24/04/2014 12:20 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

The Mother Market

Olivia Gordan

I knew there was a copy of my sister's and my childhood favourite, 1966 masterpiece The Mother Market (also printed as the Mummy Market), somewhere in my parents' house, and have been searching for it for years.

I wanted to reread it so much I even looked for a copy online, only to discover that it's tragically out of print and that surviving copies cost hundreds.

Finally, last weekend, clearing out an old bookshelf, I found the battered old book my parents bought for my sister in New York in the late 1960s. It was hidden at the back in a dusty corner, the cover almost fallen off and the first pages lost forever.

To my joy on rereading it, this is one of those classics from childhood which not only makes a lifelong impression on child readers but is an exquisite fable on motherhood for grown-ups too.

Three children are living with a charmless housekeeper who they call The Gloom. Then a mysterious neighbour tells them about the existence of the Mummy Market. Here, potential mothers set out stalls and children can 'shop' for a new mother.

What a brilliant childhood fantasy!

Author Nancy Brelis thought it all out so well - the children try out several tempting-looking mothers including a protective type, an outdoorsy 'Mom' and a child psychologist, only for each experiment to end in tears.

Finally, they find their real mother at the market - but she's not the one they thought she would be.

The characterisation of a true mother - imperfect, shy, and just somehow 'right', had me near tears by the end of the book.

Little is known about Nancy Brelis, and this was her only book. Her daughter, Tia, wrote and directed a film adaptation called Trading Mom in 1994, not widely acclaimed.

There are fans of the book all over the internet wondering just who Nancy Brelis was and how on earth this classic went out of print. She is as much of a mystery as her extraordinary writing.

Read more with our regular kids' book club.