Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Run Away Home by Elinor Lyon - an orphan not in possession of a fortune, must be in want of a family

Title: Run Away Home
Author: Elinor Lyon
Publication: Fidra Books, 2007 (originally published in 1953 by Hodder and Stoughton)
Genre: Children’s fiction
Setting: 1950s Scotland
Description: Cathie Harris is an unhappy occupant at St. Ursula’s Home for Female Orphans in Birmingham. At nearly 13, she is well-cared for and Miss Abbott, who runs the home, believes Cathie’s sewing could be her career if she can learn to control her temper. Cathie longs to know where she came from but all anyone knows is that she was found alone in London, wandering after a night of bombing during WWII. The only clues are a locket with a dried flower and miniature of a dark lady, a piece of a railway ticket, and a memory of white sand. Determined to trace her family, Cathie runs away to the Scottish Highlands. On the way, she meets siblings, Ian and Sovra, from earlier Lyon books, who befriend and hide her, so they can assist with her quest. 

My Impression: Reading this book makes me want to jump on the next plane for Scotland! Elinor Lyon is barely known in the US so I did not read this as a child but my friend Julie Chuba mentioned it once as one of her favorite childhood books so I requested it via InterLibrary Loan. Not every children’s book works for an adult reader but I was charmed by the story of this feisty orphan, determined to find a trace of her family. I like the parts about the orphanage, Cathie’s desperate plotting to make the urgent journey to Scotland, and her developing friendship with Ian and Sovra, the first friends she has ever had. 

When I began reading my new copy to my 9-year-old niece last week, I was amused by the editorial comments I felt necessary to provide, “In real life, it would be very dangerous to hitchhike,” and “You don’t let strangers buy you breakfast,” and wondering with her if a tiny picture in a locket would be big enough to show detail of mountain peaks, a key plot development. There are quite a few improbable coincidences in this book but they did not diminish the appeal of the book either to Tess or me. 

The foreword to this edition contains a delightful autobiography of the author who spent five years in Edinburgh as a child and developed her love of Scotland and the Highlands then. I especially appreciated Cathie’s visit to Edinburgh Castle, where I spent a day in 2015 – she would have appreciated the tea and Victoria Sponge cake I enjoyed at the cafĂ©. Lyons’ characters are like the Swallows & Amazons who are always hungry, although she specifically says she thought Ransome’s characters are so skilled at things she wanted to write about children who were less perfect. Maybe readers prefer those too: I always enjoyed the S&A books but identified most with Dorothea who is smart rather than really outdoorsy.
Source: Years ago, I sent Vanessa who was starting Fidra Books a photocopy of one of the other Elinor Lyon covers in return for the reprint of this book. It never came and I guess Fidra stopped publishing, which was too bad. However, someone in the UK was selling a copy last month and although she wouldn’t send it to the US, she sent it to my friend Nicky who mailed it to me. That’s a lot of work to get one book!


Lark said...

We had a copy of this book growing up with that exact cover! I wonder if my sister still has it. Your review totally makes me want to reread this one. :D

Katrina said...

Yet another Scottish-ish author that I've never read. I hope that the Edinburgh second-hand bookshops have some of her books - when they eventually open up again. I'll meet you in Edinburgh - some fine day!

CLM said...

Lark, if your sister still has it, the book is valuable. I found the other books by this author pleasant but not as charming as this one.

Katrina, I am supposed to be in Edinburgh in July! I know the likelihood of the trip coming off is not promising at this point, alas, so don't hold your breath for our rendezvous (although it would be awfully fun). It is an academic trip with my graduate program for the entire month: three weeks in London visiting beautiful libraries in the morning and I suppose studying in the afternoon, then a week in Edinburgh. I had been mentally pondering a trip to Skye afterward. Oh well, I will get there eventually.

Dixie Lee said...

I was very excited when I read the title, and would indeed like to read this book, but I am looking for another book called "Runaway Home."

This 8th grade reader from the Alice and Jerry Series of the 1930s was the story of a depression era family traveling in and air-stream trailer from Maine to Washington State. My mother loaned her copy to a cousin who never returned it. Does anyone else remember this?

Kelly said...

This is available at Open Library. I loved it!

Lex @ Lexlingua said...

Well, in the end Run Away from Home made it's way to you after all. I wanted to avoid the pun, but the book's had quite a journey, haha.
And as for "an orphan not in possession of a fortune, must be in want of a family" -- isn't that universally true? Especially if you read fantasy fiction, now there are a lot of kids looking for their parents, and if nothing else, managing to get their own "found families". Glad this one turned out to be so good.
~ Lex (

CLM said...

Lex, that's very funny about the book finding its way to me! And definitely true about orphans and the books about them - how I love a good orphan story.

Kelly, I didn't know about Open Library until someone mentioned it during the recent Family Sabbatical discussion. Not sure I approve but it is certainly useful! Glad you enjoyed the book. Have you read any others by Lyon?

Deb, I think Harvard has a copy of the book you want by Mabel O'Donnell at its Ed School Library. Happy to help you coax them to get it out of storage for a glimpse post-pandemic:,contains,15227651