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‘Best Children’s Books Most People Have Never Heard Of’ (Part Two)

I had such a hard time narrowing down a Goodreads list entitled ‘Best Children’s Books Most People Have Never Heard Of’ last week, that I thought I’d make another post. As in the first, I have chosen ten books from the list that I would really like to read – yes, even as an adult. You can find the full list here, should you want to peruse it yourself.

1. Allegra Maud Goldman by Edith Konecky

‘A special twenty-fifth anniversary edition relaunches this beloved classic coming-of-age nove, which was called “one of those rare delights…as wise as it is funny” (Alix Kates Shulman, Ms. magazine). This endearing novel chronicles the growth of the young Allegra in pre-World War II Brooklyn as she learns about sex, death, bigotry, family limitations, and what it means to be young and female and independent.’

2. Once on a Time by A.A. Milne

‘”This is an odd book” or so states the author in 1917 for his first introduction. A fairytale with seven league boots, a princess, an enchantment, and the Countess Belvane. As Milne wrote in a later introduction: “But, as you see, I am still finding it difficult to explain just what sort of book it is. Perhaps no explanation is necessary. Read in it what you like; read it to whomever you like; be of what age you like; it can only fall into one of the two classes. Either you will enjoy it, or you won’t. It is that sort of book.”‘

3. The Wicked Enchantment by Margot Benary-Isbert

‘Life in the old cathedral town of Vogelsang had gone on peacefully for many years, and life for Anemone and her father had always been a happy one. But strange and disturbing things began to happen. One of the cathedral statues of a foolish virgin disappeared, and also the figure of the gargoyle that spouted above it. The mayor dismissed three of the town’s most respected councilors, blaming them for the disappearance. And Anemone and her dog, Winnie, ran away from home – driven to it by the mean housekeeper and her horrid son who had made life miserable for Anemone since Father befriended and took them in.

Even Aunt Gundula, a remarkable woman, who had been Anemone’s mother’s dearest friend and with whom Anemone took refuge, couldn’t, at first, understand why things in the town were in such upheaval. It was unheard of that the songbirds which had always been welcomed back by the townspeople each spring were now being caught in nets by the Mayor and his friends, and the Mayor had actually forbidden the sale of Easter eggs. This was more than Gundula, who each year painted the most beautiful eggs for Easter, could stand.’

4. The Lady of the Linden Tree by Barbara Leonie Picard

‘This collection will be a delight to lovers of the fairy tale, and a boon to storytellers of all ages. Here, Ms. Picard spins twelve magic new stories set in various regions of the world—Europe, the Middle east, Asia. In them the reader will meet a Chinese boy who found an almond tree that blossomed in the winter, a princess who chased a golden ball through an enchanted wood for one hundred years, and a kindly fox who was able to transform a poor servant girl into a beautiful princess. To each of these stories, Ms. Picard brings a distinction of style that earned her wide recognition as one of the finest contemporary storytellers of folk tales, myths and legends.’

5. When Marnie was There by Joan G. Robinson

‘Anna lives with foster parents, a misfit with no friends, always on the outside of things. Then she is sent to Norfolk to stay with old Mr and Mrs Pegg, where she runs wild on the sand dunes and around the water. There is a house, the Marsh House, which she feels she recognises – and she soon meets a strange little girl called Marnie, who becomes Anna’s first ever friend. Then one day, Marnie vanishes. A new family, the Lindsays, move into the Marsh House. Having learnt so much from Marnie about friendship, Anna makes firm friends with the Lindsays – and learns some strange truths about Marnie, who was not all she seemed…’

6. The Invisible Island by Dean Marshall

‘When the Gutheries moved from a New York apartment to the country the three children found that they not only had a lovely brook that ran into a lake, but more exciting yet, they had a real island.

Right in the middle of the wooded acres surrounding their new home up in Connecticut! On one side was the pond, on another a wide brook, and running from that to the pond, another, narrower brook. So here the four young Guthries were, ‘cast away on a desert island’ which they promptly named Invisible.

Mother sent ‘rations’ from ‘the wreck’ which was the name they gave the house beyond the orchard; David discovered a cave; Winkie, who still believed in fairies, caught a glimpse of a dryad (with freckles); and a pleasant, shivery mystery hung over the island from the very beginning. Solved, it put the happiest possible ending to a story already bursting with all the things children love. Here are summertime and out of doors and make believe all woven into a story of exceptional beauty.’

7. The Mousewife by Rumer Godden

‘Day in and day out the dutiful mousewife works alongside her mousehusband. The house of Miss Barbara Wilkinson, where the Mouses make their home, is a nice house and the mousewife is for the most part happy with her lot—and yet she yearns for something more. But what? Her husband, for one, can’t imagine. “I think about cheese,” he advises her. “Why don’t you think about cheese?”

Then an odd and exotic new creature, a turtledove, is brought into the house, and the mousewife is fascinated. The mousewife makes friends with the strange dove, who is kept in a cage but who tells her about things no housemouse has ever imagined, blue skies, tumbling clouds, tall trees, and far horizons, the memory of which haunt the dove in his captivity. The dove’s tales fill the mousewife with wonder and drive her to take daring action.

Rumer Godden’s lovely fable about the unexpected ways in which dreams can come true is illustrated with beautiful pen-and-ink drawings by William Pène du Bois.’

8. The Fearless Treasure by Noel Streatfeild

‘Subtitled A Story of England from Then to Now, this is a social history of England told through vividly imagined scenes set in several periods within a contemporary frame. The book follows six children from different backgrounds and different parts of England who are taken on a journey in which they experience the past and learn the history of their own families and the parts they played in shaping the nation.’

9. Summer at Buckhorn by Anna Rose Wright

‘Set in 1907, this autobiographical book tells the story of the five Rose children who set off alone for an eventful summer at Buckhorn, the old family estate in the South. On arriving they found that the surprise their aunt had promised them is a very disappointing bookworm of a boy, Edwin, whose parents have sent him there for his health. Aunt Wig promises the children the $200 for his board (which the children vow to donate to defray their mother’s medical expenses) if they will give Edwin a good time and teach him how to play. Their success is great and Edwin, re-christened Ted, becomes a good friend.’

10. The Country Child by Alison Uttley

The Country Child is a semi-autobiographical story about a girl growing up in the country. Alison Uttley has drawn on her own youth to produce memories so vivid and nostalgic that you can almost smell the honeysuckle and hear the owls calling at dusk.

She writes about the small intense joys and sorrows of life on a small farm: the fun of haymaking, the sadness of favourite animals being slaughtered, and the close sweetness of Christmas celebrations in the farmhouse kitchen.’

Have you read any of these books? Do you, too, enjoy reading children’s books as an adult?

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Flash Reviews: Children’s Books (30th May 2014)

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson ****

‘Treasure Island’ by Robert Louis Stevenson (Puffin Classics)

Storyline: “Following the demise of bloodthirsty buccaneer Captain Flint, young Jim Hawkins finds himself with the key to a fortune. For he has discovered a map that will lead him to the fabled Treasure Island. But a host of villains, wild beasts and deadly savages stand between him and the stash of gold.”

1. The narrative voice is engaging from the start, and a marvellous array of characters people this novel.
2. The entirety is filled with adventure.  As soon as one thing happens, it sets another event in motion, which keeps the action moving throughout – a domino effect, if you like.
3. Treasure Island is so well written.  This is the first of Robert Louis Stevenson’s children’s books which I have read, and I doubt very much that it will be the last.

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A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley ***
Storyline: The novel’s protagonist is a young girl named Penelope, who lives in London in the twentieth century.  She visits her family home, Thackers, in Derbyshire, and mysteriously finds herself in Elizabethan times.  ‘Her sixteenth-century family is scheming to free their beloved Mary, Queen of Scots’.  Penelope is catapulted into the past and present throughout, and both stories run concurrently with one another.

‘A Traveller in Time’ by Alison Uttley (Jane Nissen Books)

1. Penelope’s world, with particular emphasis upon her surroundings, has been wonderfully evoked throughout.
2. A Traveller in Time is a rich novel which has been filled with history, and its story has clearly been well thought out.
3. Had I read this as a child, I am sure that I would have adored it.  It has just the right amount of time travelling and history alongside its rather sweet protagonist, and had I been eight or nine when I first stepped into Penelope’s world, I doubt that I would have ever wanted to leave.  As an adult, I sadly found the novel a little disappointing, but I did still enjoy it.

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After by Morris Gleitzman ****

‘After’ by Morris Gleitzman (Puffin Books)

NB. This is the fourth novel in the series which features Felix (a fact which I was entirely unaware of when I requested it from the library), but Gleitzman writes that each is a standalone novel.

Storyline: Felix’s parents have both been killed in a Nazi concentration camp when this novel begins.  After is set in 1945, where Jewish Felix, after having been sheltered by a kindly man named Gabriek for two years, finds himself joining a band of partisans in a Polish forest.

1. Felix is an interesting construct.  In terms of age – thirteen – he is little more than a child, but when one takes into account the awful things which he has seen and has had to do, he seems very old indeed.  He is a marvellous narrator, and is endearingly naive.  One of the character traits which I found the most compelling about him was the way in which he continually prays to British author Richmal Crompton, merely because her Just William books kept him company whilst he was in hiding.  He is a likeable character, and is both earnest and persistent.
2. The way in which Gleitzman has crafted Felix’s first person narrative voice, which has been written entirely in the present tense, makes everything almost urgent, and this suits the story perfectly.
3. The story is both believable and well-imagined, and the twists and turns throughout render it an unpredictable novel.

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