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My Favourite Childhood Book - Rumer Godden's The Diddakoi - by Lesley Atherton

3 August 2019

​Rumer Godden's 'The Diddakoi' was made into a children's TV series called Kizzy when I was a little girl, and I couldn't tear myself away from the tube.

Part of me is desperate to see it again, and I know that if the BBC were to bring it out on DVD, I'd purchase it.

But there's also a huge part of me that's apprehensive because nothing can ever be as romantic and influential as it was the first time round. 

The book was published in 1972 and went on to win The Whitbread Award in the Children's category. It is the story of an orphan traveller or Romani girl called Kizzy, who faces persecution, grief and loss in a hostile close-knit village community.

The title word itself 'diddakoi' is an alternative spelling of 'didicoy' and is term of the Romani gypsies for gypsies with mixed Romani and non-Romani blood. In short it means half-gypsy, although Kizzy says she is all gypsy.

I hope I can be excused from quoting a section of the book in detail, as it was this section that made me fall in love with the idea of the painted gypsy caravan, and that led me to write 'The Waggon'.

This section comes from near the end of the book where Kizzy, the little Diddakoi girl, discovers her astonishing surprise.

Over the fire was a kittle iron, not big and heavy like Gran's, but "small enough for me,' and from it hung a stout doll-size kettle from which a plume of steam was coming out; when she saw the steam Kizzy's knees went weak with wonder. The shelter had become half-size, with a half-size bench, a smaller box, and, drawn up to the fire, was a wagon, a true real wagon, exactly like Gran's, "only hers was so shabby". This was new and painted blue and green with a carved and gilded front, its wheels hooped with iron; its bottom half-door was shut, the top half open, a flight of steps led up to it, all the right size for Kizzy, a child's wagon; no grown-up could come into it...
There were crisp muslin curtains at the windows and window boxes with earth in them. "They are planted with bulbs - miniature bulbs," said Miss  Brooke... A line of washing was stretched between two apple trees, "like ours used to do," hung with Kizzy's jeans and socks and a small apron held by doll clothes pegs...
Inside the wagon a light was burning and, going up the steps, Kizzy could see a lamp with a pink shade just like Gran's, only the lamp was six inches high.... There were china ornaments and a doll vase of the plastic flowers Kizzy thought so beautiful. A twig broom stood in the corner. "We didn't need a dustpan"...
The waggon in the firelight threw its shadow on the grass - a child-size shadow; the lamplight shone through the windows in the dusk. Kizzy gave a long sigh, a sigh of happiness. "It's mine."

This is a must-read book for anyone, young or old, who has even the tiniest amount of idealism in their hearts.

And as the Rumer Godden Literary Trust points out, the story has helped many children cope with bereavement.

Please read it :-)


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