Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Miss Pickerell Conquers My Heart (1951-1983)

I have spent the afternoon reading a series of books by Ellen MacGregor and Dora Pantell about Miss Pickerell and her adventures. Or rather, they are by Ellen MacGregor until 1954 when she died, and Dora Pantell afterwards, although from '54 onwards both names appear. There is a useful link here: Link for Dora Pantell

I really didn't expect to like these books--they are about an old lady who goes into space (Miss P is very like Miss Marple) and to the bottom of the sea etc, etc, and I thought they would be terribly patronising.

Not a bit. In fact, they may be some of the best sf for children I've read so far, MacGregor was a librarian, and Pantell a curriculum advisor, and both of them understand absolutely that science (rather than technology) is about ideas and curiosity and synthesis.

This is what I like about these books:
Miss Pickerell learns by asking questions which are grounded in context.
She reads and sometimes knows more about the world that people assume.
Infodumps are sort and contextual and quite often Miss P fazes out because she already knows the information.
Miss P is interested in science, as well as technology.
Miss P wonders. She looks at the world around her and thinks about it.
Miss P doesn’t mind being wrong as long as being wrong teaches her something.
Miss P is a synthesizer. She takes the information she has—and often information from earlier books—and uses it to develop ideas. (...Goes Undersea—uses the space suit techniques from her Mars trip).
Miss P is a researcher. She uses her common sense to develop techniques that sometimes take her away from the common sense solution, to something more interesting (…Harvests the Sea)
Miss P exists in a parallel world in which the moon is settled, and human presence there is taken for granted (this is handled particularly effectively, ...On the Moon

The best bit is how Miss Pickerell works out ideas, there are never Eureka moments of genious but always a process of ideas, research, testing, add in new evidence and start again. In ....Harvests the Sea, we even get offered a full research plan as to how they are going to test for a pollutant, check that it is *the* pollutant, and then trace it back.

Pantell even expresses the increasing speed of change in the modern world, Miss Pickerell frequently starts by consulting the encyclopedia, and then adding evidence as she finds it to modify the entry in her mind. By ...Meets Mr. H.U.M.(1965) however, this no longer works, The Encyclopedia update, newly bought, is now eight months old and in the world of computers (the book's concern), that is a generation ago.

At the end of all her books, Miss P’s world has changed, either by her efforts or by someone elses. No genies get pushed back into bottles, the world moves on and Miss P goes on to use her experiences in other adventures.


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