A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Satchkin Patchkin, will you lift the latchkin? Satchkin Patchkin, will you lift the latch?
When I read stories to my eldest daughter, one of her absolute favourites was this book: Satchkin Patchkin, by Helen Morgan. Written in 1966, it’s the story of a little green magic man who lives ‘like a leaf’ in an apple tree.
It was the most comforting of bedtime stories. The apple tree in question belongs to a poor old lady who’s always being bullied and exploited by her landlord, who is ‘a lean man, a mean man, a man without a smile’.
In true fairy story fashion, in spite of her dire straits, the old lady shows kindness to the little hobgoblin Satchkin Patchkin. And in return, over a series of short and satisfying tales, Satchkin Patchkin pays her back, by thwarting and foiling the rotten old landlord until, in the end, the lovely old lady is well-off and comfortable.
(OK, I admit it: it’s the sort of story that has political appeal too, in the same way as Martin Waddell’s Farmer Duck. I love it when a mean old capitalist gets taught a lesson by a hardworking commoner. You can’t start ’em too young and we need the moral of the story today more than ever).
As blogger Nick Campbell points out on the A Pile of Puffins site, the book was written at a time when there was a renewed interest in ‘earth magic’ and the hobgoblin character featured in a few children’s stories at the time. Perhaps another reason why it feels very evocative to anyone from the the ‘Watch with Mother’ generation.
One of the other real charms about the book is the way it lends itself so well to being read aloud to a young child. The author uses language like a song: some favourite lines are repeated, so the reader and listener know what’s coming.
Not too long ago, my daughter (now all grown up) was reminiscing about it, so I went to fetch it from the bookshelf, only to discover it had somehow disappeared. (Is there a book hobgoblin that pinches stories, I wonder? I never throw books away, and yet they somehow are often missing when I go to look for them).
And then I was heartbroken to discover it had gone out of print. A certain international online bookstore had a couple of buying options – one of them cost £10,000, so I had to pass, but in the end I did manage to find a pre-loved copy online that wasn’t in too poor a condition. So Satchkin Patchkin graces my library once more.
It made me wonder too about the author. Helen Morgan wrote some stories that are apparently more famous – the Mary Kate series (1960s) and The Witch Doll (1991, I think). Because Helen Morgan is not an unusual name, there are several authors who share it and I am struggling to find any verifiable biographical details for her.
But I’d campaign for a reprint of this old favourite any day. And I’d like her to know that those sing-song lines from Satchkin Patchkin still make me and my daughter smile.
Bea left journalism to study for a Creative Writing PhD at Newcastle University. The children’s novel written as part of that, The Serpent House, was published by Curious Fox in June 2014. It is a historical time-fantasy inspired by the medieval leper hospital once sited in the village where Bea now lives. Before being commissioned by Curious Fox, it was shortlisted for a Times/Chicken House Award.
The Serpent House was Bea’s first novel for children, although she has two adult crime/suspense novels published by Legend Press. The Misper was published by The Conrad Press in 2018.
In 2014, Bea worked with Fiction Express on an interactive e-book where school pupils read a chapter each week and chose what should happen next. Bea then wrote the next chapter in time for the following Friday! The paperback version of the book, My Cousin Faustina, is now published by ReadZone Books.
She is programme leader in creative writing for the Open College of the Arts and lecturer in journalism at Leeds Beckett University.