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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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‘Best Children’s Books Most People Have Never Heard Of’

Even if you’ve only been around here for a few months, I’m sure you will be aware that I am a huge fan of the humble book list. I scour them relatively regularly, although this is by no means a good idea, as I end up adding lots of titles which I’ll probably never get to onto my already very long to-read list.

Regardless, Goodreads is one of the resources which I use when seeking these lists out. A list entitled ‘Best Children’s Books Most People Have Never Heard Of’ piqued my interest. I was a huge reader as a child, going to my local library every single Saturday morning to switch over the big stack of books which I had borrowed the week before. I still enjoy reading the odd children’s book now, as an adult.

Although this book list is, of course, highly subjective, and even a little suspicious – I would think that most readers have heard of Pippi Longstocking and the Moomins – I have chosen ten books which really take my fancy, and which I never got to as a child. If you wish to peruse the whole list, you can find it here.

1. The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright

‘Meet the Melendys! The four Melendy children live with their father and Cuffy, their beloved housekeeper, in a worn but comfortable brownstone in New York City. There’s thirteen-year-old Mona, who has decided to become an actress; twelve-year-old mischievous Rush; ten-and-a-half-year-old Randy, who loves to dance and paint; and thoughtful Oliver, who is just six. Tired of wasting Saturdays doing nothing but wishing for larger allowances, the four Melendys jump at Randy’s idea to start the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club (I.S.A.A.C.). If they pool their resources and take turns spending the whole amount, they can each have at least one memorable Saturday afternoon of their own. Before long, I.S.A.A.C. is in operation and every Saturday is definitely one to remember.

Written more than half a century ago, The Saturdays unfolds with all the ripe details of a specific place and period but remains, just the same, a winning, timeless tale. The Saturdays is the first installment of Enright’s Melendy Quartet, an engaging and warm series about the close-knit Melendy family and their surprising adventures.’

2. The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit

‘When Jerry, Jimmy and Cathy discover a tunnel that leads to a castle, they pretend that it is enchanted. But when they discover a Sleeping Princess at the centre of a maze, astonishing things begin to happen. Amongst a horde of jewels they discover a ring that grants wishes. But wishes granted are not always wishes wanted, so the children find themselves grappling with invisibility, dinosaurs, a ghost and the fearsome Ugli-Wuglies before it is all resolved.’

3. Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge

‘The four Linnet children: Nan, Robert, Timothy and Betsy are sent to live with their strict grandmother while their father travels to Egypt. Locked away in separate rooms as punishment by their ruthless grandmother, the Linnets feel at once that their new life is unbearable—and decide to make their escape—out of the house, out of the garden and into the village. Commandeering a pony and trap, the children and their dog are led away as the pony makes his way nonchalantly home. The pony’s destination happens to be a house that belongs to their gruff but loveable uncle Ambrose. The kindly uncle Ambrose agrees to take them under his wing, he educates them and encourages them to explore Dartmoor, letting the children have free rein in his sprawling manor house and surrounding countryside.

Befriending the collection of house guests, including an owl, a giant cat, and a gardener, Ezra, who converses with bees, and getting to know the miscellaneous inhabitants of the village, the four siblings discover a life in which magic and reality are curiously intermingled and evil and tragedy lurk never far away. Then stumble upon the eccentric Lady Alicia Valerian, who seems to have lost her family. And then the real fun begins! The Linnets start their search for the missing Valerians. But the village is under a spell of the witch Emma Cobley. Can the children lift the spell and restore happiness to the villagers? Or will they be thwarted by evil Emma Cobley and her magic cat?

This charming story beautifully depicts early twentieth century English country life while conjuring an air of magical adventure. It is full of vivid characters, battles between good and evil and wonderful spell-binding moments.’

4. The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

‘Robin was always wandering off (her mother’s words) to get away from the confusion she felt inside her. It was not until Robin’s father found a permanent job at the McCurdy ranch, after three years as a migrant worker, that Robin had a place to wander to. As time went by the Velvet Room became more and more of a haven for her — a place to read and dream, a place to bury one’s fears and doubts, a place to count on. The Velvet Room, first published in 1965, was a Junior Library Guild selection, and part of Scholastic Books’ Arrow Book Club.’

5. The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf

‘Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1909  — the first woman to be so honored — Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlöf (1858–1940) was a gifted storyteller whose writings were often tinged with the supernatural and rooted in the sagas and legends of her homeland.
She secured her reputation as a children’s-book author with  The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, long considered a masterpiece of children’s literature.

Written at the request of Swedish school authorities and first published in 1906, it is the enchanting and remarkably original tale of Nils Holgersson, a mischievous boy of 14 who is changed by an elf into a tiny being able to understand the speech of birds and animals. Brilliantly weaving fact and fiction into a breathtaking and beautiful fable, the story recounts Nils’s adventures as he is transported over the countryside on the back of a goose. From this vantage point, Nils witnesses a host of events that provide young readers with an abundance of information about nature, geography, folklore, animal life, and more.’

6. The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy

‘Life on the Hungarian plains is changing quickly for Jancsi and his cousin Kate. Father has given Jancsi permission to be in charge of his own herd, and Kate has begun to think about going to dances. Jancsi hardly even recognizes Kate when she appears at Peter and Mari’s wedding wearing nearly as many petticoats as the older girls wear. And Jancsi himself, astride his prized horse, doesn’t seem to Kate to be quite so boyish anymore. Then, when Hungary must send troops to fight in the Great War and Jancsi’s father is called to battle, the two cousins must grow up all the sooner in order to take care of the farm and all the relatives, Russian soldiers, and German war orphans who take refuge there.’

7. A Candle in Her Room by Ruth M. Arthur

‘“I suppose if we had not come to live in Pembrokeshire, Judith, Briony, and I, this story would never have been written, for in another set of circumstances our lives might have run very differently. There would have been no Dido.”

So begins A Candle in Her Room, the story of three generations of haunted people, and of the doll Dido, whose compelling smile and enticing hint of evil changed even the lives of those who were repelled by her. The book begins at about the turn of the century and comes almost up to the present. In it some people mature, grow old, and some die; others are born and begin to live their lives in the shadow of those who have gone before. And through it all the events of the outside world and the strange hidden fascination of Dido impinge almost equally on plans and dreams and personalities. This is a book about many things—evil, the dimensions of reality, the flow of generations and most of all the power of love.’

8. The Tale of Tsar Saltan by Alexander Pushkin

‘Betrayed by her sisters, a tsarina and her infant son are marooned on a barren island until a magical swan helps them regain their rightful heritage.’

9. White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt

‘When the first flakes fell from the grey sky, the postman and the farmer and the policeman and his wife scurried about doing all the practical things grownups do when a snowstorm comes. But the children laughed and danced, and caught the lacy snowflakes on their tongues. All the wonder and delight a child feels in a snowfall is caught in the pages of this book — the frost ferns on the window sill, the snow man in the yard and the mystery and magic of a new white world. Roger Duvoisin’s pictures in soft blue half-tones with briliant splashes of yellow and red emphasize the gaiety and humor as well as the poetic quality of the text.’

10. The Plant Sitter by Gene Zion

‘Everyone has heard of baby sitters, and some people have had jobs as dog sitters. Even flagpole sitters are more usual than the type of sitter Tommy became – a plant sitter!

When his family decided not to go away for the summer, young Tommy got a job. He collected all the neighbors’ plants, promising to care for them throughout the summer. Soon Tommy’s house was unrecognizable. Watching television was like watching an outdoor movie deep in the jungle, and taking a bath was like swimming in a small lake in the middle of a forest. Tommy’s parents were not particularly enthusiastic about their son’s career, but the plants flourished.

One night Tommy had a dream that the plants had grown too big to fit in the house. The next day some research at the library revealed his worries. When the neighbors returned they were delighted to see their healthy plants. And Tommy was delighted when his father suggested a vacation for the plant sitter and his family.

Margaret Bloy Graham has painted a garland of gay and verdant pictures for this utterly enchanting story.’

Have you read any of these books? Do any on this list appeal to you? What is your favourite children’s book?

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Blog Tour: ‘The False Rose’ by Jakob Wegelius (tr. Peter Graves)

As a child and young teen, I read many different kinds of books, but my favourites were always those which described exotic adventures steeped in mystery, with brave characters who embarked on fantastic ventures. So when The False Rose fell into my hands, I was beyond excited to read it and get lost in its pages.

The False Rose, translated from the Swedish by Peter Graves and published by Pushkin Press, is the third instalment in the Sally Jones series (the previous ones being The Legend of Sally Jones and The Murderer’s Ape which are also available by Pushkin Press). You can easily follow and enjoy the story even if you haven’t read the previous books. There are several pages at the beginning of the book introducing the characters with wonderful black and white drawings for each one, and there is a mini recap of sorts every time an event or character from a previous book is referenced. So fear not and dive right in this delightful adventure with lovely Sally Jones and her friends.

The story opens in Lisbon, where we are introduced to the protagonist, Sally Jones, an ‘anthropoid ape’ that works as a ship engineer. Along with the Chief, they discover a rose-shaped necklace on their ship, the Hudson Queen, and they become entangled in the mystery surrounding its previous owner. Sally and the Chief embark on a quest to return the necklace to its rightful owner, a quest that leads them to the gloomy and shady parts of Glasgow.

However, nothing is as easy as it seems and the mystery of the necklace isn’t all that straightforward. Sally and the Chief encounter dangerous street gangs and the intimidating smuggler queen Moira, who will do everything in her power to obtain the necklace for herself.

The story is intriguing and gripping until the very end and I was at the edge of my seat with every twist and turn. I grew very attached to Sally Jones, who is also the narrator of the story, thus letting the reader in on her thoughts and feelings, since she cannot really speak in the book (but she can read and write, skills that come in very handy at times!).

I also really loved reading the descriptions of the places Sally and the Chief travel to or find themselves in. Not having been able to travel myself at all the past two years, it was a true delight to embark on a journey through the pages of this book from Lisbon to Glasgow, where the majority of the plot takes place, and later on to the Scottish Highlands and the French countryside. The mystery was also very interesting, although there were various other sub-plots that had to get resolved before the solution was provided at the end.

All in all, The False Rose is a perfect cosy read for those gloomy autumn and winter afternoons. Although it is targeted towards younger readers, it can be read and enjoyed by people of any age, as it has all the ingredients to keep you turning page after page – great writing (and a great translation, I’m sure), an engaging mystery/adventure plot and wonderful characters that will remain with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Reading this book was a thoroughly enjoyable experience that provided me with some much needed escapism and brought me back to my very early teens, when I was reading such gripping page-turners every chance I had.

The False Rose was published by Pushkin Press on 7th October 2021. A copy of the book was very kindly provided to me by the publisher.

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One From the Archive: ‘Nancy and Plum’ by Betty MacDonald ****

Betty MacDonald’s Nancy and Plum has been republished as part of the Vintage Children’s Classics series, which features such titles as Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  The novel includes an afterword by former children’s laureate Jacqueline Wilson, who says that it is her favourite work for younger readers, and charming new illustrations by Catharina Baltas. 9780099583356

Nancy and Plum, which was first published in 1952, begins on Christmas Eve.  MacDonald sets the scene immediately: ‘Big snowflakes fluttered slowly through the air like white feathers and made all of Heavenly Valley smoth and white and quiet and beautiful.  Tall fir trees stood up to their knees in the snow and their outstretched hands were heaped with it.’ The book’s young protagonists are ‘locked up in rotten Mrs Monday’s house, while all the other children have gone home’

Mrs Monday owns the ‘big brick Boarding Home for Children’, in which sisters Nancy and Pamela Remson – the latter who goes by the nickname of Plum – have been placed.  The girls’ parents were killed in a train crash when they were only small, and their guardian, bachelor Uncle John, had no idea what to do with children.  MacDonald exemplifies the differences between the sisters immediately; Nancy is filled with a ‘dreamy gentleness’, and Plum is daring, with a ‘quick humor’.  Her young protagonists have been built so well that they seem to come to life, and one is soon immersed within their tale.  Each child who meets Nancy and Plum is sure to fall in love with them.

The extra material in Vintage’s reprint is thoughtful, and makes a lovely addition to the story.  It includes a biography of American author Betty MacDonald, a quiz, a recipe for Nancy’s dream meal, a glossary of words which may be unfamiliar to younger readers, and a recommended reading list with which to follow the book.  Nancy and Plum is a heartwarming and entertaining novel, which is sure to delight children and parents alike.  It is the perfect choice for a cosy festive read.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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The Book Trail: The Vintage Children’s Books Edition

I am using a children’s book which I recently read for the first time, and very much enjoyed, as the starting point for this edition of The Book Trail.  As ever, I have used the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ tool on Goodreads in order to compile this list.

 

1. Just William by Richmal Crompton 26870242
‘In Richmal Compton’s Just William the Outlaws plan a day of non-stop adventure. The only problem is that William is meant to be babysitting. But William won’t let that stop him having fun with his gang – he’ll just bring the baby along!  There is only one William. This tousle-headed, snub-nosed, hearty, loveable imp of mischief has been harassing his unfortunate family and delighting his hundreds of thousands of admirers since 1922.
2. Uncle by J.P. Martin
If you think Babar is the only storybook elephant with a cult following, then you haven’t met Uncle, the presiding pachyderm of a wild fictional universe that has been collecting accolades from children and adults for going on fifty years. Unimaginably rich, invariably swathed in a magnificent purple dressing-gown, Uncle oversees a vast ramshackle castle full of friendly kooks while struggling to fend off the sneak attacks of the incorrigible (and ridiculous) Badfort Crowd. Each Uncle story introduces a new character from Uncle’s madcap world: Signor Guzman, careless keeper of the oil lakes; Noddy Ninety, an elderly train conductor and the oldest student of Dr. Lyre’s Select School for Young Gentlemen; the proprietors of Cheapman’s Store (where motorbikes are a halfpenny each) and Dearman’s Store (where the price of an old milk jug goes up daily); along with many others. But for every delightful friend of Uncle, there is a foe who is no less deliriously wicked. Luckily the misbegotten schemes of the Badfort Crowd are no match for Uncle’s superior wits.
8575973. The School for Cats by Esther Averill
Jenny Linsky, the famous little black cat of Greenwich Village, has never been to school before. When her master, Captain Tinker, sends her to a boarding school in the country to learn the special knowledge of cats—manners and cooperation—she is a little afraid, among strangers, and so far from home. As soon as she’s settled in, taking off the red scarf that makes her feel brave, another student named Pickles, the Fire Cat, is upto his usual mischief, chasing smaller cats with his fire truck hook and ladder. When he chases Jenny, she runs away from school terrified.  Jenny soon realizes that the Captain would be disappointed if he found out she had left school. It’s then that Jenny decides to stand up to Pickles. She returns to school and when Pickles next tries his tricks, he’s surprised at the “new” Jenny. Pickles learns his manners and Jenny learns that not only can school be fun, but the friendships she makes there will last forever.’
4. The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown
The story of seven children who form The Blue Door Theatre Company, renovating a disused chapel and putting on plays. Despite opposition from parents and friends, they finally overcome all obstacles and win a drama competition. It is a tale of triumph over adversity.
5. Autumn Term by Antonia Forest 1379125
Twins Nicola and Lawrie arrive at their new school determined to do even better than their distinguished elder sisters, but things don’t turn out quite as planned.
6. A Kid for Two Farthings by Wolf Mankowitz
A six-year-old boy in the British immigrant community of Whitechapel believes he has discovered a unicorn for sale at the market. Though it looks to most people like a white goat with a bump on its head, young Joe is certain it will make the dreams of his friends and neighbors come true—a reunion with his father in Africa, a steam press for a tailor shop, a ring for a girlfriend. Others may be skeptical of the unicorn’s magic, but with enough effort, Joe believes he can make it all real.
26577847. Minnow on the Say by Philippa Pearce
‘David can’t believe his luck when a worn wooden canoe mysteriously appears on the banks of the River Say behind his house. With summer stretching endlessly before him, it seems too good to be true.  Soon there is another boy–Adam, the Minnow’s rightful owner. Adam wants his boat back…but something else, too: a trustworthy friend to help him find the long lost ancestral jewels that could save his family from financial disaste.  Can two boys find what history has kept an untouchable secret for hundreds of years? Or will they lose the race against time and against another treasure seeker lurking at the river’s edge.
8. The Ship That Flew by Hilda Lewis
When Peter sees the model ship in the shop window, he wants it more than anything else on Earth. But this is no ordinary model. The ship takes Peter and the other children on magical flights, wherever they ask to go. Time after time the magic ship takes them on different exciting adventures, to different countries, and to different times.

 

Have you read any of these?  Which are your favourite children’s books?

Purchase from The Book Depository

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One From the Archive: ‘Mossy Trotter’ by Elizabeth Taylor ****

First published in 2015.

The 633rd book on Virago’s wonderful Modern Classics list is Elizabeth Taylor’s only book for children, Mossy Trotter.  First published in 1967, the new edition comes with lively Tony Ross illustrations, and an introduction written by Taylor’s son, Renny, who says: ‘… some of it is based on my childhood…  She must have made notes of  things that I got up to because you’ll read about some of my adventures in Mossy Trotter‘.

The blurb of Mossy Trotter – which has been praised by prolific children’s authors Jacqueline Wilson and Kate Saunders – says that within its pages, Taylor ‘perfectly captures the temptations and terrors of a mischievous boy – and just how illogical, frustrating and inconsistent adults are’.  It then goes on to compare the book to such classics as Richmal Crompton’s Just William, and Clive King’s Stig of the Dump

The premise of the book is almost Roald Dahl-esque, and it is sure to appeal to both adults and children: ‘When Mossy moves to the country, life is full of delights…  But every now and then his happiness is disturbed – chiefly by his mother’s meddling friend, Miss Silkin.  And a dreaded event casts a shadow over even the sunniest of days – being a page-boy at her wedding’.

Mossy is a curious, likeable and amusing child, whose inquisitiveness often gets the better of him, and leads him into sticky – sometimes quite literally – situations.  He is particularly fond of tar, and finds himself playing in it when the workmen have been, despite knowing that his mother will be cross with him: ‘… to begin with, he would stand in the tar-splashed grass at the side of the road; then he would drop a few stones on to the tar to see if they stuck; then he would put out his toe and prod an oozy patch, and in no time at all he was stamping in it, picking bits up and rolling them into rubbery balls, and his legs would be smeared, and so would his jeans and his shirt’.

An understanding Taylor bestows the role of confidante upon her young audience almost immediately: ‘Where things had been was what grown-ups worried about all the time.’  She outlines, in the tale’s very beginning, the vast differences which exist between children and adults.  The character of Miss Silkin opens proceedings by talking about her concept of paradise: ‘Standing where she was she could not possibly see the beautiful rubbish dump among the bracken.  This had been his private paradise from the moment he discovered it.  It was a shallow pit filled with broken treasures from which, sometimes, other treasures could be made…  If he could only find two old wheels, he could build himself a whole bicycle, he thought’.

I was reminded throughout of Astrid Lindgren’s charming Pippi LongstockingMossy Trotter feels almost as though it was written by the same author, just with a more masculine young audience in mind.  Mossy’s adventures, much like Pippi’s – a birthday party, a visit from his grandfather, and being a page boy, for example – are lovingly relayed by Taylor, and are certain to leave children wanting more.  The whole has been so well crafted, and interlinking tales wind through from one chapter to the next.  Mossy Trotter is rather a charming read, which is sure to drum up childhood nostalgia in the adults who come across it due to Virago’s reprint.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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One From the Archive: ‘Nancy and Plum’ by Betty Macdonald ****

Betty MacDonald’s Nancy and Plum has been republished as part of the Vintage Children’s Classics series, which features such titles as Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  The novel includes an afterword by former children’s laureate Jacqueline Wilson, who says that it is her favourite work for younger readers, and charming new illustrations by Catharina Baltas. 9780099583356

Nancy and Plum, which was first published in 1952, begins on Christmas Eve.  MacDonald sets the scene immediately: ‘Big snowflakes fluttered slowly through the air like white feathers and made all of Heavenly Valley smoth and white and quiet and beautiful.  Tall fir trees stood up to their knees in the snow and their outstretched hands were heaped with it.’ The book’s young protagonists are ‘locked up in rotten Mrs Monday’s house, while all the other children have gone home’

Mrs Monday owns the ‘big brick Boarding Home for Children’, in which sisters Nancy and Pamela Remson – the latter who goes by the nickname of Plum – have been placed.  The girls’ parents were killed in a train crash when they were only small, and their guardian, bachelor Uncle John, had no idea what to do with children.  MacDonald exemplifies the differences between the sisters immediately; Nancy is filled with a ‘dreamy gentleness’, and Plum is daring, with a ‘quick humor’.  Her young protagonists have been built so well that they seem to come to life, and one is soon immersed within their tale.  Each child who meets Nancy and Plum is sure to fall in love with them.

The extra material in Vintage’s reprint is thoughtful, and makes a lovely addition to the story.  It includes a biography of American author Betty MacDonald, a quiz, a recipe for Nancy’s dream meal, a glossary of words which may be unfamiliar to younger readers, and a recommended reading list with which to follow the book.  Nancy and Plum is a heartwarming and entertaining novel, which is sure to delight children and parents alike.  It is the perfect choice for a cosy festive read.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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One From the Archive: ‘Wildwood’ (The Wildwood Chronicles: Book One) by Colin Meloy ****

‘Wildwood’ by Colin Meloy

When I find bands or singers I particularly love whose lyrics never fail to astound me (Conor Oberst, Sam Duckworth, Jesse Lacey, Frank Turner and Benjamin Gibbard come to mind, and I could go on), I often find myself wishing that they would turn their literary talents to a book.  What is really cool is that Colin Meloy, lead singer of The Decemberists, has done so.  What is even cooler is that he has turned his Wildwood stories into a trilogy.

I first heard about this novel via a BookTube channel, and when I saw how beautiful the cover was, I had to break my self-imposed book buying ban and purchase myself a copy.  What I found most adorable when I received it was that Meloy has written the book and crafted the storyline, and his partner, Carson Ellis, has illustrated it – and so very beautifully, too.

The story begins with Prue McKeel, a young girl living in Portland, Oregon, taking her baby brother Mac out for the day.  When he is toddling around in a local playground, a murder of crows swoops down and abducts him, taking him deep into the Impassable Forest on the very edge of Portland.  The Impassable Forest is a place where nobody ever ventures, so imagine Prue’s surprise when she sets off to find her brother and is able to cross the enchanted boundary between the city and the trees.

One of her classmates, Curtis, a rather adorable boy in a furry parka, follows her as she makes her way into the forest, and is soon part of the adventure too.  On their quest to retrieve Mac from the clutches of evil, they meet many different characters, and even stumble upon a secluded community in the middle of the forest.

Meloy has plotted Wildwood very cleverly indeed, and despite its length, at no point does it feel sparse or too devoid of an engrossing storyline.  He is an inventive writer, and has crafted the world within Wildwood marvellously.  The story, whilst it contains elements of magical realism – a talking owl who takes tea in a library, for example – has been rendered in such a way that it is eminently believable at times.

Throughout, I caught glimpses of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, but there was still something incredibly original about it.  The characterisation was polished, and I loved the writing style.  Some fabulous descriptions can be found within its pages.

Prue takes tea with an owl (Illustration by Carson Ellis)

As you can see from this post, Carson Ellis’ illustrations are an absolute delight, and they work wonderfully alongside Meloy’s story.  I love her style, and the way in which she has rendered scenes with such care.  I would happily purchase a book on the strength of her drawings alone.

After finishing Wildwood, I am so intrigued to see what will happen next, and am eagerly anticipating the paperback release of the next book in the series, Under Wildwood.

Suggested playlist, consisting solely of songs by Colin Meloy and The Decemberists:
1. Crane Wife – Parts 1 and 2 – The Decemberists
2. A Cautionary Song – Colin Meloy
3. Rox in the Box – The Decemberists
4. Don’t Carry It All – The Decemberists
5. June Hymn – The Decemberists
6. The Engine Driver – Colin Meloy
7. Down by the Water – The Decemberists

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Classic Children’s Literature Event 2015: ‘The Cuckoo Clock’ by Mrs. Molesworth ****

‘The Cuckoo Clock’ is one of the children’s books I discovered fairly recently, due to a review Kirsty had once written on Goodreads. I didn’t have the opportunity to read it as a child, since it had never been translated into my first language, Greek (at least it hadn’t when I was a kid). However, thanks to a lovely challenge I discovered too late and also thanks to my beloved library that had a copy of this book, I was able to read it despite the delay.

6801346 I was really excited to read this book, mainly because of the nice comments I had read about it, but also because I love such tales of fantasy and adventure as this one. From the very beginning of the story, a very familiar and heartwarming feeling engulfed me and even though I hadn’t read the book before, the entire experience felt so nostalgic, like revisiting an old friend you haven’t seen nor spoken to in years. I loved the atmosphere and all the ‘British-ness’ of the story; it made me long to travel inside the pages and locate myself at that very same time and place. Which, again, is a feeling I had as a child when I read those really good books.

The main character of the story, Griselda, was a girl I found myself liking and empathizing with from the beginning (though no apparent reason for empathy existed). Her curiosity and fascination with everything new the cuckoo exposed her to, as well as the moments of boredom and distress she experienced (without being a spoilt little kid that desires things to be done in her own way), very well reminded me of a plethora of my favourite childhood book heroines, and that alone was enough to make me develop a great liking towards her character. The ethic and moral messages were spread throughout the story, and Griselda herself comes to realise certain things by the end, and thus we watch her character develop.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of the places the cuckoo travelled to with Griselda, but I felt that there could perhaps be some more adventure in them. The edition I borrowed from the library was a beautiful 1954 hardback that, apart from the wonderful design of cuckoos and butterflies on the cover, also included some marvelous pictures in between the text. Reading adult novels for more than ten years now, I had forgotten the magic a children’s chapter book with pretty drawings can evoke.

‘The Cuckoo Clock’ is a book I really wish I had read when I was little, since I’m sure I would have thoroughly enjoyed it and it would have added to my childhood experiences and longing for devouring great books. It was such books, full of mythical creatures, adventure and fairies that made me fall in love with fantasy literature in the first place. However, I’m really glad I had the chance to read it now, at least, since it helped me remember this nostalgic feeling of reading good literature as a kid and being fascinated by it.

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Favourite Books from my Childhood: Three

Following on from my first and second instalments of my favourite childhood books, I bring you an enormous list.  Rather than add the same gushing comments to each and every book here, I have decided to make a beautifully illustrated list which encompasses more of my favourites.

‘The Minpins’ by Roald Dahl

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, or What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll
Five Minute Bunny Tales
by various authors
Revolting Rhymes, The Witches, The Twits, Matilda, The BFG, The Minpins and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
The Magic Roundabout by Serge Danot

‘My Naughty Little Sister’ by Dorothy Edwards

My Naughty Little Sister series by Dorothy Edwards
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Dolls’ House by Rumer Godden
Complete Fairytales by the Brothers Grimm
The Mr Men and Little Miss books by Roger Hargreaves
Where’s Spot? by Eric Hargreaves
The Old Bear and Friends series by Jane Hissey
The Kipper series by Mick Inkpen
The Teddy Bears’ Picnic by Jimmy Kennedy
The Mog and Meg series by Judith Kerr
The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ by Judith Kerr

The Sophie series by Dick King-Smith
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
The Pippi Longstocking series by Astrid Lindgren
Mouse Tales by Arnold Lobel
The Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel
Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

‘Little Bear’ by Else Holmelund Minarik

Kirsty Knows Best by Annalena McAfee
The Elmer series by David McKee
The Winnie-the-Pooh series by A.A. Milne
Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik
Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo

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