Booknotes: The Kitchen Madonna

January 7, 2010 @ 8:31 pm | Filed under:

The Kitchen Madonna by Rumer Godden

Gregory never forgot things—”He’s like a small elephant,” said Father—and a week later, while Gregory, Janet, and Marta were having tea in the kitchen, he took his chance. Marta had made a wonderful cake-tart of apricots glazed with jam and they had eaten and drunk and laughed. Marta’s usually sallow cheeks were quite red; her eyes, which were often so dull, were bright. There was not a trace of sadness in the air until Gregory put down his cup and asked in his small, quiet way, “What did you have in your kitchen, Marta, that we don’t have in ours?”

Oh, I didn’t know, I didn’t know! The Kitchen Madonna has been in my pile for months. One of you, someone out there, wrote about it a while back, and whatever you said made me hunt up a used copy. It arrived old and drab and worn, much like the Marta of the story, and I stuck it on a shelf and forgot about it. It turned up during a housecleaning last week, and I picked it quite absently this afternoon—and wound up sobbing my way through it. Oh my.

The baby was asleep in my lap and Wonderboy, who is feverish today, slumped against my shoulder, dozing, while beside us the four girls played a Wii game. I ought to have been up getting dinner on. I ought to have been doing a good many things, but I fell into that book and still haven’t climbed back out. I’m staring at a picture, a crooked golden crown, a painted blue sky, a flickering red lamp.

It’s Rumer Godden, so of course I expected it to be a good story, a moving one even. But just how moving, I had no idea. And that’s all I’m going to say about it—here. We can talk more in the comments, if you like.

Like the stable in Narnia, some things are bigger on the inside than you’d ever guess from their (old, worn, drab) exteriors.

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27 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Nina says:

    I just placed it on my library hold list. There was one other hold placed on this old book in central storage. Makes me wonder, Meredith did you order it too. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve enjoyed all the Rumer Godden books I have read.

  2. Love2learn Mom says:

    Ooooooh. The Kitchen Madonna is the best! My mom read that aloud to us when we were being homeschooled and I loved it back then too and dug up a copy for our family quite a few years ago now.

    And I finally read Betsy-Tacy for the first time. Just finished it last night. 🙂

  3. Emily says:

    Now I have to pick it up, she’s one of my favorite authors!!

  4. michiel says:

    Thank you! I love Rumer Godden and forget about her. I’m going to look for this book.

  5. Charlotte (Matilda) says:

    We read it for my kids’ book club a few years ago and since I was leading the discussion and doing the craft, I read it first. Looking at it, I thought, “Oh…Looks small, easy read!” Even when I read it out loud later to my younger kids I had to choke out the ending with tears in my eyes and giant lump in my throat.

  6. Jennifer Gregory Miller says:

    Isn’t it fabulous? I’m just so upset that I never heard of Rumer Godden until a few years ago. Now I feel like a glutton eating up anything she wrote — but it’s harder to find her books now!

  7. Penny in VT says:

    We just finished her “Miss Happiness and Miss Flower” (for younger audiences)- sometimes I like her style, sometimes not, but I’ve really only read her youth books.

    I’ll have to check this one out though, that paragraph made me gasp… it’s so true, how kids point out the truth …

    Thanks for another recommendation. You are kinda dangerous, but always wonderful, in terms of my book budget lol!

  8. Melissa Wiley says:

    So Jenn or Charlotte, was it one of you who mentioned it a while back? Or maybe Melanie? Kristen? Who was it?? I’d love to know whom to thank. 🙂

    Penny, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower is one of my Rose’s favorite books. I have never read it!

  9. Michelle says:

    I picked up Kitchen Madonna and An Episode of Sparrows when someone recommended the story of Holly and Ivy for Christmas. I am not usually one to get emotional over a book but these had me! Absolutely beautiful.

  10. Jennifer says:

    I just ordered it used off amazon. I don’t usually go from review to purchase this quickly, but something about your post has me very curious.

  11. Christine says:

    My daughters really like this book. We found it thanks to Gwen on 4Real, We are big fans of her The Story of Holly and Ivy, too.

  12. mamacrow says:

    interesting fact for you – I live in Sussex, England, and worked for a term in the library in the private girl’s school to which Rumer Godden went!

  13. Love2learn Mom says:

    I heard at one point that Bethlehem Books was going to reprint this one, but then it never showed up. 🙁

  14. Melissa Wiley says:

    Jenn, you won’t regret the purchase. It’s a must-have.

    I was just thinking what a lovely wedding present it would make for the right couple—the book along with an icon and little candle.

  15. Melissa Wiley says:

    Alicia, what can we do to persuade them?

  16. Kathy Erskine says:

    Oh, thanks for this recommendation — I love Rumer Godden!

  17. Hannah says:

    Woohoo! Our public library in Austin has it! The reserve request has been officially made. O the power you wield. 🙂

    I have a dim memory of reading something by her about dolls when I was a girl. A Doll House, maybe?

  18. MelanieB says:

    Hooray! My copy just arrived in the mail. I can’t wait.


    Rumer Godden wrote quite a few wonderful books about dolls for children. There was one called The Dolls House, really a delightful story you should look it up again. Also there is a beautiful Christmas book called The Story of Holly and Ivy (which my girls got from their grandparents this year and has become an instant favorite that must be read every night). Also I’ve read Miss Happiness and Miss Flower and Little Plum, stories about Japanese dolls. I think there might be other doll books as well, but I haven’t read them.

  19. Melissa Wiley says:

    Ooh, I remember The Doll’s House from when I was a kid! Kind of creepy feel to it, right? No. Wait. I think I’m thinking of Among the Dolls by William Sleator. Two dolls, one tall and thin, one short and plump, and the girl who owns the dollhouse finds herself inside it one day, and the dolls are kind of passive-aggressive, politely hostile…am I remembering this correctly? They’re not very nice to the girl?

    So now I don’t know if I’ve read Rumer Godden’s Dolls House at all. We’ve got The Story of Holly and Ivy, and Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, which is one of Rose’s favorite books.

    Melanie, I can’t wait to hear what you think of The Kitchen Madonna.

  20. MelanieB says:

    Definitely not creepy. Godden’s Doll’s House is about two little girls with a family of dolls who inherit a doll’s house from a relative. It comes with a fancy doll who almost ruins the lives of the doll family. A beautiful story with a self-sacrificial theme. I love the way Godden intertwines the girls’ story and the dolls’ story. The way the dolls have personality and will and yet are limited in their ability to act.

  21. MelanieB says:

    Ever since I read my first Rumer Godden novel (In This House of Brede– Oh it’s supurb!!!) a few years ago, I’ve been hungrily devouring everything Godden I can get my hands on.

    While I’m not as big a fan of her Indian novels and some are definitely better than others, I’ve never found a flop by Godden. Still, I’d have to say that The Kitchen Madonna is one of her finest tales. Oh I want to go out and buy a little red lamp now.

    The only thing that would make it better is a reissue with a really good illustrator. I’d love to see something like what Barbara Conney did for The Story of Holly and Ivy. Because there are only a few pictures in the edition I have, I doubt Bella will enjoy it for several more years.

    Lissa, I think you’d definitely like An Episode of Sparrows. It has some of the same flavor as The Kitchen Madonna and it involves a garden.

  22. Sherri K. Edman says:

    Just finished The Kitchen Madonna, which I got from the library after reading this post. Oh, such a sweet and moving story! I can’t believe I’d never heard of Godden before this. I’ve just put hold requests on a lot more of her books. I just read a long and nasty horror novel about evil and despair, and Godden seems to be the perfect antidote.

  23. Jennifer Gregory Miller says:

    Bumping this old thread up because I just saw Bethlehem Books reprinted “Kitchen Madonna”!

  24. Melissa Wiley says:

    Jenn, what excellent news! Thank you!

    (Would that they had sprung for new art, though. Eek.)

  25. ana says:

    One of the most memorable read-alouds in this house. I am posting it today at PopeStNicckV. Ironic that the libraries have probably discarded the old copies, so we cna now request the new Bethlehem books edition.

  26. Jennifer Gregory Miller says:

    I agree on the art comment. I am so tickled it is hardcover, though! This will make a great gift-giving book.