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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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The Book Trail: From Beryl to Renata

We shall begin with an intense psychological character study which I read back in September, and work our way through some wonderfully weird sounding, and important, tomes.

1. Harriet Said… by Beryl Bainbridge 9781844088607
‘Beryl Bainbridge’s evocation of childhood in a rundown northern holiday resort.  A girl returns from boarding school to her sleepy Merseyside hometown and waits to be reunited with her childhood friend, Harriet, chief architect of all their past mischief. She roams listlessly along the shoreline and the woods still pitted with wartime trenches, and encounters ‘the Tsar’ – almost old, unhappily married, both dangerously fascinating and repulsive.  Pretty, malevolent Harriet finally arrives – and over the course of the long holidays draws her friend into a scheme to beguile then humiliate the Tsar, with disastrous, shocking consequences. A gripping portrayal of adolescent transgression, Beryl Bainbridge’s classic first novel remains as subversive today as when it was written.’

 

2. The Phantom Carriage by Selma Lagerlof
‘Written in 1912, Selma Lagerlof’s The Phantom Carriage is a powerful combination of ghost story and social realism, partly played out among the slums and partly in the transitional sphere between life and death. The vengeful and alcoholic David Holm is led to atonement and salvation by the love of a dying Salvation Army slum sister under the guidance of the driver of the death-cart that gathers in the souls of the dying poor. Inspired by Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, The Phantom Carriage remained one of Lagerlof’s own favourites, and Victor Sjostrom’s 1921 film version of the story is one of the greatest achievements of the Swedish silent cinema.’

 

97800609355593. One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner by Jay Parini
‘William Faulkner was a literary genius, and one of America’s most important and influential writers. Drawing on previously unavailable sources — including letters, memoirs, and interviews with Faulkner’s daughter and lovers — Jay Parini has crafted a biography that delves into the mystery of this gifted and troubled writer. His Faulkner is an extremely talented, obsessive artist plagued by alcoholism and a bad marriage who somehow transcends his limitations. Parini weaves the tragedies and triumphs of Faulkner’s life in with his novels, serving up a biography that’s as engaging as it is insightful.’

 

4. Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World by Claudia Roth Pierpont
‘With a masterful ability to connect their social contexts to well-chosen and telling details of their personal lives, Claudia Roth Pierpont gives us portraits of twelve amazingly diverse and influential literary women of the twentieth century, women who remade themselves and the world through their art.   Gertrude Stein, Mae West, Margaret Mitchell, Eudora Welty, Ayn Rand, Doris Lessing, Anais Nin, Zora Neale Hurston, Marina Tsvetaeva, Hannah Arendt and Mary Mccarthy, and Olive Schreiner: Pierpont is clear-eyed in her examination of each member of this varied group, connectng her subjects firmly to the issues of sexual freedom, race, and politics that bound them to their times, even as she exposes the roots of their uniqueness’

 

5. Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson 9780143128045
‘In a hilariously charming domestic memoir, America s celebrated master of terror turns to a different kind of fright: raising children In her celebrated fiction, Shirley Jackson explored the darkness lurking beneath the surface of small-town America. But in Life Among the Savages, she takes on the lighter side of small-town life. In this witty and warm memoir of her family s life in rural Vermont, she delightfully exposes a domestic side in cheerful contrast to her quietly terrifying fiction. With a novelist s gift for character, an unfailing maternal instinct, and her signature humor, Jackson turns everyday family experiences into brilliant adventures.’

 

6. A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx by Elaine Showalter
A Jury of Her Peers is an unprecedented literary landmark: the first comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to 2000.  In a narrative of immense scope and fascination—brimming with Elaine Showalter’s characteristic wit and incisive opinions—we are introduced to more than 250 female writers. These include not only famous and expected names (Harriet Beecher Stowe, Willa Cather, Dorothy Parker, Flannery O’Connor, Gwendolyn Brooks, Grace Paley, Toni Morrison, and Jodi Picoult among them), but also many who were once successful and acclaimed yet now are little known, from the early American best-selling novelist Catherine Sedgwick to the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Susan Glaspell. Showalter shows how these writers—both the enduring stars and the ones left behind by the canon—were connected to one another and to their times. She believes it is high time to fully integrate the contributions of women into our American literary heritage, and she undertakes the task with brilliance and flair, making the case for the unfairly overlooked and putting the overrated firmly in their place.  Whether or not readers agree with the book’s roster of writers, A Jury of Her Peers is an irresistible invitation to join the debate, to discover long-lost great writers, and to return to familiar titles with a deeper appreciation. It is a monumental work that will greatly enrich our understanding of American literary history and culture.’

 

78217. Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature by Elizabeth Hardwick
‘The novelist and essayist Elizabeth Hardwick is one of contemporary America’s most brilliant writers, and Seduction and Betrayal, in which she considers the careers of women writers as well as the larger question of the presence of women in literature, is her most passionate and concentrated work of criticism. A gallery of unforgettable portraits – of Virginia Woolf and Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Wordsworth and Jane Carlyle – as well as a provocative reading of such works as Wuthering Heights, Hedda Gabler, and the poems of Sylvia Plath, Seduction and Betrayal is a virtuoso performance, a major writer’s reckoning with the relations between men and women, women and writing, writing and life.’

 

8. Pitch Dark by Renata Adler
Pitch Dark is the story of the end of a love affair—a story that, in Renata Adler’s brilliant telling, becomes a richly diffracted, illuminating, investigation of an exceptional woman. After a nine-year affair with Jake, a married man, Kate Ennis decides to escape. She takes off, looking for something beautiful and quiet by the sea, but finds herself in a pitch dark and driving rain on a lonely Irish road. It is only months later that she learns that she may have committed a crime, but by then she is home, once more negotiating with Jake for time, for attention, and for love.’

 

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