Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Review & Giveaway - A Spoonful of Sugar by Brenda Ashford (4/5)

[The following review is part of the Spoonful of Sugar blog tour organized by Providence Book Promotions.  For more information and to see other stops on the tour, visit the tour page.  For giveaway details, see the Rafflecopter widget at the bottom of this post.]

By Amanda Amaya

I really liked this book.  I was intrigued by the plot summary because I currently have a kindergartner and I love memoirs.  Also, it was very interesting to read about a different culture’s philosophies on child rearing, especially in a very difficult time in the history of British people.  But before we get into more of that, here is the plot summary from
Brenda Ashford is the quintessential British nanny. Prim and proper, gentle and kind, she seems to have stepped straight out of Mary Poppins. For more than six decades Nanny Brenda swaddled, diapered, dressed, played with, sang to, cooked for, and looked after more than one hundred children. From the pampered sons and daughters of lords ensconced in their grand estates to the children of tough war evacuees in London’s East End, Brenda has taught countless little ones to be happy, healthy, and thoroughly well bred. In this delightful memoir, Brenda shares her endearing, amusing, and sometimes downright bizarre experiences turning generations of children into successful adults.

From the moment Brenda first held her baby brother David she was hooked. She became a second mother to him, changing his nappies, reading him stories, and giving him all the love her warm heart contained. Knowing a career caring for children was her calling in life, Brenda attended London’s prestigious Norland College, famous for producing top-notch nannies. It was a sign of privilege and good taste for the children of the well-to-do to be seen being pushed in their Silver Cross prams by Norland nannies, who were recognizable by their crisp, starched black uniforms with white bib collars, and their flowing black capes lined with red silk. And what skills were these trainees tested on daily? Lullaby singing, storytelling, pram shining, bed making, all forms of sewing, cooking simple meals, and dispensing first aid—including knowing the best way to help the medicine go down.

In A Spoonful of Sugar, Brenda recalls her years at Norland and her experiences during the war (after all, even if bombs are dropping, there’s no reason to let standards slip), and recounts in lovely detail a life devoted to the care of other people’s children.

Sprinkled throughout with pearls of wisdom (you can never give children too much love, and you should learn how to sew a button, for goodness’ sake), this delightful memoir from Britain’s oldest living nanny is practically perfect in every way.
 The beginning starts out very slowly.  Although I appreciated the knowledge about Ms. Ashford’s specific training, I wanted to get into the meat of the book, her experiences with children.  Still, I loved the beginning of the chapters which included a nursery rhyme, tips on child-rearing and sometimes a recipe for a British dish.

In particular, the tips on child-rearing have already helped me with my child.  I love the fact that Ms. Ashford believes in raising children with love, not strict discipline.  Her school’s motto:  “Love never faileth” is demonstrated time and time again throughout her interactions in the book.

I particularly found interesting her experience running a nursery during World War II. I literally felt tired just reading the descriptions of her schedule for the day which also graced the beginning of every chapter.

Also, Ms. Ashford’s long career illustrated the changes that have occurred in Western society throughout the 20th century.  When Ms. Ashford graduated Norlan in 1939, children were expected to be seen and not heard.  Additionally, children were often segregated from much of family life.  Parent’s often “visited” their children in the nursery for maybe two or three hours per day.  All of the care of the children, from bathing, to feeding, to playing was carried out by the nanny.  Newborns were often kept in the nanny’s room for the first few months with the nanny having the parents perform a few feedings per day.  This is just the way it was done, especially at that time in Great Britain.

Brenda Ashford
Nowadays, things are different.  In my own case, my child slept with me in my room for the first four months.  I was responsible for day to day care and took my child to another location to be cared for while I worked.  I would have loved having Nurse Brenda help me out during those first three months because I can no longer recall them. 

One issue I do have with the book is the language.  A Spoonful of Sugar looks like it was written for American audiences, or at least modified for this purpose.  The spellings of particular words are in American English, such as neighbor rather than neighbour. With the recipes included in the book, the measurements of different ingredients are given in the units customary to the United States.  However, strictly British lingo is used throughout. 

I could determine that “nappies” are diapers, and a “pram” is a stroller, but some words I couldn’t figure out.  I tried using my dictionary, and sometimes it would help, but at other times, the term was not found.  I would have appreciated a type of glossary, or just the American equivalent inserted next to the word in question in parentheses.

But the only real complaint I have with the book is that Nurse Brenda can’t be on-call to help when my spunky little one has a meltdown.  Just saying, and all…

I give A Spoonful of Sugar a four start rating.  I enjoyed it immensely, and I loved the way it was written like you were sitting next to the author and listening to her recount her life.  This book is highly recommended to those who like memoir, history or who have an interest in child-rearing.

About the Reviewer:  Amanda was born in Texas, moved to Pittsburgh for 25 years, and now she’s back in the Lone Star State.  She has been a nurse for a decade.  She loves to read and will usually read anything.  She prefers to focus on self-published authors and may consider writing herself one day.  She is also a newlywed and a mom.  You can check out her work at the and on her blog The Eclectic Bookworm.

The Giveaway:  The publisher is offering a paperback copy of A Spoonful of Sugar to one lucky winner.  Sign up using the Rafflecopter widget below.  Contest is only open to domestic (U.S.) residents.  Shipping and all of that, dontchaknow.  Apologies in advance to all you international folk.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Very nice review and post. This book has received nothing but rave reviews and I can't wait to read it. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I only wish I could be as patient and understanding as Ms. Ashford. I think I'm the worst mother ever (for example, my infants slept on the dining room table in their cot; one even slept in his car seat as that was the ONLY PLACE HE WOULD SLEEP). I couldn't have them in the room with me as I spent the entire night making sure they were still breathing.

    On another note: how do Americans feel about changes in spelling and words to suit? I am forever being asked to change my spelling and vocabulary, and I do, but it feels extraordinarily patronising.

    I read a marvelous book by China Mieville in which a very short introduction explained to American readers that the language was British English, and included a very short glossary of terms. There were about 5 of them. Even this seems patronising, now that I think on it, but the book was for teenaged readers.

    Any thoughts? (And you'll notice I have not adjusted my spelling of 'patronising').

  3. Sorry, please delete my entry, just noticed US only.

  4. I LOVE Mary Poppins -- both the movie starring Julie Andrews and the books.

    This book sounds great -- thanks :)

  5. This looks like a pretty amazing book. Thanks so much for the giveaway.

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  7. I recommend this book to anyone who loves children. There is so much to be learned about love, contentment, perseverance, and even disappointments. There is much wisdom in this book about a truly amazingly,and positively lived life!

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