Thursday, December 28, 2006


Phillipa Pearce died on Thursday December 21 2006. One of the very best writers of children's books she was born in 1920 and brought up in Great Shelford, a village just outside Cambridge, where she spent much of her life and which provided the setting for perhaps her greatest book Tom's Midnight Garden.

After leaving Cambridge University in 1942 she worked as a civil servant, then an educational and children's book editor and finally as a scriptwriter and producer for BBC Radio. I first met her when working in a very lowly capacity at Andre Deutsch and I have to say my chief memory is of her daughter Sally tipping out the wastepaper baskets so she could sit on them! I have fond memories of her over the years ranging from an excellent lunch at her cottage in Great Shelford (the wine was kept in the outside loo), to her incisive questions from the floor at a Federation of Children's Book Conference and to the last meeting earlier this year at lunch following the memorial service for Jan Mark. Her strong sense of humour and her slightly terrifying intelligence shone as brightly as ever.

Her first book, Minnow on the Say (1955) illustrated superbly by Edward Ardizzone was commended for the Carnegie Medal and her second novel Tom's Midnight Garden (1958) won the award. It is a powerful book, and deals so well with the contradictory longing to remain a child for ever but with the pull to explore the world beyond childhood. Her writing continued with A Dog So Small (1962) which opened and closed on Hampstead Heath, her favourite part of London - she lived for some time in Gospel Oak. The Battle of Bubble and Squeak (1978) won the Whitbread Award. The Way to Sattin Shore (1983) is set in Suffolk, another part of East Anglia well known to her. Several excellent collections of short stories were published and her final novel, illustrated sympathically by Patrick Benson, was published in 2004. The Little Gentleman tells of the friendship between a 300 year old mole (who can talk) and a lonely young girl. I have a card from Philippa in front of me as I type "I hadn't written a book for 20 years. Surely, I'd retired...until, I walked the dog round our meadow, avoiding molehills".

She will be much missed, but what a wealth of books she leaves us.

Enid Stephenson

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