24 February 2009

Children's Books

I'm not absolutely sure, and I've put them in date order because order of preference is too hard, but I think these might be the ones I'd keep from my collection of nigh on two thousand, if I could have only twenty five. It would be a devilish hard choice, mind!

Alice Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carroll (1864)
(or Thogh the Looking Glass, as I was convinced it was called on first reading, aged seven)

Eight Cousins (or possibly An Old-Fashioned Girl) Louisa M Alcott (1875)
(Both much nicer than Little Women, in my not so humble opinion)

Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard Eleanor Farjeon (1921)

Bunkle Butts In M Pardoe (1943)

The Little White Horse Elizabeth Goudge (1946)
(still the favourite!)

The Lost Staircase Elinor M Brent-Dyer (1946)
(Brent-Dyer in a more romantic/ historic mood)

Eudoria’s Broomstick Victor Knowland (1950)

(totally obscure fantasy adventure, but with typically postwar emphasis on food - especially steamed puddings, for some reason)

A Swarm in May William Mayne (1955)

The Warden’s Niece Gillian Avery (1963)
(I had the opportunity of telling the author how much I loved it and she was disappointed because it was one she'd written so long ago!)

Nurse Matilda Christianna Brand (1964)
(always makes me think of my hordes of cousins, knowing the author was similarly placed)

Bottersnikes and Gumbles A S Wakefield (1967)
(more fantasy - the cranky snikes versus the jolly gumbles in the Australian Bush)

The Owl Service Alan Garner (1967)
(still one of the most haunting things I've ever read)

A Wizard of Earthsea Ursula K Le Guin (1968)

Creed Country Jenny Overton (1969)
(family dynamics and historical research, so two favourite themes combined)

Septimus and the Danedyke Mystery Stephen Chance (1971)
(about as much a children's book as Garner's are...)

The Cuckoo Tree Joan Aiken (1971)

The Cricket Term Antonia Forest (1974)

Robinsheugh Eileen Dunlop (1975)
(more time travel, this time in Scotland)

The Bassumtyte Treasure Jane Curry (1978)
(the one I always read when I'm ill, for some reason: it always takes me out of myself, perhaps because of the time travel/ reincarnation element)

A Midsummer Night’s Death K M Peyton (1978)

Fire and Hemlock Diana Wynne Jones (1984)
(technically by far the best of her books - this one's literature, to my mind)

The Hounds of the Morrigan Pat O’Shea (1985)

They Do Things Differently There Jan Mark (1994)
(completely surreal!)

Artemis Fowl and the Eternity Code Eoin Colfer (2003)

The New Policeman Kate Thompson (2007)
Celtic fantasy with lots of Irish traditional tunes woven in

What I noticed when I first attempted this exercise was the preponderance of 1960s and 70s titles - so books I'd encountered in my teens and twenties rather than my childhood. Sadly, I notice that I’ve virtually given up on contemporary children’s books, apart from those by authors whose work I already know (always happy to read Diana Wynne Jones, Eoin Colfer, Kate Thompson), which is a great shame. But too many of the current crop are all alike to me – too often I find that fifteen or twenty pages in I’m struggling to remember the characters’ names – and can’t feel very bothered about them anyway. That's a fairly unfortunate observation when you consider that one of my favourite genres is fantasy, which should be memorable if nothing else.

Publishers are far too obviously desperate to find the next J K Rowling. There actually may not be one, guys, or at least not for a bit. I’d say the previous comparable equivalent was Enid Blyton, and she published her last full length work in 1965!


Jilly said...

I loved the Swarm in May, The Septimus books, The Owl Service - better than all his others in my opinion, any of Diana Wynne Jones, K M Peyton - I liked the Pennington books but hadn't come across the one you mention. As many people said about Harry Potter a good children's book is a good book for anyone.

NAM said...

Absolutely - which is what's so disappointing about many of the current output - maybe I've just finally got too old to read them, but I don't think so. 'A Midsummer Night's Death' is one of a trio of books about Jonathan Meredith, who I seem to recall is an acquaintance of Ruth Hollis (later Mrs Pennington). I also very much enjoyed 'Unquiet Spirits' which was a one-off, I think. Now to revise the similar list of adult fiction - though as you say, a good book's a good book, whatever the age of the reader.

Jilly said...

I might just do my own list of adult fiction. It would definitely puzzle me to keep it to 25!
I must look out for 'A Midsummer Night's Death'

Ethna said...

Eudoria's Broomstick is my favourite book of all time. And yes there are a lot of steamed puddings and also some terrific names. I'm smiling now as I think of this amazing book. Thank you Victor Knowland.

Steve said...

Oh Ethna - me too! I have been trying to replace the lost family for years now. She is soo lucky to have a copy

NAM said...

My sympathies, Ethna and Steve - and Ethna, I'm sorry I didn't reply to you before. Jilly and I both know what this feels like, as we've had 'books wanted' lists since our mid-teens - some titles are still there, though a good many have been found over the years. 'Eudoria' was the first book that went on my list all those years ago, and finding it at last was a little unbelievable - and on my birthday, at that!

One thing the three of us could do is ask Faber & Faber if they would issue it as one of their Faber Finds range of reprints - as at
if you don't know of them. The e-mail address for suggesting a reprint is on the site under FAQs: lostandfound@faber.co.uk
The book was originally published by Eyre & Spottiswoode, which I think no longer exists, as it was taken over by Associated Book Publishers some while ago.

Lucy said...

I have just obtained a copy of Eudoria's broomstick from Ebay after searching for it all of my adult life. It was my favourite childhood book too and is just as good the second time round. The illustrtions are completely fantastic and memorable and looking at them again was like meeting up with old friends - The witches sleeping upside down in a tree - The lost property office with the witch balancing on top of a chair.. etc.

NAM said...

Congratulations, Lucy - I doubt it had a very large print run to start with, and is definitely a rarity now. You're right about how memorable the illustrations are - and even the little vignettes make their mark; my copy appears to have some of the illustrations in the wrong order, which in this case bothers me not at all.

I'd certainly be hard put to choose a favorite, although I've always loved the one of the engine being given its cup of tea.

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CHRIS said...

I, too, spent much of my adult life searching for a replacement copy of Eudoria's Broomstick. Our childhood copy had been permanently 'borrowed' by an otherwise delightful girlfriend. Found one in '96 (no d/w) at Hay on Wye. Utter joy. When I bought a copy online with d/w it was an unbearable wait; it was like a child returning from sea.
Sent the Hay on Wye copy to J.K. Rowling - her daughter was too young for the longer HPs but was being bombarded with questions at school. Don't know if she liked E.B: b hope so!
Thug and Bangalore ! The busconductor's 22 bottles of beer. Steam puddings! I'm off to re-read it now!

NAM said...

Thanks for the comment, Chris - I'm slightly amazed at just how many people had this book as a childhood favourite, given that it's not well known, but very cheered - lots of happy memories! maybe I'll dig out the description of the meal eaten by the bus conductor and driver, just for a treat...

Oh, and congratulations on getting a copy with dust wrapper - for me that was such a bonus, as the copy I read in childhood belonged to my school, and didn't have one.

Oliver Knowland said...

For those still struggling to find Eudoria's Broomstick its now available as an e-book download for kindle ipad or pc from Amazon.
Its a direct scan of the original and can even be viewed white printed words on black background which gives the story an extra atmospheric edge!
Oliver (son of Victor)