Tracking That Elusive Memory

suprise dollSo when I first started to make a list of the books I adored when I was a kid, I had no trouble rattling off a dozen very quickly. My problem was those I could vaguely remember loving but couldn’t remember titles or authors; I just had fleeting memories of what they were about. My brother had the same problem when he tried to tell me about his favourite. He could remember vague details, like three brothers, 1800’s and Utah. Well it appeared that was enough info to go on as after a little research, I tracked down The Great Brain.  The internet is a wonderful think.  You can find just about anything if you know how to look.  So I went looking for my own favourite.

My memory is of a picture book involving a little girl whose father brings her a doll back from all his international trips. That’s it, that’s all I could remember, other than the fact I read it over and over (and over). But it was a one-shot and not one that continued to be printed and reprinted over the years. I think reading a series or a lot of books by one author tends to cement those books more in our memory.

Anyway, it took some digging, but I found it!  At Forgotten Books and Stories of all places.  What a fantastic website.

The Surprise Doll was written by by Morrell Gipson and first published in 1949. In my scouring of the internet I also discovered that I was not the only one who loved this book as a kid. It was actually rereleased with a 60th anniversary edition in 2009 and there a fond memories from many found on GoodReads.


Mary’s father is a sea captain and he brings her doll back from each of the countries he visits. Each has a feature just like Mary (nose, hair etc.). Soon she has one doll for every day of the week but Sunday. When dad says she has enough dolls, she decides to find that Sunday doll herself and goes to a doll maker in town. He agrees to make the Sunday doll and the result delights Mary as it is a combination of all the dolls and looks just like her. I loved the message that we were all a combination of our ancestors from all over the world. I think this book also sparked my interest in travel, as the dolls came from Sweden, China etc. all very exotic places my 7-year old self resolved to see one day.

As we are discovering with all books from “the past”, The Surprise Doll would probably pose some problems for the politically correct modern audience, as Mary is of European descent with blonde hair and blue eyes. All young girls wouldn’t be able to relate to her. While I see that side of it, I still love the simplicity of the story and was very glad I was able to track down a copy. It now sits proudly on my childhood shelf.

Webberley’s and the Ladybird Impact

Choosing a book or books for my first post was quite a challenge. I have a long list of books for future posts, but the first one needed to be special. I decided to go back to the very beginning of IMG_2804my love affair with reading; when I was still living in a village in England.  My mother used to take me to Webberley’s in Stoke each week and over the past 40 years I have continued to spend an afternoon there every time I am in England.  I was really looking forward to returning with my mother this summer so you can imagine my disappointment to find it had closed in January.  My heart aches as another beautiful bookstore caves to the pressure of the digital age and as I  realize I will never spend an afternoon there again.  So in pursuit of catharsis, I decided a look at the books I bought there as a young child would be a fitting tribute to the role Webberley’s played in launching my reading life and a perfect first post.

I was only two or three when my mother used to take me there so I don’t remember going to the store itself, but I do remember the large number of Ladybird books I managed to acquire. I was allowed to choose one each week, and I took the process very seriously. I learned how to read with my Ladybird books and understood phonics and sounding out words well before I started school in Canada.


These three nursery rhyme books are the ones I remember the most clearly and coincidentally are the ones with the most wear and tear. I can still remember every one of the nursery rhymes in them, which is a testament to how many times I read them with my parents. I’m sure they can remember every word too.



After the nursery rhymes, it’s the Well Loved Tales series that is most near and dear to my heart. From what I’ve read Well Loved Tales is still Ladybird’s most popular series and sought after by collectors, myself included. The Magic Porridge Pot is one that really stands out  for me as it’s not a story you commonly find. These tales are so much a part of me that I forget every child was not raised on them and am constantly amazed when my students say they have never heard of the Wolf and the Seven Little Kids or the Three Billy Goats Gruff.


Ladybird has several other series covering just about every subject imaginable. I have a smattering of these books and remember some better than others. For some reason I have a strong memory of Levers and Pulleys but I don’t have it in my current collection. I am also desperate to find Shopping With Mother, which I remember very vividly but also don’t have. Apparently it’s quite rare and difficult to find now.

I’m sure every kid who grew up in Britain (or with British parents) in the 60’s and 70’s remembers these books. And it appears Ladybird remembers us too! As I perused details for this post I discovered that Ladybird published a line for Grown Ups recently. I’m on a mission to get my hands on them (particularly the two below) so if anyone can help let me know.

For me Ladybird Books are where my reading began and they hold a very special place in my heart. If you remember them, please share which ones stand out for you!

webberley'sAnd Webberley’s.  Webberley’s was my very first bookstore, and will always be my very first bookstore.  Those of you who are booklovers can relate I’m sure, and have felt your own loss as your favourites have closed.  I know I will have to go and stand outside its closed door before I accept that it really is gone.

Until next week…