Books Your Kid Should Read

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The Diddakoi

20 August 2008

The Diddakoi
by Rumer Godden

Rumer Godden is on my top ten list of the all-time best children's book authors around, so it's a shame that she's known primarily in the States as the inspiration for Demi Moore's and Bruce Willis's daughter's name. (No, really: that's where they got it.) Godden, a British author, wrote books for children and adults from the 1930s all the way until her death in the late 1990s, but her best stuff for kids (in this blogger's opinion) was published in the 60s and 70s. The Diddakoi, which won the Whitbread Award, tells the story of Kizzy Lovell, a gypsy child whose world is turned upside down when her beloved grandmother dies and she's force to leave her traditional lifestyle and start attending regular school as a ward of the county. Godden has a real feeling for culture clashes of this kind, and Kizzy's story is treated with sensitivity and affection. Godden's distinctive style really draws the reader into the story, making it feel immediate and vital: Kizzy's spirited (and often downright naughty) defense of her gypsy ways; the courage of the single woman council member who defends Kizzy and provides a safe haven for her; and the cruelty of Kizzy's schoolmates in the face of Kizzy's "otherness," are all beautifully rendered. It's a wonderful book for learning something about a vanishing culture, but Kizzy's story will resonate with anyone who knows what it feels like to be stranded in a new place, feeling scared, unloved, and unwanted.