Here is a brief but growing list of the books currently on our shelves, our tables and tucked into our bags.
Abrams, Rebecca. The Playful Self: Why Women Need Play in Their Lives. Fourth Estate Publishers, 1997.
This study from feminist academic Abrams addresses the socio-economic and gendered restrictions on women’s play, and on their playfulness. Although play is defined slightly differently in her work than in ours, she offers a detailed and data-rich explanation of how adult women all-too-often lack opportunities for play, and can effectively become play-illiterate, with dire consequences for their health and happiness. In working with children we also work with adults, and understanding how and why they might have become distanced from their own play memories and playfulness can be an important step in collaborative practice.
Allen, Marjory and Nicholson, Mary. Memoirs of an Uneducated Lady: Lady Allen of Hurtwood.
Collected by her daughter with her friend and colleague Mary, this is an engrossing memoir of one of the earliest and hardest-working campaigners for children’s play, particularly for adventure play on the Copenhagen model. A landscape architect in the 1920s and ‘30s, Lady Allen wrote Planning for Play as well as a large number of articles and other contributions, later saying “it took years of site-snatching, money-raising and propaganda before we could begin to prove that it is rewarding to welcome the exuberance of the young.”
Coverley, Merlin. Psychogeography. Pocket Essentials, 2006.
This excellent book works to elaborate upon the essentials of psychogeography, or the body of theory where psychology and geography collide. He starts with London and the Visionary Tradition, moves to Paris and the rise of the flaneur, then Situationism and Psychogeography today. This is an academic but highly readable encapsulation of some of the most brilliant but difficult to summarize theorists around.
Eisen, George. Children and Play in the Holocaust: Games Among the Shadows. University of Massachusetts press, 1988.
We know that children play in the direst of circumstances but few works bring that information into the clarity this study offers. Poignant, heartbreaking, inspiring, the stories gathered here offer profound truths about play, about children’s imagination, what the sight of children playing does for a wider community, and what it means to be human in the most desperate of circumstances.
Hanshaw, Patrick. All My Yesterdays. Tower Hamlets Council, 1992.
The sequel to Nothing is Forever, this book addresses the author’s schooldays and ‘middle years’ growing up in Wapping in the 1950s and ‘60s. Includes descriptions of such wonderfully-named games as “Hey Jimmy Knacker”.
Lewis, Richard. I Catch My Moment: Art and Writing by Children on the Life of Play. Touchstone Center Publications, 2007.
This is a tiny gem of a book that combines children’s artwork with their breathtakingly poetic descriptions of play. It’s easy to sense but difficult to explain the ways in which play reaches out to the magical, the extraordinary and the transformative, but this gives a clear-eyed sense of that process.
Litvinoff, Emanuel. Journey Through a Small Planet. Penguin Modern Classics, 2008
A remarkable memoir of Jewish Whitechapel of the author’s childhood. Born to Russian Jewish immigrants in 1915, Litvinoff went on to become a renowned poet, journalist and novelist who campaigned against racism, anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and questioned Israeli policy towards Palestinians. This is a collection of stories from a world of which now only remnants remain what he called “occasional relics, such as you’d find after a volcanic eruption or after an earthquake”.
Lumsden, Carrie. My Poplar Eastenders. Stepney, 1991.
One woman’s recollections of her life in Poplar from 1912 to 1972, this little book contains accounts of some childhood games as well as the popular (but apparently gone) activity of twirling round a lamppost at high speed hanging from a rope. It also contains a small number of photographs and a number of other details of social history.
O’Neill, Gilda. My East End: A History of Cockney London. Viking, 1999.
O’Neill takes her own rememberings as the jumping-off point for this textured and lyrical oral history of the area, combining historical research with personal stories shared through interview and correspondence with a range of people born, raised or both in the East End of London.
Opie, Iona. The People in the Playground. Oxford University Press, 1993.
Iona and her husband Peter worked together for nearly 40 years cataloging and studying the games and jokes of children. In this collection from 1978 – 1980 she makes a charming and informative diary of the playground, providing a sense of the richness of the playground social context, as well as detailing some of her interactions with the children in the course of her research.
Poulsen, Charles. Scenes… From a Stepney Youth. THAP Books, 1988.
With original drawings and historical photographs, this book eloquently describes Stepney in the 1920s and ‘30s, with particular interest in stories of the Jewish communities in Whitechapel and the author’s early days working in the fur trade, finishing with a little of East End politics and Marxism.
Reynolds, Richard. On Guerilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries. Bloomsbury, 2008.
This brilliantly coloured book explains the hows and whys of this movement of personal engagement with the landscape through gardening, from the need for us all to cultivate food near our homes to the beautification of our environments. These are profound, personal and political ambitions, with practical steps to take.
Sokoloff, Bertha. Edith and Stepney: 60 Years of Education, Politics and Social Change. Stepney Books, 1987.
This is an account by a friend of Edith Ramsay, a locally renowned figure who was eventually awarded an MBE for her work in the area. Involved in all sectors of Stepney life, this account is both a history of the area and of one formidable member.
Young, Michael and Willmott, Peter. Family and Kinship in East London. Penguin Classics, 2007.
This is a reprint of the landmark 1957 text which examined with sociological precision the early effects of the housing estate upon familial structures and ties in Bethnal Green. It is a detailed and thorough, though still vividly descriptive, look at the socio-economics of place and community in the area that still resonates powerfully today.
Kelleher, Susan. The Games we Played. English Heritage, 2007.
An A-Z book of traditional street games played in England through the decades, most needing no materials other than children themselves, or simple found objects.