cover image A Spoonful of Sugar: 
A Nanny’s Story

A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny’s Story

Brenda Ashford, with Kate Thompson. Doubleday, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-53641-7

Trained formally in the prestigious Norland Institute that once graced Pembridge Square, London, Ashford spent 62 years raising England’s children, recounting in this charming, sentimental memoir how she loved every minute of it. Her chronicle opens during the 1930s, when she was growing up in a large loving family in Surrey, the second daughter of a prosperous shop owner who fell on hard times; describing herself as rather naïve and unintellectual, Ashford was allowed to quit school at 16, and with encouragement from her mother, attended Norland’s as a “bursary” student, beginning in 1939. She was fitted with a starched uniform (a source of great pride) and immersed in a rigorous curriculum over many months involving nursery management, sewing, laundry, and hospital training, among other domestic and child-care arts, all executed with impeccable neatness, alacrity, and love. Her first jobs involved caring for the young London evacuees removed to the countryside during the Battle of Britain; these segued into employment at numerous grand aristocratic homes in Devon and Kent, involving plenty of quirky parents and needy children, all described in the sweet as pudding, unflappable English tone of the beloved elderly nanny who had a knack for calming children and instilling confidence in their beleaguered mothers. Of a sadly vanishing generation once acquainted with plimsolls and junket, who drop old-fashioned advice for the myriad uses of olive oil and create toys out of anything handy, Ashford is surely a national treasure. (Apr.)