This former public relations officer for the Shell Group is an itinerant traveller and prolific writer. Sivers (her real name is Brenda Bowering) has travelled from the Arctic Circle to Tijuana and the Caribbean. She has also spent a year traversing Europe in a caravan, and has lived in Zambia, Kenya and Canada. But it is London that she writes best about.
Jammy Dodgers Get Filthy Rich: By Bowering Sivers, Macmillan, 390 pages, Rs245.
The extended Perkinski family is known in Victorian London as the family that lives on the wrong side of the law. Dodging the police is an art the youngest of the Perkinskis learns before anything else. Jem, Ned and Billy—the Perkinski boys—are the Jammy Dodgers working the dirty London streets. They live with their Ma, Pa and Grandma in two caravans in seedy Devil’s Acre. Their biggest kick comes from helping uncle Rudd in his nocturnal adventures. Rudd is a star in the underworld.
An idyllic, thieving life is slowly shattered when Billy—the youngest Perkinski—is adopted by Lady Eden, who has taken a liking for the half-starved lad, and her husband, Sir Edmund. The “toffs”, as the aristocratic rich were commonly referred to, live in the most posh part of town. Educating Billy and transforming him into a gentleman is a trying affair for the Eden couple—who have five children, all girls—and the entire household. To the horror of the strict English governess and senior members of the family, the girls’ vocabulary now includes low-class Perkinski-speak such as “blimey”, “nicking” and “crushers” (for police).
Trouble, for Billy, rears its ugly head when Lady Eden loses her precious necklace adorned by the huge Star of India. Billy’s cousin Sam the footman, is accused of the crime and jailed (to be transported to Australia—the punishment prevalent at the time). Billy knows that Sam is innocent, and that it is the butler Pole and the governess, Miss Jermyn, who are the real culprits. Meanwhile, the butler and the governess frame Billy, accusing him of stealing a valuable thimble. Billy meets with the same fate as Sam. To make matters worse, Pole and Miss Jermyn move out respectably.
But the criminals hadn’t bargained for the Jammy Dodgers, Alice—the youngest daughter of Sir Edmund and Lady Eden—and uncle Rudd. Keeping her “eyes and ears open”, Alice discovers some sinister things happening at her ailing aunt Hildegarde’s house. Lady Eden insists detective inspector Craddock reopen the case. In a free-for-all finish to the story, the Perkinskis manage to nab Pole (aka Silas Fox) and Jermyn.
As Sivers explains in the book, a criminal in Victorian England could be whipped, sent to prison, hanged or transported to Australia, Bermuda or Gibraltar. It was a common phenomenon to put children as young as six in jail because they were “sleeping rough” in doorways or even knocking on doors and running away. In the 1800s, quacks and diseases such as cholera were rampant. Becoming really rich was the only way out of misfortune.
Sivers writes both for adults and children, but it is the Jammy Dodgers series that has made her a hit with young audiences. She was nominated—and shortlisted—for the Stockport Children’s Award for her first Dodgers book—Jammy Dodgers On The Run. The others in the series are Jammy Dodgers Go Underground and the forthcoming Jammy Dodgers In Deadly Danger. The Stockport award was instituted to raise the profile of reading for pleasure and to create a community of readers in schools across Stockport. It is run by the Stockport School Library Service, and books shortlisted by librarians are voted on by local school pupils.
The writer is the editor of Heek (e-heek.com) , a children’s magazine.
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