recess radio program

3/09/04
Allison Uttley
    by Rita Smith

Allison Uttley, a well known British children's writer, was born in 1884 on a farm in rural England. As a child she was an avid reader and wrote poetry. She also developed a love of science, attended Manchester University, and then taught at a London girl's school. She retired from teaching when she married and after the death of her husband, began writing again. In 1929 she published her first children's book, the beginning of a popular series about a little gray rabbit. She wrote another series about a pig named Sam and a fantasy entitled Traveller in Time, in which a modern girl becomes involved in the attempt by a 16th century family to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots. Over the next 45 years Uttley wrote over 100 books, most of them for children.

Books and stories were important to her all through childhood. In the evenings on the farm, after the chores were done, the family sat around the fire and read aloud from Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and her favorite, Arabian Nights Entertainment. One winter when Allison was about ten her mother, Margaret, spent the evenings piecing a quilt. As Margaret sewed, Allison handed her the little colored pieces of cloth and questioned her about where they came from.

"This pattern is from my sister Eliza's Sunday dress," her mother said sadly. "How lovely she looked in it, but she died when she was twenty one." All the stories seemed to be about people who had died too soon or after long difficult illnesses or because of terrible accidents. Allison didn't like these sad unromantic stories from her mother's life and when she went upstairs to bed, she decided to make up her own tales where nobody died.

She crawled under her quilt, running her hand over the top stitched into a design composed of small hexagons. Here was a patch of ruby satin for the doublet of the king's eldest son, and when he married the milkmaid she was dressed in that patch of blue silk with the embroidered flowers sprinkled upon it. Through the winter, Allison transformed the tiny pieces of fabric into wondrous fairy tales she told herself as she drifted off to sleep under the quilt that covered her with its paths to fantasy and possibility, tales that she returned to later to create stories for children of rabbits and pigs and little girls who travel through time to rescue the queen.

Sources:
Carpenter, Humphrey and Mari Prichard, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. Oxford: The Oxford Press. 1984. p. 555.

Uttley, Allison, Country World, Memories of Childhood. Selected by Lucy Meredith. London: Faber and Faber. 1984. p. 93-100.

Allison Uttley's papers are held in the Special Collections Department of The John Rylands University Library, University of Manchester, Manchester, England

Copyright 2004 Rita Smith

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