My second trip through Writing With Ease Level Two, this time with Louise, finally convinced me to bring Nurse Matilda: The Collected Tales by Christianna Brand home from the library, and I am so glad I did! (I think the Writing With Ease curriculum is worth its price for the curiosity-piquing it does over the various novels, etc., it draws from alone!) Nurse Matilda is akin to Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and Mary Poppins, but I do think I like her best of all! She comes to the rescue of the Browns, a couple who is rather naïve about the incorrigibility of their many, many children. The children get into all sorts of mischief, and Nurse Matilda sets out to curb their various misbehaviors, one by one. Here’s a sampling of the things the Brown children do:
Tora had put glue in the sandwiches.
Emma had made a large chocolate cake out of mud.
David had put a toad in the milk-jug–and Tim was under the table tying Nanny’s feet to the legs of her chair with her shoe-laces. All the other children were doing simply dreadful things too. (137)
Of course, how Nurse Matilda handles their naughtiness is just a little bit magical, but the emphasis is on the effects wee bit o’ magic has on the children instead of the method she uses to teach them to behave. Usually what happens is that the children are not able to stop doing what they were doing that was wrong to begin with; in other words, she gives them a taste of their own medicine. Their misbehaviors, then, turn into moments of high hilarity, with the children themselves the butts of their very own jokes. It’s all for the purpose of teaching them a lesson, and it works–at least, it works well enough to get them to behave for a little while, but not long enough to end the story too soon.
This particular collection contains all three of Brand’s Nurse Matilda stories first published in the 1960s and 1970s: Nurse Matilda Nurse Matilda Goes to Town, and Nurse Matilda Goes to Hospital. Each story involves the Brown family and Nurse Matilda, but in each story the setting is different. The first story takes place in the Brown’s home; the second, at the Brown children’s Great Aunt Adelaide Stitch’s home in the city; and the third, at the hospital. We loved these stories, and I’ll readily confess that I laughed aloud more than once while I was reading them. In fact, I think I found them funnier than my girls did! Here’s an example of one little vignette that I found hilarious. This is just before Great Aunt Adelaide’s soiree which the children turn into a free-for-all by tampering with the food and the servants’ clothing:
Gumble and Fiddle [two servants] had been given a light snack by Cook before the party began, as the tradesmen hadn’t arrived with their proper supper. They had had a fearful time with cotton-wool sandwiches, chewing away like goats but getting no further, and it had made them late for everything. They were still struggling into their clothes as the first bell rang, and with great shrieks of ‘They’re here!’ and ‘My feet!’ and ‘Drat it!’ (from Cook, who had been having an anxious time too, because the decorations on her little chocolate cakes simply wouldn’t stay still)–they hastened out into the hall. But what with the legs of Gumble’s trousers having been stitched together at the knees, and the hem of Fiddle’s skirt being sewn into a bag, it ended in a sort of sack race: all the worse because the jelly in their shoes kept oozing out, squidge, squidge, round their ankles as they hopped and lolloped to the front door and peered through the glass pane at the first arrivals. (218-19)
Can’t you just envision it? 🙂
This is a very British story, with such delicacies as treacle and blancmange frequently consumed, so it’s one of those that sent us scurrying for the dictionary a few times, which is yet another benefit of reading aloud. We absolutely love Nurse Matilda and give her and her stories a Highly, Highly Recommended. (Bloomsbury, 2005)