Miss Happiness and Miss Flower

Rumer Godden
Third Culture Kids children’s authors series – part 2


Rumer Godden (1907-1998) is a British author, who grew up in India. She is the author of over 60 books, both fiction and non-fiction, 30 of those books were written for children. Nine of her works have been made into films. Her children’s books reflect many of the struggles and emotions that third culture kids face, often through the lens of a doll.
Children’s books by Rumer Godden

  • 1947 The Doll’s House
  • 1951 The Mousewife, a children’s book
  • 1952 Mouse House
  • 1954 Impunity Jane: The Story of a Pocket Doll
  • 1956 The Fairy Doll
  • 1958 The Story of Holly and Ivy
  • 1960 Candy Floss
  • 1961 Saint Jerome and the Lion (retelling of the legend in verse)
  • 1961 Miss Happiness and Miss Flower
  • 1963 Little Plum, the sequel to Miss Happiness and Miss Flower
  • 1964 Home is the Sailor
  • 1967 The Kitchen Madonna
  • 1969 Operation Sippacik
  • 1972 The Diddakoi (also published as Gypsy Girl) winner of the Whitbread Award.
  • 1972 The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle
  • 1975 Mr. McFadden’s Hallowe’en
  • 1977 The Rocking Horse Secret
  • 1978 A Kindle of Kittens
  • 1981 The Dragon of Og
  • 1983 Four Dolls
  • 1983 The Valiant Chatti-Maker
  • 1984 Mouse Time: Two Stories
  • 1990 Fu-Dog
  • 1992 Great Grandfather’s House
  • 1992 Listen to the Nightingale
  • 1996 The Little Chair
  • 1996 Premlata and the Festival of Lights
  • 1984 Thursdays Children

In this post, I would like to highlight two of Rumer Godden’s books that I recommend (although I have read many others, including The Fairy Doll, The Doll’s House, Impunity Jane and The Woman Who lived in a Vinegar Bottle (picture book). Her children’s books are filled with lively dialogues, so they would make great read-aloud stories. Although many of her books feature girls or dolls as main characters, Impunity Jane: The Story of a Pocket Doll, is about a boy who keeps a doll in his pocket and takes her on his many adventures, a dream come true for Jane, who loves nothing better than to sail down a river or climb trees.


The first one, The Story of Holly and Ivy, is an old favorite Christmas storybook, that my girls loved when they were young. It was written in 1958 and is illustrated by Barbara Cooney. It’s a classic tale of a lonely, orphaned girl searching for home, and a doll, longing to be held and loved – the two are drawn to one another on Christmas Eve, in a small town in England. A heartwarming-feel-good-happy-ending story that is sure to warm little hearts on cold winter nights at Christmas time. I try to keep this one in stock for families living overseas. The Story of Holly and Ivy is one of the books featured on my list of favorite Christmas books (for more on Christmas stories see my blog post “Christmas in July? 25 days of Christmas books“)

 


The second book, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, I happened upon recently in a thrift store, started reading it and couldn’t put it down. It’s a perfect book for third culture kids, adjusting to a new place and new culture, learning to have courage beyond their years, conquering fears, reaching out to ask for help, and making friends along the way. You can see in this book, the young 12-year-old Rumer, as she arrived in England from India, reliving the sense of loss and grief, the loneliness of leaving her home and family back in India. I also love the fact that the story is about two Japanese dolls. There is a focus on Asian culture, customs and values in the story. I also was drawn to the creative aspect of the story, as Nona works on designing and furnishing a home for her Japanese dolls, not just any doll house, but a Japanese style house where Miss Happiness and Miss Flower can truly feel at home. The book includes plans on how to build the doll house. There is a deep sense of closure as the book ends, with both the little girl and the Japanese dolls coming out of their state of grief and confusion, and finding a sense of belonging. Get ready for your child to bring out her old doll house and start a remodeling project or build her/his own doll house. Miss Happiness and Miss Flower is followed by a sequel, Miss Plum, which I also highly recommend.

 

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As I mentioned, the theme of doll houses may prompt some remodeling. The picture above is of me playing with my doll house in France when I was 4. I still have this doll house. It is one of the few items that I kept from childhood. I have memories of playing with it with my younger sister, Renée. My siblings and I also used it as a fun house for our guinea pigs, Winnie and Yogi. My older brother Rob, added a doorbell and lighting from his electrical kit he received one Christmas. I had recently pulled it out of. storage for our extended family reunion. Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, as well as Rumer Godden’s book, The Doll’s House, has inspired me to repaint and fix it up for children who come over (and perhaps for grandchildren we may someday have).

Do you have a dollhouse? or favorite dolls? (please share memories or photos in the comments)
Facts about Rumer Godden

  • Margaret Rumer Godden was born on Dec. 10, 1907, in Sussex, England. She was the second of four daughters of Arthur Leigh and Katherine Hingley Godden. The family moved to India when she was less than a year old.

  • In India, Rumer Godden and her family lived in Narayanganj, colonial India (now in Bangladesh), where her father worked for the Brahmaputra Steam Navigation Company. They would often spend time in remote river towns.
  • Until she was 12, Ms. Godden was largely educated by her family in a home that she later described as ”English streaked with Indian, or Indian streaked with English.”
  • When she was only seven, she wrote her autobiography.
  • Her and her sisters returned to England in 1920 to attend boarding school. It was a very difficult adjustment time and her and her sister were terrible homesick. They went to five schools in two years, finally settling at Moira House Girls School in Eastbourne. Rumer eventually trained as a dance teacher.
  • She went back to Calcutta in 1925 and opened a dance school for English and Indian children. Godden ran the school for many years with the help of her sister Nancy. During this time she published her first best-seller, the 1939 novel Black Narcissus.

  • Rumer Godden had many interests but her greatest were dancing, opera, Pekinese dogs, which she kept for most of her life.

  • The Doll’s House” was her first and perhaps best known of her nearly two dozen children’s books, appeared in 1947.

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  • Rumer Godden had two daughters, Jane and Paula. She believed strongly in reading aloud to children of all ages. She read to her daughters at bedtime and often read aloud to them around the fire on a Sunday evenings.
  • Rumer, Jane says, had a wonderful rapport with children. For her grandchildren she used to hold dolls’ tea parties, with miniature invitations and tiny sandwiches. Everyone dressed up!
  • Her books for children, especially her doll stories, are filled with all the secret thoughts, confusions, disappointments, and aspirations of childhood.

Quotes by Rumer Godden

There is an Indian proverb that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional, and a spiritual . Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.” Quote from Rumer Godden’s autobiography A House With Four Rooms



Her description of the sights and smells of India: (excerpt from her memoir “Two Under the Indian Sun:

“…The feel of the sunbaked Indian dust between sandals and bare toes; that and the smell. It was the honey smell of the fuzz-buzz flowers of thorn trees in the sun, and the smell of open drains and urine, of coconut oil on shining black human hair, of mustard cooking oil and the blue smoke from cow dung used as fuel; it was a smell redolent of the sun, more alive and vivid than anything in the West.”




On the life of dolls:

It is an anxious, sometimes a dangerous thing to be a doll. Dolls cannot choose; they can only be chosen; they cannot ‘do’; they can only be done by.
Excerpt from The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden

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2 thoughts on “Miss Happiness and Miss Flower

  1. My sister and I LOVED rumer Godden’s books checking them out over and over again from the ancient collection at our bookmobile and children’s library. The English tinge to everything (language especially), the dolls and doll houses, even illustrations of some volumes by Tasha Tudor, another favorite–what could be more enchanting.

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