Book Review: While Mrs. Coverlet Was Away

I wish I knew why some books from childhood stayed in my memory, helpfully with titles intact, while others faded out. It well may be a question of how long they stayed in my library’s collection, considering I went to the same library from (roughly) birth to age eighteen. I can only assume that While Mrs. Coverlet Was Away by Mary Nash stayed in the collection for a long time, since it stayed in my memory.

The Mrs. Coverlet of the title is housekeeper to the three Persever children, whose mother has died and whose father is in New Zealand on business. When Mrs. Coverlet has to rush suddenly away on a family emergency, the three children decide that they can manage quite well on their own without any adults to interfere. They find it very easy to hide Mrs. Coverlet’s absence from their neighbors, but keeping enough money is more of a challenge—until they discover the key in youngest brother Toad’s strangely-colored cat, and in a concoction he cooks up with remarkable results.

This is a cute, quaint little book that I had fun revisiting. Although—they say that when you go back to a place you visited as a child it may seem smaller. And this book seemed shorter! I was sure that the question of the Toad’s cat wasn’t resolved until the end of the book (not halfway through), and that the townspeople became strangely energized by the Toad’s sauce for, well, quite a while (not a chapter or two).

That briefness aside, I still had fun with this.  Malcolm and Molly are delightful children-trying-to-be-adults. And not at all in the sense of dealing with traumatic things beyond their age—but in the way they feel so confident that they have the situation under control, that they know the best actions to take, and especially in a certain world-weary attitude they have towards their younger brother, who after all cannot be expected to be as mature as they are. The Toad is great fun as the annoying and surly younger brother you love in spite of himself.

There was one element of the book I found slightly disturbing (and it wasn’t the three children managing without adult supervision). The Toad is convinced to sell his surprisingly valuable cat, with much persuasion and with much very reasonable insistence that he’ll only agree if he likes the buyer. Well and good, but what bothered me is that the buyer gives Toad the perfect cat as a replacement—which would be fine, except that the cat was the buyer’s cat. Meaning she essentially traded up for a more monetarily valuable model, which just seems entirely wrong. That was a bit I thought I must have misremembered—but no!

Despite the suspiciously mercenary pet owner, this was a fun (if brief) read that I think adults can enjoy and kids certainly can—although it may give them alarming ideas about the superfluous-ness of adults!  And I think I will need to hunt down the next two books in the series that I never before knew existed.  My library must not have had those…

Other reviews…nothing!  Google turned up references, but nary a review.  Let me know if you wrote one!

Buy it here: While Mrs. Coverlet Was Away

7 thoughts on “Book Review: While Mrs. Coverlet Was Away

  1. I also consider this book once of those that “has stuck in my memory” for all these years (and I’m 30 years older than you – and read this as a teen). I still have my old copy and love the story. The only downside is that the book made me believe all these years that male tortoise shell colored cats were very rare and valuable. Rare, yes maybe. But valuable, actually no (I finally looked it up). Amazing how that had ingrained itself into my memory as fact. It is a great book though, and a very enjoyable read.

  2. I enjoyed this book as a kid, which tells you how long ago it was written. Even then I was amused how everyone’s names reflected their personalities or jobs. I really like your assertion that a story about children trying to be adults doesn’t have to involve unspeakable trauma; the most inconsequential things are often the most memorable. On the other hand, what would today’s publishing world make of the fact that the miracle elixir is basically homemade Red Bull spiked with some pills found by the youngest kid? I know, it’s just “vitamins,” but still, don’t try this at home.

    I read the second book but don’t remember much about it. Didn’t know there was a third.

  3. dianem57

    I remember that one as a fun book, too. I didn’t realize that no one else has reviewed it. Surprising! And the ASPCA would probably have something to say about the mercenary pet owner, unless both cats are properly cared for. 🙂

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