"Bad Harry lived quite near to us. There were no roads to cross to get to his house, and he and my sister often went round to visit each other without any grown-up person having to take them."
We already know that the narrator is a "little girl" and her sister is "littler": from the dialogue and her behaviour with Bad Harry, she's clearly three at most. "How can she do that? Why can't I do that?" asks my daughter. Then she offers her own reply. "Children can't do that these days, can they?"
With her reading just taking off, my Year Two girl is becoming immersed in children's classics which all have a common thread: their protagonists – existing 40 to 80 years ago - enjoy a far greater freedom than she, as a 21st-century child, does today.
So she loves Joyce Lankester Brisley's Milly-Molly-Mandy books, published from 1928, in which the heroine trots all over the village running errands for her family before progressing to camping out all night with her friends, sledging, and "keeping house" – which involves toasting bread on an open fire and frying bread and dripping – when her family go out one night.
Roald Dahl's 1975 classic Danny the Champion of the World is another favourite, in which nine-year-old Danny heads off in a Baby Austin to rescue his poacher father at two in the morning. Astrid Lindgren's 1945 Pippi Longstocking isn't so revered, but she's intrigued by a heroine who can live alone with a monkey and a horse and later take on a shark and bandits who threaten to kill her by picking them up and tossing them into a boat. Dipping a tentative toe into witchcraft, meanwhile, she is currently enjoying Jill Murphy's The Worst Witch series, first penned in 1974, in which the hapless Mildred Hubble is afforded freedom by being able to fly on a broomstick, perform spells and just be at boarding school. But it is the more prosaic settings that she loves best, such as the urban world of Catherine Storr's 1955 Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf: Polly is able to take the bus and train to her grandmother's on her own, visit the zoo and answer the door when her mother is out, but the familiar domestic setting reassures her when a hungry, talking wolf turns up.
Watching her enjoy these books – and ask why she can't walk to school alone like Milly-Molly-Mandy, or play by herself in the street like My Naughty Little Sister – has made me question whether she loves them precisely because of her more restricted lifestyle.
Full piece at The Guardian.