Monday 23 August 2021

Jill Murphy: 5/7/49 - 18/8/21

You can probably just about see from this picture that this is a well-worn book. You'll see it even better from the picture below: one page has a tear in it and both are creased from frequent handling.

It's well-worn because it is well-loved. It was probably the book we read more than any other when our children were small. Just to see that picture, with the house, and the moon, and the cat, and the car, and the owl swooping across the night sky - and those first words: 'The hour was late." - takes me back to that moment when it's bedtime, and a child is curled up by your side, and together you know that you are about to embark on a magical incantation.

Yet there's no obvious magic in the story. It's a simple tale of Mr Bear, who is finding it very difficult to get to sleep. He tries going into Baby Bear's room, into the living room, into the kitchen, into the garden, into his car; but everywhere he goes, there is some noise that keeps him awake. Finally, he goes back into the house to his own bed, and is just drifting off... when the alarm goes!

But the pictures are perfect - the bears' expressions are brilliant - and the words are beautifully balanced and so good to read aloud. I read this so many times I knew it off by heart: I remember one time when I was shopping, with my first child in a pushchair. He started to get fractious. I recited Peace At Last, and all grew calm.

The book was written and illustrated by Jill Murphy, who also created the Large family (elephants, naturally), but is perhaps most famous for the Worst Witch series, which is about a girl called Mildred Hubble and her trials and tribulations at a boarding school for witches. The books, and the TV series which they gave rise to, where much loved by my daughter (and me too) - but Peace At Last has always retained the crown, and continues to do so with my grandchildren.

And yet I realised when I read the other day that Jill Murphy had died, at the far-too-young age of 72, that in an age when we know so much about so many writers, I knew nothing at all about her. I don't know why this is. From the photographs of her, she looks lovely, with a huge smile and an obvious sense of fun: she seems to radiate happiness. Perhaps she didn't court publicity: perhaps she didn't need to, and could simply allow her books to speak for her.

I'm so sorry she has died so soon. I wish her, as I wish all of us, Peace At Last.


Lynne Benton said...

Thank you for this, Sue - I quite agree! "Five Minutes Peace", with the Large family of elephants, was my absolute favourite - it was obvious she knew exactly what family life was like! So sad to know there won't be any more of her books.

Penny Dolan said...

Jill Murphy's books seem, from all the response on social & other media to have been beloved by at least a couple of generations. I've come across many young fans of Mildred Hubble in schools and grown-ups as well as children always love her bedtime books.
Real family storytime reading!

Thank you for posting this tribute on the ABBA blog

There's a few Jill Murphy Obituaries appearing now,too.

catdownunder said...

I read so many of her books so many times to some of the profoundly disabled children I taught. The simplicity of some of them was so right for them.

Hilary Hawkes said...

This is such a lovely tribute. We loved Jill Murphy's stories and illustrations in our house too. They were firm favourites. I especially adored Peace at Last :)

Nick Garlick said...

Only just caught up with this. What a wonderful tribute!

Paul May said...

Thanks for this tribute, Sue. The Worst Witch was published in 1974 and I found it strange when Harry Potter came along more than 20 years later that so few people were aware of those books. And Peace at Last is one of the picture books that I knew by heart when I was teaching 5-year-olds, many of whom took their first steps in reading with the Bear family.

Sue Purkiss said...

Thanks so much, everyone!