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A Spoonful of Sugar

A Nanny's Story

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Brenda Ashford is the quintessential British nanny. Prim and proper, gentle and kind, she seems to have stepped straight out of Mary Poppins. For more than six decades Nanny Brenda swaddled, diapered, dressed, played with, sang to, cooked for, and looked after more than one hundred children. From the pampered sons and daughters of lords ensconced in their grand estates to the children of tough war evacuees in London’s East End, Brenda has taught countless little ones to be happy, healthy, and thoroughly well bred. In this delightful memoir, Brenda shares her endearing, amusing, and sometimes downright bizarre experiences turning generations of children into successful adults.

From the moment Brenda first held her baby brother David she was hooked. She became a second mother to him, changing his nappies, reading him stories, and giving him all the love her warm heart contained. Knowing a career caring for children was her calling in life, Brenda attended London’s prestigious Norland College, famous for producing top-notch nannies. It was a sign of privilege and good taste for the children of the well-to-do to be seen being pushed in their Silver Cross prams by Norland nannies, who were recognizable by their crisp, starched black uniforms with white bib collars, and their flowing black capes lined with red silk. And what skills were these trainees tested on daily? Lullaby singing, storytelling, pram shining, bed making, all forms of sewing, cooking simple meals, and dispensing first aid—including knowing the best way to help the medicine go down.

In A Spoonful of Sugar, Brenda recalls her years at Norland and her experiences during the war (after all, even if bombs are dropping, there’s no reason to let standards slip), and recounts in lovely detail a life devoted to the care of other people’s children.

Sprinkled throughout with pearls of wisdom (you can never give children too much love, and you should learn how to sew a button, for goodness’ sake), this delightful memoir from Britain’s oldest living nanny is practically perfect in every way.

From Publishers Weekly

Nov 12, 2012 – 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.

Customer Reviews


A well-written charming account of a proper british nanny's career set amidst the backdrop of WWII.

A Spoonful of Sugar
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  • $11.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Biographies & Memoirs
  • Published: Apr 02, 2013
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 384 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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