I'm not sure why, but the other day, a word suddenly popped into my head - Diddakoi. I remembered it was the title of one of my favourite childhood books and was later made into a TV series called Kizzy. I'd owned the book, but it had somehow got lost as I'd grown up and moved house. I looked it up on Ebay and couldn't find it there, but I did manage to buy it for literally a few pence from Amazon Marketplace!
When it arrived, I was really happy to discover it was the same one I'd had, with photos of Vanessa Furst (the actress who had played Kizzy in the TV series) on the front and back cover. Just looking at the pictures brought back happy memories and as I began to read, large chunks of the story came flooding back into my mind. I almost felt as though I was back living with my parents, reading late into the night if a book was good enough.
I read this in a couple of days. I could have finished it in one sitting, but just couldn't find the time. Then today, I took the opportunity to complete it and I can say that I enjoyed it just as much as an adult, as I had done as a child. I shall now lend it to my children to see what they think. Hopefully they will find the magic in those pages too. A good book is a wonderful thing to share.
So what is the book about? Well, it centres on a little girl of about seven who is called Kizzy. She is a 'diddakoi' or half-gypsy. She lives in a wagon with her elderly Grandma. The wagon stays in an orchard owned by Admiral Twiss, in the grounds of Amberhurst House. Kizzy has a horse called Joe, who she loves immensely and her life is a simple, but happy one.
Then things begin to change. First, the interfering Mrs. Cuthbert takes it upon herself to report Kizzy for not attending school and she is soon informed that she has to. The children see her as being different, an outsider, and make her life a misery with their teasing - particularly Mrs. Cuthbert's snobby daughter, Prudence. Kizzy is called names and taunted - 'tinker', 'gypsy gypsy joker, get a red hot poker' and with spiteful jibes about selling flowers and clothes pegs.
But worse is yet to come as her Gran dies. Now Kizzy has no one to look after her and nowhere to live. What is going to happen to her and how will she cope, as she is forced to change her lifestyle and conform?
The rest of the book is about her journey and of course, I don't want to spoil it by telling you much more of the story, but suffice to say, it has a happy ending. The Diddakoi is an unusual book in some respects. First published in 1972, it does seem slightly dated in some ways, but it is also brave. The author, Rumer Godden, is not afraid to describe vicious scenes of bullying and violence, which are upsetting and shocking.
Our heroine Kizzy is hardly faultless. She spits and bites; she is outspoken and cheeky, she often seems to be ungrateful. This makes her all the more real and easy to relate to. You champion her throughout and admire her spirit, but there are times you frown at her impudence and that makes her very convincing. You won't find a sugar sweet syrupy goody-goody here.
The book is 140 pages long and split into seven chapters, which make it ideal for children reading it themselves or adults reading to them. Each chapter has a lovely line drawing at the start too, which adds to its charm.
I remembered the characters as I was reading - the lovely Clem Oliver who befriends her, the horrible girls who bully and tease her. The occupants of Amberhurst House - Admiral Twiss, his servant Peters and Nat who looks after the horses. The irritating Mrs. Cuthbert, the kindly Blounts and the wonderful Miss. Brooke. It all came to life again, just as it had some thirty years ago.
I loved this book. It can take a few pages to get into the style, as the conversation regularly changes from reported speech to discussion in speech marks to what someone is thinking or might have said. Again though, this becomes less of a problem as the book goes on.
Overall, I would recommend the book to anyone of around seven or eight upwards. It would also be ideal for any child on the receiving end of bullying, as it shows how you can cope with it and eventually turn the situation around.
The prose is evocative without too much unnecessary description. The gypsy traditions are explained with understanding and admiration. The characters are all brought to life and the story is a magical read. I just hope one day the TV series is shown again or it is released on DVD, as I would love to see that too.