Book Review: “A Spoonful of Sugar”

Today I am sharing a lovely book that I have just finished enjoying. The book is: A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny’s Story by Brenda Ashford. This book is a memoir of Brenda Ashford, Britain’s longest-serving nanny. The story chronicles Miss Ashford’s life from her childhood in the 1920-30’s, through her time at Norland College the world-famous institute for British nannies, the experience of World War II, and her career through 1965, ending with an epilogue in 2013 when she was 92 years old.


A Spoonful of Sugar - a great read. |
A Spoonful of Sugar – a great read.


The descriptions of Miss Ashford’s childhood and upbringing paint a beautiful picture of the idyllic English country life and her inborn love of children is chronicled beginning with her own siblings. It was very fascinating to read about her own self doubts, so similar to most of our own, and how she came to find her place in the world where she could be competent, happy, and successful.

Miss Ashford’s telling of her time at Norland College was very insightful. The headmistress of the college was a formidable woman who inspired Miss Ashford, or Nanny Brenda as her charges called her, and gave Nanny Brenda a model to look up to. During Nanny Brenda’s time at the college, World War II came crashing into their lives and this book taught more about the experiences of the war than any history book could.


An image of the Norland Gates. |
An image of the Norland Gates.


One of the most interesting parts of the book was the description of how the training of Norland College differed from the practices of child rearing at the time. These nannies were considered the most elite of their profession and the confidence with which they worked is admirable. The college taught and encouraged Nanny Brenda and her colleagues to build the child up in spirit and heart instead of the prevailing philosophies of the time that involved having an environment of control and punitive practices. Seeing the daily schedule that Nanny Brenda maintained, it is easy to feel that one’s life is relaxed and full of conveniences! From the constant laundry (including hand scrubbing diapers!), the mending, the cleaning, and the feeding and changing of all the children, to the outings, education, and training of the heart and character, Nanny Brenda was always on the go!

My favorite aspect of the book was the delightful description of how Nanny Brenda truly loves all babies and children. She has the unique ability to connect with every type of child from the sassy mischief-maker, to the poorest slum child, to the cripplingly shy war orphan. She drew each of them out of themselves and helped them become the best they could be. She also amazed me with her ability to deal with such a wide variety of types of parents and their styles of mothering or fathering. Not all of the parents agreed with how Nanny Brenda ran her nursery but she had the amazing confidence of her training and Nanny Brenda was able to function well, regardless of the way the rest of the household was run. Her true and abiding love for her charges was an inspiration and if I had half the patience and positive attitude that she did, I think I would consider myself a near-saint!


The nannies are out with their prams. Being outdoors every day was very important to them! |
The nannies are out with their prams. Being outdoors every day was very important to them!


Even if you have no interest is the profession of child rearing or in children in general, I believe this book would be enjoyed by so many people. Nanny Brenda’s personal philosophies on life deserve exploring for their relevance to our own lives. I hope some of you have a chance to enjoy this fun and fascinating book!

Peace and health,


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