A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny's Story

A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny's Story

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by Brenda Ashford

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Brenda Ashford was a real-life Mary Poppins. Caring for over one hundred children during her lifetime as a nanny, her charges ranged from the pampered sons and daughters of grand estates or the tough offspring of WWII evacuees in London’s East End. Now, in A Spoonful of Sugar, Britain’s longest-serving nanny shares her endearing, amusing, and


Brenda Ashford was a real-life Mary Poppins. Caring for over one hundred children during her lifetime as a nanny, her charges ranged from the pampered sons and daughters of grand estates or the tough offspring of WWII evacuees in London’s East End. Now, in A Spoonful of Sugar, Britain’s longest-serving nanny shares her endearing, amusing, and sometimes downright bizarre experiences turning generations of children into successful adults.
Nanny Brenda says:

“All mothers are quite brilliant in my eyes and nine times out of ten don’t realize the sacrifices they undertake or the powerful contributions they make.”

“Little folk deserve a childhood that’s full of fun. It’s the single most valuable lesson in my eyes.”

“Everyone knows you simply can’t retire from love. Children leave you; you don’t leave children. That’s the natural order of things.”

“I have puzzled many times over the ingredients for a perfect recipe for a happy home. It needs to be a place with parents who worship their offspring. Throw in some stability, a dash of routine, and respect.”

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Britain's beloved oldest living nanny tells all; she's cared for more than 100 children in 62 years.
Kirkus Reviews
Reflecting on her 62 years as a nanny, Ashford presents a delightful compilation of memories, child care tips and insights from a radically different time and place. Contemporary mothers will discover the trove of practical advice just as useful today as it was in 20th-century England. At the age of 92, she has been heralded as Britain's longest-serving nanny. Ashford began her "nanny boot camp" training at the prestigious Norland Institute in 1939. "I never dreamed when I graduated from the Norland Institute at eighteen that I'd still be looking after babies when I was eighty!" writes the author. Ashford's career included caring for children of aristocrats, working in a war nursery, caring for a rather shifty family with dubious associates and working at a "sprawling family farmhouse…set in acres of beautiful grounds." Ashford ably weaves together her personal observations on social and cultural changes and her child care stories. "As we entered the 1950s a nanny in a uniform seemed strangely outdated," she writes. "Society was changing, and I had to be seen to be changing with it." The author never married, but rather devoted her life to creating the happiest homes she could for her families. For a decade, Ashford was what she called a "troubleshooting nanny," moving from house to house, helping new mothers get back on their feet and establishing a stable routine for the household. At 80, she came out of retirement, helping a young mother who had once been one of her charges with her two children. Ashford recounts a life filled with love, devotion and hard work--a snapping good story by a true British treasure.
From the Publisher
"For anglophiles and Downton Abbey fans, a memoir of 62 years of nannying."
-The New York Times

"Ashford presents a delightful compilation of memories, child care tips and insights from a radically different time and place. . . .  A snapping good story by a true British treasure." -Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.64(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.18(d)

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Meet the Author

Brenda Ashford is a graduate of Norland College, a world-famous institute for British nannies. For sixty-two years, she cared for more than one hundred children, making her Britain’s longest-serving nanny. She lives outside London.

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A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny's Story 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
ruthhill74 More than 1 year ago
I honestly don't know where to begin. A book written by a 92-year-old woman who is still going strong? And she is a part of an online blog tour? And her book is available in e-book? All of these things are already amazing. And that was even before I began the book. I had a sense that this would be a great book, but I had no idea how inspiring and amazing it would be! This memoir is an unbelievable book that chronicles Brenda's 60-some years of being a British nanny. I have to admit that I cannot imagine doing these things at my age of almost 39, but to still be taking care of babies at the age of 80? Good grief! The woman is unbelievable. And she tells her story with honesty, humor, and heart. I found many gems in this story that I wasn't expecting. Child-rearing tips, practical wisdom, recipes, and even a few history lessons. Not much romance, but there is some to satisfy the romance-lovers amongst us. I won't spoil any of that for you. Brenda's memory is as sharp as a whip, and it makes me wish I had had her as a nanny when I was growing up. It even made me realize that I was probably sorely lacking in some of my mothering skills since I have tended to sometimes take the "easy" way out. But I'm not going to beat myself up over that. In short, this is a book that all women should read. I think everyone could take something from it. There are no bedroom scenes, and while anatomy is discussed, it is necessary--you'll understand. It is not inappropriate. As to profanity, I would not really call anything in the book "profanity." I call this clean. I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I was not financially compensated, and all opinions are 100 percent mine.
kherbrand More than 1 year ago
This was such an easy book to read.  The words just flowed out of the pages.  You could really feel the passion that Ms. Ashford had for those children in her care -- really all children.  Reading the book, it was hard to picture a 90+ woman writing it, as the spirit and energy was of someone much younger. As you can see from the Pearls of Wisdom above, she is very honest and down to earth, and I don't know of anyone who would not benefit from some of her advice. About the first 1/3 of the book was dedicated to her own childhood and how she came about deciding she wanted to be a nanny, as well as her training at Norland Institute. For the most part, the rest of the book is dedicated to the time she spent with some of her charges and their families.  From humor to tragedy, she has experienced it all. For some reason, and this is probably just the English flavor that the book had, but it reminded me of the books written by James Herriott and his experiences of being a vet.  They just seemed to have the same rhythm and style and leave you with just a feeling of goodwill.
MeteorFlower More than 1 year ago
Brenda Ashford spent 62 years working as a Norland Nanny. When I saw this book my first response was “She was like Mary Poppins!” My love for that movie is what made me pick up this book for review and I will be buying my own copy on release day. Now at 91 years old, Ashford shares her life story with us readers and it is riveting. From the moment Ashford held her little brother David to hiding in the shelter with her charges while bombs explode around her, you will be sucked in. This woman has lived an amazing life and not only does she share the story with us, but she gives us recipes and advice on child rearing based on her own experience. A Spoonful of Sugar is one of those literary treasures that will stick with you the rest of your life. Sorry Marry Poppins, you had it easy! Although I admit, Brenda Ashford’s life had some magic in it amidst the hardship and heartache. This was how it really was back then. Thank you to Providence Book Promotions and Doubleday for the review copy. It in no way influenced my review.