Sunday, July 26, 2009

Andy Spandy

Andy Spandy Sugardy Candy
French Almond Rock
Breadandbutterforyoursupper’sallyourmother’sgot!

This familiar skipping rhyme comes from one of our favorite stories of all time: Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep. Written by Eleanor Farjeon and first published in 1936, Elsie Piddock tells the story of a girl who could “skip like never so.” It has all the elements of some wonderful children’s stories---an outrageously talented young heroine, magic, and a successful struggle against unjust authority.

Elsie can already skip longer than anyone else when the faeries gift her with a magical skipping rope, with one handle that tastes like Sugar Candy and another like French Almond Rock. Naturally, Elsie can only use the rope while she is small enough to fit it. She learns the high skip, the sly skip, the long skip, the strong skip, the skip double-double, and---best of all---the skip against trouble. When an evil Lord threatens to enclose the commons, Elsie returns at 109 years old---again small enough to use her faerie rope ---and with her strong skip she sends the Lord deep into the bowels of the earth, defeating his plans to build factories on the peoples’ skipping grounds.

While it's a great story with a captivating rhythm to its language and an endearing heroine, Elsie Piddock offers more, including insightful points about what motivates people to engage in a fight against the odds, and what it takes to win. As the story explains in a discursive aside, when the new Lord comes to the town, “bad as the high rents were to [the people], they did not mind these so much as the loss of their old rights." It seems to the people like the powerful must always win; thus they are willing to give up because they know they will lose: the people "knew in their hearts that they must be beaten in the end, [while] the Lord was sure of his victory."

The plan Elsie devises to save the town commons of course combines magic and clever negotiation, like so many children's stories about victorious underdogs. One of the things we love about Elsie’s plan is not only that she returns to champion children’s rights as a 109 year old woman, but also that she returns to childhood, in this metaphoric sense, to transform the feeling kids often have—that the adults will always win, no matter how unfair it seems. Instead of allowing the townspeople to give in to this feeling, Elsie exploits the cleverness and trickiness that kids often develop in the face of adult authority. In doing so, she shows the book’s child-readers that one can, at least imaginatively, transform the unequal power bargain between kids and adults--one which they fear will never fundamentally change.

You'll have to read the story to find out exactly how Elsie does it, but we love that it's not just Elsie who skips in the celebration that ultimately saves the town commons: everyone who has ever skipped must take a turn.

2 comments:

  1. Lovely story! So many layers. Inspiring.

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  2. I loved this story when my mother read it to me, lo those 68 years ago. Have just purchased it from thriftbooks.com. They are a great source for old, wonderful books.

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