Published in 1937, The Family From One End Street and Some of Their Adventures by author/illustrator Eve Garnett broke new ground by detailing the joys and sometimes misadventures of a large working class British family. “Mrs. Ruggles was a Washerwoman and her husband was a Dustman.” (A dustman for us Americans who don’t collect “dust” or rubbish is a garbage collector.) The Ruggles family consists of Rosie and Jo, the parents, and seven children: Lily Rose, Kate, the twins James and John, little Jo, Peg, and baby William. “The neighbors pities Jo and Rosie for having such a large family and called it ‘Victorian’; but the Dustman and his wife were proud of their numerous girls and boys, all-growing-up-fine-and-strong-one-behind-the-other-like-steps-in-a-ladder-and-able-to-wear-each-others-clothes-right-down-to-the-baby . . .”
From the beginning chapter that introduces the family and tells about how all the children were born and named to the concluding chapter in which the entire family takes a much-anticipated bank holiday in London, the story is a very British, very enjoyable look at a happy family. Tolstoy said that happy families are all alike, implying that they are not very interesting, but the Ruggleses are generally happy and fun to read about. The language is both British and somewhat dated, but an intelligent eleven year old should be able to puzzle it out, even an American child. And these are poor/lower class children of the 1930’s, loved but not hovered over, so they do things like stowaway on a boat or take a ride with a wealthy couple in a motorcar or try to help with the ironing—with disastrous results. Each child gets his or her own story or chapter in the book, vignettes that distinguish the children from one another and let readers follow along on their various and sundry adventures. The book would make a lovely read aloud, as long as the reader could do a proper British accent.
Speaking of British accents and the like, The Family From One End Street won the Carnegie Medal in 1937 for the children’s book of most outstanding literary quality published in the UK. It is an outstanding book, but its award as a sort of “book of the year” for British children in 1937 illustrates the problem with choosing the best books in the moment, before time and thoughtful appreciation and criticism have been brought to bear upon the staying power and literary quality of a given year’s crop of titles.
Also published in Britain in 1937? The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.