was deeeeeeeelicious.

Thanks for the cake, it was deeeeeeeelicious.

Meet all my blog-friends over at Vic Welton’s place for her weekly Post Comment Love.

Old Favourites: Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

After a brief hiatus, I am very pleased to introduce the latest in my series of nostalgic children’s book reviews. This month it is Firefly Phil, who has an excellent taste in books, joining us with a review of one of my personal favourites, Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson.


I am only going to touch lightly on the story-line of this book; it is so fascinating, that to do more would spoil it for you. Very simply, our heroine, Maia, an orphan girl (albeit not poor – this is part of the plot) finds herself setting out with her guardian, Miss Minton, on a voyage to, and up, the Amazon – and to a new life. As she discovers its scenery, wildlife, and culture, and falls in love with it, she is also caught up in a web of adventures.

The portrayal of scenes, characters, and events is wonderfully vivid; the plot contains several facets and is most ingenious. Yet this book goes further than that. Many details that are described carefully are powerfully symbolic, containing many contrasts. Contrasts of conventional perception with the results of enquiry; of prejudice, with the desire for the truth; of haughtiness, meanness, and pride, with a generous-spirited openness towards fellow men; and perversion, greed, and dishonesty with simple desires and joy in living. Yet this is no sanctimonious Victorian cautionary tale; gripping to the finish, it carries its own brand of humour. Young readers will learn ‘life lessons’ without thinking of it in this way – something that good reading matter – and good teaching practice – is very much about. Because of this, many children will love to re-read the story of Maia’s adventures many times, as they grow up. I hope they leave their (doubtless, now battered) copy of the book somewhere where their own children will find it and pick it up…

This brings me to another point: in these days when many of us have to budget carefully, we face a  question in regard of books, namely, buy or borrow? Let me say, here is a book I would buy for myself, and buy as a gift.

Children who have reached that magical stage of fluent reading – I can remember it personally, even though it’s, [cough] a long time ago – and who love to think and investigate, will devour this book. Children of ninety, who still love justice and the desire to kick convention in the teeth, will still enjoy it, and needn’t be ashamed of doing so.

A quotation? I was going to give you one, but it’s so precious I’ll leave it for you to find; at one point, Maia is asked what it was like to be ‘rescued’. Note her beautiful reply. Also look for the symbolism in what Miss Minton throws overboard in the later part of the story…

Eva Ibbotson, take a bow – or should that be curtsey? You’ve given us an all-time classic. I humbly lay this review at the end of a long line of prestigious, and well-deserved, awards.


Firefly Phil,  October 2013

Old Favourites: The Snow Queen

It is the first Monday of the month: time to discover another beloved children’s classic! This month, Nell Heshram joins us in the sandpit to review The Snow Queen.

The Snow Queen

by Hans Christian Andersen

If, two months ago, you had asked me to list the favourite stories from my childhood, I wouldn’t have included the Snow Queen.

The beauty of reading to your child, is that there’s always the chance you will stumble upon a treasure from the past. And, when Austin and I were rifling through the books in the library the other day, I came across this classic that I’d long forgotten.

Kay and Gerda live next door to each other. They are inseparable, climbing over rose-strewn window boxes to see each other, every day.

And then, a piece of glass from the broken mirror of an evil troll (in some versions) or sprite (in others) becomes embedded in Kay’s heart and eye. This glass makes Kay, and all the other people who are pierced by the broken shards raining down from the sky, view everyone and everything around him as hateful and ugly. He turns against Gerda and his grandmother; then, his bitter demeanour allows him to fall under the spell of the Snow Queen, who whisks him off and holds him captive, alone, in her ice palace.

Most of the story describes Gerda’s quest to find Kay. She journeys through places that evoke a northern wilderness; reindeer, snowy forests  and peasant women from Lapland and Finland populate a stunning story-book landscape. While I was reading to Austin, several details jumped out at me from the book; details that felt shockingly familiar, which I realised I’d returned to in my memory over and over through the years, without remembering which book they originated from.

Illustration: Vilhelm Pedersen

The little robber girl who slept with a dagger under her pillow. The talking ravens. The reindeer that ran and ran with Gerda on its back, until it could barely stand. They were all still vivid, and reading about them again transported me back into the little girl who had once thrilled at the descriptions of these imaginative delights.

I was a precocious reader, and must have been very young when I first read The Snow Queen – maybe 5 or 6. So, even though I lapped up many of the smaller details, my conscious mind didn’t pick up on the grand fable of the story. But, as an adult reader, I can see why that little girl read and re-read the book so many times that its cover fell off.

To me, now, the metaphor is clear: the people in The Snow Queen who have glass in their hearts or eyes, are suffering from mental ill-health. To them, the world is a bad place. Their minds see those who are kind or beautiful, as ugly and crooked. The words and acts of other people are misconstrued; fearful and angry, they have no option but to turn inwards, and become increasingly alone.

And, to the little girl I was back then, growing up with two members of my nuclear family suffering mental illnesses that varied in severity from year to year, Hans Christian Andersen’s story would have been comforting. At the end, Gerda discovers Kay in the ice palace, trapped in the pursuit of an impossible task. His heart is melted by her tears, and the glass falls out. He is restored to his former, friendly and loving self, and he and Kay realise that they are no longer children; the journey has taken them back home, to the window boxes and grandmother. And they are happy, together at last.

Of course, in real life, neat, joyful resolutions like this never occur. But children’s books, especially fairy tales, work their magic by showing children the darker side of life, and then neutralising fear with a happy conclusion. The woodcutter kills the big bad wolf. Hansel and Gretel vanquish the witch, and take her money to their impoverished father. Bad stuff happens, but hope and courage allow those who are pure of heart and motive to vanquish the demons.

Re-reading The Snow Queen was, for me, a moving, revelatory experience. Austin’s only 3, and I think much of it was lost on him; however, he did enjoy the talking ravens. I doubt it will ever have the same resonance for him as it did for me. That can only be a good thing. Nevertheless, it remains a beautiful, timeless classic that has as much relevance now as it did when it was first published.

Nell Heshram blogs about her life as a stay-at-home Mum at the Pigeon Pair and Me. Our Time of Gifts, her new venture, is a blog about giving something away every week, and seeing what the universe brings back to her doorstep.



Kid Lit Blog Hop

No matter what

Anger never featured much in my life up till now. I would get upset, frustrated, indignant, offended, hurt – but rarely did I encounter rage. Not the kind that makes you want to break things and hurt people. I think I can maybe remember one or two occasions in my first 32 years when I felt like that.

Now, rage is a regular, almost daily feature.

The Boy, currently 2 years and 9 months old, can wind me up to a point where I  want to scream and shout and smash plates in a matter of minutes. How does he do it? Simples!

* He ignores dire warnings to put that down, no it’s dangerous, I mean it, NO! STOP! Listen to Mummy, why don’t you listen to Mummy? Usually this happens while the baby is screaming/I am changing her nappy/I am handling hot pans.

* Nappy changing (oh can he just be potty trained overnight?) is a frequent flash point, with him kicking me away, or trying to roll off and escape while covered in poo.

* Bedtime delay tactics are getting more and more elaborate, and trying to navigate them and cajole him into tooth brushing, getting in and out of the bath, in and out of a nappy and pyjamas while simultaneously trying to stop him screeching and crying and waking his sister is… a little stressful.

* He ignores me.

* He ignores me.

* He ignores me.

* And finally: he ignores me.

(I don’t like being ignored.)

I barely know what to do with my anger. Or really, model student that I am, I know exactly what I should be doing but am struggling to put it into practice.

I know anger is normal and what is important is to model for him how to deal with it in a way that doesn’t hurt people or things – and yet I end up shouting at him and then feeling terrible for having been angry at all. 

I know a lot of the situations that wind me up can be prevented by stepping in early and pretending to be Miss Piggy/Coco the train/The Puzzler – but aside from the fact that this takes a measure of patience I often do not have, I find that I almost want to get angry with him, that I want him to have to apologise for ignoring what I say. I want him to stop ignoring what I say and start listening to me.

I know that he is more likely to respect my authority and eventually learn to listen to what I say if I stay calm and in control – but every time it happens, it seems to get easier to head down the slippery slide into rage.

We find ourselves in a phase where our goals clash and our tempers flare, the Boy and I. 

So I have started reading this book with him at night, to make sure we end the day on the right note. For him and for me.

"No Matter What", by Debi Gliori

“No Matter What”, by Debi Gliori

We have had this book for a while, but it is truly coming into its own now.

Small was feeling grim and dark. "I'm a grim and grumpy little small, and nobody loves me at all."

Small was feeling grim and dark. “I’m a grim and grumpy little small, and nobody loves me at all.”

A small fox (Small) is having a bad day and feels as if nobody loves him. Large reassures him: “Grumpy or not, I’ll always love you, no matter what.” Small goes through all the most likely looking scenarios (“If I was a grizzly bear, would you still love me, would you care?”) and Large reassures him every time that her love is unconditional. It ends on quite a serious note: “What about when we’re dead and gone, would you love me then, does love go on?” This is a topic perhaps a little beyond my not-quite-3-year-old’s understanding, but the answer is not:

“Small, look at the stars –
how they shine and glow,
but some of those stars died a long time ago.”

"Still they shine in the evening skies, Love, like starlight, never dies."

“Still they shine in the evening skies,
love, like starlight, never dies.”

We look at this book and I hug him close. Large and Small have no gender and could be Mummy and son or Daddy and daughter or any combination. But my imaginative little boy knows that right now, it is us. After the first time we read it together, he greeted me the next morning with: “Hello, Mummy Fox!”

I am trying to learn how to deal with my anger, and how to deal with his new defiance. But while we work on that, at least at the end of the day I can reassure him that my love is completely unconditional, and however much he makes me want to kick the sofa and throw nappies around the room in frustration, he is my son and I love him – no matter what.


Images from the book and quotes all (c) Debi Gliori. This book was bought with my own money almost a decade ago and I mention it because it is relevant and I love it, not because someone paid me to.

Old Favourites: The Children of Green Knowe

Hello and welcome to my monthly special feature on children’s books! On the first Monday of every month you can come and (re-)discover an old favourite, to read for yourself or share with your children. This month, talented poet Helen Braid from All At Sea leads us into the amazing world of:

Children of Green Knowe

The Children Of Green Knowe

Green Noah
Demon Tree!
Evil Fingers
Can’t catch me!

I wanted to be Tolly – on the train to Penny Soaky in the pouring flood. With Boggis and a boat and a lamp to light the way. I wanted his adventure for my own.

Lucy M. Boston, an English novelist who wrote for both children and adults, based the Green Knowe series (published 1954 – 1976) in her Cambridgeshire home at Hemingford Grey…

“Tolly’s great-grandmother wasn’t a witch, but both she and her house, Green Knowe, were full of a very special kind of magic. And Green Knowe turned out not to be the lonely place Tolly had imagined it to be. There were other children living in the house – children who had been happy there centuries before.”

Last Christmas, buying stocking filler wooden mice, I thought of Tolly – in his attic bedroom with his ebony mouse… 4 beds, rocking horse and an empty bird cage. And whispers in the dark – from Toby, Alexander and Linnet. While Feste neighed from her empty stall and Mrs Oldknow ate buttered toast by a roaring fire.

The adventure Tolly embarks upon in the house and gardens of Green Knowe – where everything is magical and very, very old – captured my imagination and has never quite let go.

In the 1980’s we lived in a modern house, with modern tastes and clean lines. My childish self would have loved nothing more than the freedom of an old stone mansion full of corridors, corners and creaking boards.

But I think the hook was the ghosts – I read Green Knowe around the same time as The Ghost Hunters Handbook by Peter Underhill, and together they kick-started a firm fascination with all that lies just beyond the norm.

And The Children Of Green Knowe remains my best loved tale. I’ve read and re-read it many times and its appeal never seems to age. The BBC made an excellent dramatisation in 1989 which I was very lucky to find on DVD just the other year.

I cannot wait until my own son and daughter are old enough to read – and watch – where I left off.

Rare and haunted and old – magic through the eyes of those who still believe…

Childhood escapism at its very best indeed.

And for those who remember Green Noah Demon Tree… we have our very own within the estate, I honestly stopped dead in my tracks the first time I spotted the face…

Green Knowe tree

Previously in Old Favourites:
Joan Aiken: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (reviewed by me)
Crockett Johnson: Harold and the Purple Crayon (reviewed by Julie from Button, Button)

Kid Lit Blog Hop

Old Favourites: Harold and the Purple Crayon

Today marks the start of a new feature on Secrets of the Sandpit, in which nostalgic, book-loving bloggers review their favourite children’s books. Every first Monday of the month, come and nod along in agreement to someone’s appraisal of your own favourite books or discover classics you may have missed out on. The first tentative start to this feature was my review of Joan Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase series, which you can read here.

Here to properly kick us off is Julie, English Lit graduate and self-professed needlecrafting maniac from Button, Button, with her review of Harold and the Purple Crayon. You should also know that she is American – just in case you are wondering why she spells ‘favourite’ wrong.

Ode to Harold and the Purple Crayon

It look less than a minute to choose Harold and the Purple Crayon as my favorite children’s book. Crockett Johnson’s classic has always been special to me. It doesn’t even live on the shelf with the nostalgic books from my childhood, I keep it on the ‘important’ shelf, with the fancy editions of Jane Austen, my vintage Nancy Drew, and my over-read, worn copy of Catcher in the Rye. It’s not just any old book.

Ode to Harold and the Purple Crayon

If you’ve never read Harold and the Purple Crayon, shame on you, but here’s the general idea: a little boy (Harold) heads out into the world with nothing but his trusty purple crayon and draws his way in and out of adventures. He crosses land and water, meets a frightening dragon, makes (and shares!) pie and finds his way back home when he’s ready. Harold’s purple crayon literally paves the way: when he needs a path, his crayon is at the ready to draw one for him to walk on.

Ode to Harold and the Purple Crayon

Wanting to know a little about Crockett Johnson and this book I’ve loved since before I can remember, I dug around in the internet a bit and became completely entranced. I would never have guessed Harold had been around since 1955 – of course I associate him with my own childhood in the 1980s – and that he was written by a man who had (at various times in his life), been editor of a “radical” political magazine, a cartoonist, patent-holder for a four-way adjustable mattress, praised by Dorothy Parker and painter of mathematical paintings based on complex equations. He and his wife (children’s author Ruth Krauss) also worked with and inspired the late, so great Maurice Sendak, and are known as the first children’s writers who wrote for children, not just about them. And yes, you feel that reading Harold and the Purple Crayon – this is not only a story about a boy, it’s from his perspective. He behaves like a real child – his imagination running wild, bound not even by the edge of the paper.

Ode to Harold and the Purple Crayon

Because it resonates with me on a personal level, especially at this time in my life, today I read Harold as a story about someone finding their own path, designing their own world – and navigating through it on their own, armed with creativity, curiosity and courage. He’s not afraid to ask for help, but it’s up to him to make the right choices. Of course, you may read it completely differently and it would still be a wonderful story – and isn’t that the way the best art should be?

Julie blogs about knitting, lace making, quilting, embroidery and more at Button, Button. She also designs and sells lovely embroidery patterns based on classic stories at Little Dorrit & Co

Kid Lit Blog Hop

Special Feature: Children’s Literature – Joan Aiken

Though I spent most of my degree unpicking the symbolism of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Salman Rushdie (to name but a few unrelated greats), it wasn’t until my final thesis that I got to sink my teeth into my first love: children’s literature. My topic was “Immigrants and identity in Australian Children’s Literature”, and I got to read stacks of wonderful stories featuring  young first and second generation immigrants to Australia. I felt a bit cheeky, like I was getting away with something.

In this special feature – which I hope to make a more regular thing – I would like to highlight one of my favourite children’s authors and hopefully it will encourage those unfamiliar with her to give her a go.

Joan Aiken wrote over a hundred books, but she is probably best known for her series of children’s novels set in an alternative version of the nineteenth century. It starts with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, published in 1962, and ends with The Witch of Clatteringshaw, published in 2005, a year after her death. Dido Twite, a bright and plucky street urchin with a dodgy father and an aristocratic best friend, is the heroine in many of these books. I have always loved these evocative books, imagining myself roaming the streets of London with Dido or sailing in a creaking ship across the Atlantic, stowed away in the hold. In each book terrible plots are uncovered. Nobody can be trusted, those closest to the main characters often turn out to have betrayed them. The stories have both a brooding darkness and a warm glowing light about them that I always found very attractive.

I first encountered these stories in my father’s collection of children’s novels. He had the first three books, which I re-read regularly. I was overjoyed when I discovered, on moving to England, that the story continued beyond Nightbirds in Nantucket and that Joan Aiken had continued writing about Dido Twite up until that very moment. The series now takes up most of the first shelf of my studiously alphabetised children’s library in my daughter’s room.

So go find The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and get reading! And feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.