I was bought a big thick three-in-one Nina Bawden collection by my Uncle Allan for Christmas when I was about seven. Carrie’s War, the first in the set and Nina Bawden’s most famous book, was about a young girl and her needy younger brother being evacuated into Wales during the Second World War. It was also about a man’s inability to connect emotionally to his family, ablism and how that affects a community, and how childhood incidents lead to massive emotional conflicts as we grow older. Carrie was a strongwilled girl who made a mistake and was still thinking about it thirty years later. To a seven year old the idea of a future is terrifying. This was what made Nina Bawden great, she could put so much into her slim books and yet you never felt like you were being overburdened.
My favourite book of her’s, apart from Carrie’s War, is The Witch’s Daughter, which I read much later. Perdita, the wild strange girl isolated from her community by the neglect she suffers from home, was a marvel to me. I too wanted to have flyaway hair, to perch on my rock by the stormy seas, and wear thick boots and long skirts. Maybe one day.
Nina Bawden’s children were real, not cartoons of what adults believed children should be. My favourites were always her tomboys (a word I hate, having had it applied to me my entire childhood) who didn’t want to/couldn’t have blonde curls and prissy dresses. Cora in Humbug looked like I did and had serious attitude, a great role model for any ten year old girl feeling a bit awkward.
The adventures her children had were always a little bit too big to be real, but far more plausible than the fantasies my peers were reading. It was entirely possible that the son of a foreign prince on the run could move in next door, or that you could find a priceless relic in your garden, or that your step-father could be involved in smuggling. No dragons here, thanks.
Nina Bawden wrote absolutly tons of books, both for children and adults, and I’ve read a handfull of them. However, she still had a massive influence for me as a reader, and I have had so many lovely comversations about her books with people at book swaps I know she will be very sadly missed.
Rest in Peace, and thank you.