Hands up who knew Sylvia Plath had written stories for children. I certainly didn’t, and was thrilled to stumble across this trio for young readers. Discovered among her papers after her death, and subsequently published, they aretales of magic and mischief, and cast their author in an unexpected and welcome new light.
We begin with The It-Doesn’t-Matter Suit, the story of sartorially minded Max Nix, who lives with his six brothers in the alpine town of Winkelburg. When a woolly yellow suit mysteriously turns up at their door, the numerous males of the household are initially dazzled and each is keen to claim it for himself.
Until that is they begin to wonder what the townsfolk might make of such an attention-seeking outfit. Only one family member has the character to stride out in it. If I tell you that the German expression ‘machts nicht’ (Max Nix?), translates as ‘it doesn’t matter,’ well you can guess the rest. A precautionary tale about the perils of being overly concerned by other people’s opinions.
In the second story, we are told that ‘Mrs Cherry’s Kitchen’ is the ‘spickest, spannest kitchen in Appleton Lane,’ due to some uncommonly magical household appliances. But there is workplace unrest. What happens when the washing machine decides to bake a cake and the oven wants to iron some shirts?
‘The Bed Book’ is the only story in verse form, a ‘rhyming catalogue of desirable beds.’ We encounter a jet-propelled bed for adventuring to Mars, a North-Pole bed with a built in oven for toe-warming, and the fabulous Elephant Bed, where sliding down elephant trunks is definitely to be encouraged.
A delightful trio of stories, from an author whose work often cast dark shadows. To quote a newspaper review of the time ‘…small pieces of happiness like this little book remind us of her life.’
The It-Doesn’t-Matter Suit and Other Stories is published by Faber and Faber, 96 pages.