Following on from my previous post on my favourite classic children’s authors, here’s part 2. Last time I looked at E. Nesbit, Philippa Pearce, Catherine Storr, L.M. Montgomery and Lucy M. Boston, and here to round it off are my final five with my favourite of their books.
Mary Norton – The Borrowers. Chances are, model (or miniature) villages like the one at Babbacombe or Bekonscot hold a particular delight for you if you’re a fan of the Borrowers. Reading the books I was there every step of the way with Arrietty and Spiller on their adventures afield, afloat and aloft, avoiding ‘human beans’. Did you know that there was another, more recent addition; The Borrowers Avenged? I haven’t read it but maybe I will on the reading challenge.
Hans Peterson – Just Lisa. This one is a tad difficult to get hold of these days, but it was a real favourite of mine when I was very small. Lisa had a secret sort of windowed attic box-room (wall-papered over to completely disguise it) which she hid herself away in whenever she chose, and I so longed for one of my own as I loved the idea of being hidden away where no-one would find me.
Francis Hodgson-Burnett – The Secret Garden. Secret rooms – secret gardens, there is a theme here, I think. One of the things I really liked about Mary Lennox was her sourness. I loved the fact that she wasn’t sweet and cheerful, as I often found a lot of the heroines in books too hard to emulate, and I always had to identify with my story’s main character. (Though I did manage to read, and somehow identify with, Pollyanna.)
Lloyd Alexander – Prydain Chronicles. Not given much credit in English libraries, Lloyd Alexander had a fantastic feel for the Welsh spirit which
pervades this series and I was sure that he must have been Welsh until I grew up and found that he was American. I discovered Alexander in my eternal search for ‘another Narnia book’ (see below), and his books fulfilled my craving. The 5 books in the series are filled with adventure and gentle humour, and I stand by them as an excellent series for young fantasy fans.
C.S. Lewis – Narnia. As I started this tour of children’s classics with Nesbit I will finish with Lewis as the two were the pillars of my childhood reading. I loved the Narnia stories so much that I had whole passages of it devoted to memory (though since forgotten). I also drew maps of Narnia in my spare time and read the books over and over. If it’s not immediately obvious to you let me put it clearly: I was obsessed with Narnia.
The list could have been so much longer, so I’m including a list of honourable mentions that I would have included given the space, including, but not limited to: James and the Giant Peach, The Box of Delights, The Ghosts (The Amazing Mr Blunden), The Ghosts of Motley Hall and The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris.
Bonjour Tristesse (that’s “Hello Sadness”) was published in 1954, when the author was only 18.
“I dreamt of being a writer once I started to read. I started to write ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ in bistros around the Sorbonne. I finished it, I sent it to editors. It was accepted.”
Isn’t that delightfully bohemian? If this were not depressing enough for us late-bloomers it should also be noted that the book was an overnight sensation, gaining Sagan a mention in Le Figaro (where she was described as “a charming little monster”). Oh, and did I mention it was also made into a film?
Sagan, ever the typical French gamine, had a vibrant outlook on life:
“One can never speak enough of the virtues, the dangers, the power of shared laughter.”
“You should celebrate the end of a love affair as they celebrate death in New Orleans, with songs, laughter, dancing and a lot of wine.”
No 41 in Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century, Bonjour Tristesse centers on seventeen-year-old Cécile as she spends her summer in a villa on the French Riviera with her father and his mistress, and Cecile’s struggle as a daughter trapped by her father’s relationships with women. It sounds ghastly but actually I have to admit that I enjoyed it, so maybe it was talent after all…
Sour grape anyone?
In terms of age, however, Sagan was positively geriatric compared with some modern day examples. I’m including a very entertaining link here from Parentdish about a six-year old author…yes, six:
Today, in light of my recent post on the Vintage Children’s Reading Challenge, I want to do a whistle-stop tour of some of my favourite classic books and their authors. Just thinking back to these wonderful childhood reads got me all misty-eyed and nostalgic. Some of these books might be new to you but some will no doubt be favourites of your own, either way come with me and take a wander in the dreamy mists of children’s classic fiction.
E. Nesbit – Oh it had to be Edith to start them off. I adored E. Nesbit’s books when I was young and even now if you take a look at books like The Enchanted Castle, or The Railway Children you will find an addictive and entertaining read (not all of these authors have worn as well as Nesbit but I’ve included them for the sheer joy they brought me). Nesbit wrote some truly great characters in her stories, like the imperious and opinionated Phoenix and the grumpy and evasive Psammead (that’s ‘Sammy-ad’ for the uninitiated) and many fans who read the books as children will even now shiver with horrid delight at the mention of the Ugly-Wuglies. Nesbit was also a fascinating individual, smoking cigarettes and wearing her hair short way back in the Edwardian era, and she brought up her husband’s child (born to his mistress) alongside her own. Her autobiography Long Ago When I Was Young is well worth looking out for. You can catch up online: http://willow.creative-interweb.com/library/book/kids/nesbit/
Philippa Pearce – Do the classics get the recognition they deserve? Well, in 2007 a panel of reviewers set out to discover the nation’s favourite Carnegie and Kate Greenaway winners of all time and awarded Pearce 2nd place for Tom’s Midnight Garden (Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights was no 1 btw): Not bad going for a book published in 1958. In the novel, as the grandfather clock strikes 13, Tom is transported back through time to to meet his Victorian play-mate Hatty. Is she a ghost, or is he? I loved reading Tom’s Midnight Garden but also A Dog So Small and The Shadow Cage and Other Tales of the Supernatural which features, amongst other creepy stories, a memorable one about a wonderfully unpleasant child-sized mannequin.
Catherine Storr – Marianne Dreams. On her tenth birthday, Marianne is forced to bed with a fever. Unsurprisingly disappointed, she picks up a pencil and starts to draw a house. That night she dreams, and as she does she finds herself transported to the house she has drawn, and the haunting and mysterious world beyond. A fantastic story that has always stayed with me and remains one of my all-time favourites.
L. M. Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables. In 1868 Louisa May Alcott published Little Women, a well-loved classic (and deservedly so) spawning a host of similar books including What Katy Did (by Susan Coolidge and also good) and L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. I ate up this series, making it the favourite choice for me above Alcott or Coolidge, and even picked Anne for my youngest daughter’s middle name (it must be Anne with an ‘e’ as you’ll well remember if you read the books). Other fans, similarly inspired by Anne, contribute to ‘an important part’ of tourism in Prince Edward Island, Canada, where apparently her image is on their number plate.
L.M. Boston – Green Knowe series. In his great-grandmother’s ancient house Tolly befriends the spirits of 3 children tied to the house and with them explores the enchanting history of this ‘ancestral home’. For the fourth book in the series, A Stranger at Green Knowe, Boston won the Carnegie Medal, and was a runner-up for both the first and second books. You can find out more about this wonderful ‘real life’ house here: http://www.greenknowe.co.uk/history.htmlThe Children of Green Knowe was adapted into a BBC drama serial in 1986 and I don’t think the public have stopped pestering the BBC to make it into a DVD. There is a rumour that the original series has been lost, but fear not, you can still catch the episodes on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdhiI8XmJQI . “Green Noah, demon tree, evil fingers can’t catch me!”
As always, if you have any thoughts don’t be shy – share! Do you think Nesbit and Pearce deserve more credit? Or have I missed anyone better? (Part 2 of this feature will be coming soon btw!) Do you have a favourite that needs more praise? Tell us about them! I need lots of suggestions for the reading challenge.
On my reading table at the moment is Chris Priestley’s highly entertaining and spooky read Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror. I’ve been meaning to get round to reading this one for a while, too long really as there are now more in the series to catch up with. The book can be read as a standalone however, and is told in the form of a series of creepy stories linked by their narrator, Uncle Montague, as he entertains his nephew, Edgar, while outside the window a swirling fog descends.
The book is very beautifully illustrated by David Roberts, though for me the illustrations suggest a ‘safer’ more child-orientated story than what’s actually on offer. There is more than a hint of Poe here (hence the protagonist’s moniker) and I was very much reminded of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. I should point out here that I am highly susceptible to horror, and that the book is aimed at a 9-12 year age group, so don’t expect anything to rival Stephen King. That noted I should also warn the squeamish that there are a number of grisly murders in the stories, and indeed some cruelty to small animals, and if you aren’t running for the hills by now I congratulate you on your fortitude.
If you do read Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror you will find that Priestley is very much in control of his narrative, which is quite traditional in tone, and that he has a real gift for creating a chilling atmosphere in a variety of settings (from rural England to suburban London and even Turkey). The characters are deftly drawn, though not always sympathetic (you couldn’t really suffer their demise if it were otherwise) but I will say that the ending probably isn’t as good as the one your piqued imagination will have conjured, but don’t let that deter you from reading this page-turning, read-it-with-the-lights-on, chiller.