October 04, 2013

Forgotten children's books

I haven’t contributed much to my Olde Books category as I’ve been rather busy with reading advance publication books under my reviewer hat, but I’m having a break and am currently engrossed in an Olde book.

I bought it partly to assist with research into a new writing project, but I am enjoying the experience enormously. It is a novel published in the middle years of World War II and it won an important regional book prize. While some of its terminology may no longer be accepted in modern fiction (e.g. racial stereotyping) it is an honest, beautifully-crafted work with no pretensions or self-consciousness. Its characters have depth and a simple wisdom that gives them hope when all around are disaster and uncertainty. I will post up a review when I have finished it, but it has inspired me to recall some other Olde books that have stayed in my memory.

In this post, I will cover some children’s books still on my shelves. Of course I have the usual very famous ones that need no introduction at all such as The Secret Garden, Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass, the Heidi triology (Heidi, Heidi Grows Up, Heidi’s Children), What Katy Did and What Katy Did Next, The Wind in the Willows, Lorna Doone and Anne of Green Gables.

But who has read these, or remembers their authors?

The Other Side of the Moon, by Meriol Trevor

Why have I kept it? I don’t really know, except that it was the first “science fiction” I ever read and the idea of travelling to the moon was such an amazing idea back when I was a child. After 1969 (moon landing) of course the book became redundant. Looking at the reviews still to be found and written through adult eyes, it seems the book had religious overtones along the lines of C.S. Lewis and even carried a “ban the bomb” message, but hardly things that mattered to my 11 year old self.

Windruff of Links Tor, by Joseph E. Chipperfield

This is a really odd choice for me, considering I’m not a dog person! But I remember it was the outdoor setting that appealed to me, the first time I had read about the wild and lonely places of England – in this case Dartmoor (also the reason I loved Lorna Doone) – places that have continued to appeal to me ever since. Chipperfield doesn’t even rate a Wikipedia, but he was a prolific writer of animal stories for children.

The Wind on the Moon, by Eric Linklater

Not science fiction, but a kind of fantasy, and I do remember this was a book I found strange and difficult. So why on earth did I keep it? Perhaps I had the idea that I would re-read it again when I was older which I’m ashamed to say I never did. The book gained Linklater the Carnegie Medal for children’s fiction. Maybe I’ll give it another go and see how it reads through my jaded adult eyes, but I doubt whether modern young readers would take to it. Here are two contrasting reviews from a couple of blogs. Bookslut and Somewhere Boy

The Coral Island, by R M Ballantyne

My father was always encouraging me to read the classics. Some of them I found too dense or old-fashioned, but I did enjoy this one as any “far away places with strange-sounding names” were a magnet for me as a reader then, as they still are now. First published in 1858, the story is an amalgam of Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe and you can’t help seeing the resemblance to that other book written a century later, Lord of the Flies by William Golding. One can read all sorts of hidden depths and meanings into it if one cares to, but I just remember my enjoyment of the story and ultimately that is what adventure books are all about.

Susannah of the Mounties, by Muriel Denison

This book with its bright red cover used to be on my shelves but sadly seems to have disappeared in one of my many moves through life. My father had worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company as a young man and was full of thrilling stories about his days mushing his way with his sled dogs across the Canadian snows, so naturally he bought me a copy of this book to introduce me to Canada. It is perhaps better-known as a movie that starred Shirley Temple. I loved it back then although I don’t know whether it would have the same appeal now, but perhaps I should buy myself a replacement copy.

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