I don’t usually review children’s books on my blog, but in my new series of Childhood Memories posts I’ll be spotlighting some of my favourite authors from my childhood, many of whom seem to have been largely forgotten today. In this first post I’m remembering Ursula Moray Williams.
Ursula Moray Williams was born in Hampshire, England on April 19, 1911. Throughout her career she wrote nearly 70 children’s books including Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse, Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat and The Good Little Christmas Tree. She died on October 17, 2006, having had one of the longest publishing careers of any children’s author.
- Ursula had an identical twin sister called Barbara.
- Her uncle, Sir Stanley Unwin, was the founder of the George Allen and Unwin publishing house, who published J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in 1937.
- She married Peter John in 1935 – he was the great-grandson of the poet Robert Southey.
Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat was one of my favourite books as a child. I had a copy at home, but I remember reading it at school as well (where we also learned a song to go with the book – no, I’m not going to sing it for you! I was able to find the lyrics, though.)
Gobbolino is a witch’s kitten, but unlike his sister Sootica who enjoys learning magic spells and flying a broomstick, he dreams of becoming an ordinary kitchen cat. When the witch notices that Gobbolino has blue eyes and one white paw (apparently a witch’s cat should be black with green eyes), she abandons him and he sets off alone in search of a warm fire and a family who will love him. In quick succession, Gobbolino attempts to become a farmhouse cat, an orphanage cat, a show cat, a ship’s cat, a princess’s cat and a woodcutter’s cat – but every time he thinks he’s found the perfect home, his new owners discover that he’s really a witch’s cat and ask him to leave.
“Oh, why was I born a witch’s cat? Oh, why?” thought Gobbolino when at last they were out of sight. “I could wish for nothing better than a home with such kind and pleasant people as these, but no! Everyone turns against me, and oh my goodness, what is to become of me now?”
Gobbolino is such a lovable, kindhearted character it would be almost impossible not to like him and to want him to find the happy home he’s been wishing for!
Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse was published in 1938, a few years before Gobbolino, and was a very similar story. The little wooden horse is a toy who doesn’t want to be sold, preferring to remain with his creator, Uncle Peder the toymaker. When Uncle Peder becomes ill, the little wooden horse is forced to go out into the world and attempt to make his fortune – while dreaming of the day when he and the toymaker will be reunited.
Although I loved these books I used to think they were very sad, and would cry every time Gobbolino or the Little Wooden Horse had to leave yet another potential home – though I didn’t find them quite as sad when I re-read them this week in preparation for writing this post! I think these books would be perfect bedtime stories because of the way they are structured with each chapter being a complete little story in itself.
Have you read any of Ursula Moray Williams’ books – or have you read them to your children?