Six Degrees of Separation: from Beezus and Ramona to …

Whilst I wait for opportunity and blogging muse to coincide I’m pleased that at least I’m keeping up with Six Degrees.  Kate does all the organising for this and the background can be found here.  Thanks, Kate!

The starter book for this month is Beezus and Ramona (1955) by Beverly Cleary.  Both author and book title were unknown to me but I’ve now learned that Cleary was a much-loved and prolific children’s author who died in March aged 104.  I got happily side-tracked by her obituary which outlined how Ramona came into being and I learned that she (Ramona) is the annoying little sister of Beatrice (Beezus).  Ramona is described as spirited and reflective and the more I learned the more I wish I’d read these books as a child myself.  But I digress.

Beezus is eight and Ramona four in this book.  Immediately I think of My Naughty Little Sister (1962) written by Dorothy Edwards, which kickstarted a short series that I DID read.  Dorothy dedicated her books to her own little sister, Phyllis, whom she was buried alongside when she died in 1982.  (Dorothy Edwards helped to devise the radio show Listen with Mother and wrote for Jackanory which was the cue for another side-track as I took a trip down Memory Lane.) 

My Naughty Little Sister was never a great favourite with me or my own children but it was illustrated by Shirley Hughes and we all loved her.  (Dogger, Alfie & Annie-Rose, here I go again…)  Shirley and sisters provide the next link – a world away from nostalgic children’s books.  Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley (1849)  is one of the Bronte sisters’ books that I still have to read.  Charlotte too, is buried alongside some of her sisters, including younger sister, Emily.

First names – P D James’ initials refer to her given names: Phyllis Dorothy.  Her last book, Death Comes to Pemberley (2011), continues the sisterly theme, imagining the dastardly murder which occurs in the grounds of Pemberley when naughty little sister Lydia arrives to visit some years after Elizabeth Bennet has married Darcy.  I’ve read this one and frankly, I wasn’t impressed.

P. D. James is not the only modern-day author to have turned her hand to writing sequels, prequels and other permutations of classic novels with varying degrees of success.  Another such attempt is Emma Watson (1996) by Joan Aiken in which she takes the scrap of Austen’s unfinished novel, The Watsons, and completes it in her own fashion.  Joan Aiken is another prolific children’s author but she was also very knowledgeable about Austen and wrote sequels to several of her books in addition to ‘finishing off’ The Watsons.  Not for one moment do I imagine that the original would have turned out as Aiken’s version did but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it and feeling that she had captured some of the characteristics of Jane’s novels and the feel of the period.

From one unfinished manuscript to another, and staying with the name Emma.  Emma Brown (2005) by Clare Boylan is also based on a fragment of a classic novel, not by Austen, who finished her novel of that name, but by Charlotte Bronte.  Reviews suggest that Boylan has done a good job.  I’ve not read this but it does intrigue me. 

Children’s literature, classics, little sisters and first names, there’s only one contender for the final link in my chain.  Peter Pan and Wendy was published in 1915 by May Byron, as an abridged version of J M Barrie’s Peter Pan.  Originally written by Barrie as a play in 1904 and as a novel in 1911, he gave full permission for Byron’s version. 

It proved a challenge to find this book with Byron credited on the cover but the search led me to some very satisfying discoveries. In 1921, Byron’s version was illustrated by celebrated children’s illustrator Mabel Lucie Attwell.  In the editions I could find on Goodreads, Attwell gets the credits. But I finally found a version crediting May Byron as ‘reteller’, (though not on the cover) and published more recently. The illustrator – who is credited – is none other than the much-loved Shirley Hughes. Oh, the satisfaction!

In all that excitement I almost forgot to mention the sisterly connection here.  My own little sister – I shall not comment on her levels of naughtiness – is named Wendy.

This month I’ve linked through little sisters with varying degrees of naughtiness, through children’s illustrators, first names, sisterly burial plots, classics, and reimagined classics fashioned from fragments.  I’m always surprised by the twisting route these chains take and I’m looking forward now to seeing where everyone else’s chains have led.

50 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from Beezus and Ramona to …”

  1. “I’m always surprised by the twisting route these chains take.” Me, too, Sandra, and yours is delightful. I once had a fellow book group member named Wendy. Peter Pan was her older brother’s favorite book, and he told his pregnant mother that if she had a girl, he’d like her to be named Wendy. Is that how your little sister got her name?

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  2. Lovely chain, Sandra. I enjoyed all the sister connections. For a moment I was surprised, that anyone would write a novel about a relatively young actress, but I now realise it isn’t that Emma Watson. Never heard of The Watsons before. 🙂

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    1. Not that Emma Watson, Stargazer! Glad you enjoyed the chain. Now I’ve read those of others I am in awe of the cleaver and creative links people found beyond the obvious sisterly links.

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  3. What an interesting chain. I wasn’t impressed with Death Comes to Pemberley either. I’ve collected quite a few editions of Peter Pan and Wendy over the years so I have the Attwell one, but I don’t think I have one mentioning May Byron. I hope that your Wendy has been your little ‘fwendy’ over the years!

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  4. I think I might give the Joan Aiken continuation of Jane Austen a go – I really rate her as a children’s author and, although so far I haven’t been impressed by most such ‘revisited works’, I trust your opinion that it’s a fun read.

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    1. It’s exactly that, a fun read. Apparently, Jane confided in sister Cassandra regarding her plans for The Watsons and Joan Aiken seems to have largely kept to them. A pleasant distraction!

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  5. This is brilliant, Sandra, so many interweaving and back-referencing and leitmotif sharing! You may remember I referenced Emma Brown in my review of Charlotte Brontë’s original (and you in fact commented on it: https://wp.me/s2oNj1-emmax) but I’ve yet to get round to it. I agree with you on the P D James even though there were bits I liked, not a totally successful completion. I also recently read the two version of the Peter Pan story that Barrie produced, the first set in Kensington Gardens (which preceded the play) and the later novelisation of the play. Curious things, the pair of them.

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  6. Love your links even though none of the books appeals to me this month. I wasn’t even keen on kids’ books when I was a kid, and I rarely enjoy books where one author has completed an unfinished work of another. And the very idea of a murder among the Darcys makes me shudder! Well done, none to add to y TBR – keep up the good work! 😉

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  7. This is such a clever working of the chain – and now three of us have gone direct to ‘My naughty Little Sister’ – and that edition too. Your pairings are inspired – great stuff!

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  8. The satisfaction indeed, Sandra. Lovely weaving of links, and thank you for bringing Emma Watson to my attention. I might give that a go. I wasn’t overly impressed by Death Comes to Pemberley either. I found it quite pompous in parts, clumsy in others.

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    1. No one seems impressed with Death Comes to Pemberley. Thinking about it, I wonder if James took the whole thing too seriously. Aiken’s Emma Watson is the opposite; I felt she was having fun with it whilst keeping true to Austen. Light-hearted when it’s time for a break from all the dark and heavy stuff around.

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  9. I think I’ve said how much I like this series. This is an endearing chain. As soon as I saw the cover of My Naughty Little Sister I recognised Shirley Hughes (Dogger was a great favourite in our family). I have, however, to say I don’t like Mabel Lucy Attwell – far too twee for me – or maybe because my grandmother had a print telling us to leave the bathroom as we found it 🙂

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    1. My parents had that MLA print in our bathroom when I was a child – “Please remember, don’t forget” is etched into my memory where I could have something more edifying!

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  10. Hi Sandra; first of all I want to say what a pleasure it is to ‘see you’ again after a lengthy absence (or maybe I didn’t get any updates, wp has its own ways and means….) – I was intruiged to hear about P.D. James as I enjoyed two or three books of hers. Then I saw that you were NOT impressed by your choice and I checked into ‘her’ some more. It was the Adam Dalgliesh Mysteries I thought were fun and I had a note that I’d read some more if I ever made it back to the UK and to affordable titles…. enjoyed the LIGHTHOUSE, and kinda liked The Innocent House & soso The Mistletoe Murder.
    Cannot comment on other books. Welcome back! I still have – after having brought some 400 books to be destroyed as I couldn’t find any French based takers for my English books – a nice collection of Engl. books I moved with me to Switzerland in the hope to be able to transfer them back to UK on our next visit (haven’t been since 2018…. and there is no change in sight!). I did give all my Cornish based books away however, the ones you didn’t want. So that’s one thing not be burned….

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    1. Hi Kiki! I’m not around very much at the moment but I have managed the last few six degrees posts. At least I keep my hand in. It’s so hard to get rid of books isn’t it. In the uk we can pass them on to charity shops and hospitals etc. And we have some ‘little libraries’ which are housed in the redundant red telephone boxes. People can drop off books they no longer want and take others which interest them.

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  11. Going with the sisterly theme – kind of – I’ve just been reading ‘Secret Sisterhood’ which is about friendships between female writers – include the friendships of Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen.

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  12. This is lovely Sandra! My Naughty Little Sister wasn’t one of my favourites either but I do love Shirley Hughes. Alfie and Annie-Rose with those marmalade colours while they dry their socks by the fire? And lots of great info about sisters and Jackanory, thank you!

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  13. I very nearly started my chain by linking to My Naughty Little Sister too, but struggled to come up with the next link after that – well done for thinking of the Shirley connection!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. There seem to be some brilliant chains around this month with some great links. You had some excellent connections, Helen, and went in a totally different way to me despite starting like several of did, with the sisters theme.

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  15. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with Death Comes to Pemberley (but the TV series was good), but I did enjoy Emma Brown very much (even with one or two scenes that I’m sure no Bronte would ever have included in their stories)!

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  16. Nice list. I believe you and I have sisters named Claire.
    I really enjoyed P. D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh Mysteries and I will say I didn’t hate Death Comes to Pemberly. I will never re-read it, either.

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    1. You’re right, Deb, my sister Claire lives in the Highlands of Scotland so I rarely see her but it’s always a joy when I do. I know just what you mean about Death Comes to Pemberley. One to read and move on from! x

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  17. What a clever chain Sandra!

    I agree with you about Death Comes to Pemberley – I was most definitely unimpressed. I have jusy acquired Alexander McCall Smiths’ rewriting of Emma, so I’ll see if he did any better.

    I tried to use Peter Pan in my chain, but just could not think where to go from there as I couldn’t come up with any other Wendys (of course I have now thought of Marghanita Laski’s The Village, in which one of the key characters is a Wendy, but too late now!)

    My own chain is here: https://sconesandchaiseslongues.blogspot.com/2021/05/six-degrees-of-separation-may-2021.html

    I remember My Naughty Little Sister so well from my own childhood

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    1. Ah Rosemary, isn’t it frustrating when you hit send and immediately notice an error! I’ve just popped over to your chain and will replying there in a mo. (It’s such a lovely chain!) You join a growing bunch of people who are indifferent to Death Comes to Pemberley. I wonder what you’ll make of McCall Smith’s Emma. I can’t imagine him making a decent job of it but I hope he does. I’m intrigued enough to want to know! Emma is my least favourite of Austen’s novels. Perhaps his version will encourage me to try again with the original 😄

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  18. Sorry Sandra, that line aboutMy Naughty Little Sister somehow jumped down – I meant it to come before Peter Pan, when it might have made some sort of logical sense…..!

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  19. Sorry- very late to the party this time. After so long doing so little, I’m now overwhelmed by the ” catch -up” period!
    What a fascinating chain, Sandra. As usual , with children’s books, I’m at a loss, ( apart from Peter Pan in all it’s guises)- being of the end of of WW2 era ,when we made do with the ” children’s classics” already on the book case. I should like to think I could catch up, but books, and time, call.

    Prequels and sequels do bother me however. I feel it’s almost arrogant of an author to imagine that they have an insight into the characters and ideas created by, usually, far better authors than themselves. Of those I can recall reading, Pemberley was pretty dire, in development of ideas and prose; as for the sequel to Rebecca ( name escapes me , thank goodness)- how can such a mundane ( apart from the very last sentence!) tale ever recapture the brilliance of her imagination and prose, and the stunning ending. And how could any author think they could even try? A really good ending is something I always look for in novels now- a result, I’m sure ,of reading DDM’s novels when I was young.
    I may be a little hypocrital here, as I confess to having enjoyed modern versions of older stories ( Ian McEwan’s Nutshell springs to mind).
    xxx

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  20. Ah now, I’ve yet to find the motivation to read books like Nutshell, Pat. (Setting aside my general aversion to McEwan with one notable exception.) And I’ve so far avoided Rebecca sequels, prequels and whatever esle is out there. I did watch the recent remake of the film. That was a mistake.

    Going back to Nutshell, would Pat Barker’s books reimagining the greek myths call to you for example? There seems to be a slew of books of that type at the moment. I am more drawn towards modern reimaginings of myths etc. which in theory should transcend time periods. That said, I’ve read almost none of them! They’re on the list of books I’d like to explore if only… Just like you and children’s books!

    xx

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  21. I am a big Joan Aiken fan and think she was the best – because the most respectful of language and plot – of the Austen continues. I was fortunate to meet her once and get two of my books signed. I also admire the work of her sister, Jane Aiken Hodge, who also wrote Regency fiction, among other things. I remember how excited my mother was when a new one would appear at the library and it wasn’t long before I started reading them myself.

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    1. Thank you for visiting; I’m sorry for the delay in replying 😊 I hadn’t heard of Jane Aiken Hodge so thank you for that. I’m looking forward to reading more of Joan Aiken’s Austens and I’ll look out for her sister’s books too.

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    1. Ah, thank you, Claire. Like many, my reading has taken on a different shape these past months and blogging has drifted, both as a writer and as a reader. In time, a new balance will emerge.

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