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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

2015_childrens_lit_original

 

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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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