Reading Lucy Mangan’s #Bookworm (my review is on this page below) took me into one of my favourite genres, children’s literature which I enjoy reading even now (as anyone who reads my reviews or sees this page would know) and inspired by it is this post about a few children’s books that I discovered/read as an adult and loved. This isn’t of course a complete list but just the few names that immediately came to mind on thinking about children’s books that I hadn’t read as a child.
Gone Away Lake and Return to Gone Away by Elizabeth Enright
This was an author I hadn’t read or even heard of until some years ago when a friend not only mentioned her but send me these two books as present. And what a wonderful present they turned out to be. A Newberry Honor book, Gone Away Lake tells the story of “beginning to be eleven”- year-old Portia Blake who with her younger brother Foster who are visiting their Aunt and Uncle and cousin Julian for the holidays. Portia and Julian set off to explore the woods around their house, collecting stones, observing insects, but near a swamp they come across something exciting, a once elegant resort community, now abandoned for years. But is it really? The houses are not quite as abandoned as it would first seem, and Portia and Julian soon make friends with the eccentric but loveable siblings Pindar Payton and Minnehaha Cheever, listening to stories of long ago, and having the adventure of a lifetime in the process. In the sequel, Portia and Foster return to Gone-Away where their parents have bought their own house. What I love about these books, especially the first, because they’re are in way, magical―their magic being of the kind that is real and not what falls within the realm of fantasy―an adventure that anyone can have, a kind of place or people, anyone can come upon. The books are illustrated by Beth and Joe Crush (who if I remember right have also illustrated the Borrowers books). Having read these, I also read Enright’s Thimble Summer which was also quite lovely and am looking forward to reading her Melendy Quartet, which I have heard good things about but not read yet.
The Family at One End Street by Eve Garnett
This one I had heard about but only read when it came up as a group read in one of my goodreads groups. This is the story of the Ruggles―Mr Ruggles is a dustman while Mrs Raggles takes in washing. They have seven children ranging from twelve-and-a-half-year-old Lily Rose to the baby William. While the first chapter introduces us to the family, the rest trace the adventures of each of the children in turn, and finally of the family as a whole. Illustrated by Garnett herself, these are simple stories of everyday life in a poor family, but not one that mopes around and curses their fate but is happy with what little they have, finding pleasure in the simple things in life, and adventure in any opportunity that presents itself. (And no, that doesn’t mean that they are little angels in the form of children, they are naughty and they get into their share of trouble, but much of it is in good fun., and no one of it is twee, so no fear of that either). Not everyone in the group I read this with liked these but I found them absolutely charming, with likeable characters, and a book which leaves you feeling warm and happy. This one has a couple of sequels too but I haven’t got my hands on them so far.
All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
This one I’m not even sure how I came across. Perhaps comparable with One End Street, this little gem features five little girls, Gertie, Charlotte, Sarah, Henny and Ella, aged between four and twelve living with their mama who looks after the house, and papa who runs a junk shop in the East Side in New York City. Once again, it isn’t about great adventures but everyday life from library day to trips to the market, illnesses and festivities, and the joys and sorrows that these bring. What makes this one extra-special is the richness of detail on Jewish festivals, culture, and observances, described so well that it feels as through one is part of the family seeing things unfold with them. This one is illustrated by Helen John, and there are sequels as well but as for One End Street, I haven’t gotten to these yet. My review is on goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1716276635?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1
Wings Over Delft by Aubrey Flegg
This one I found by sheer chance when I was browsing some books on an online store. I liked the description, and it was on discount so I ordered it. The first in a trilogy, this one is about Louise Eeden the daughter of a master potter in Delft who is about to marry the scion of another large pottery house, a match that means not only a personal relationship but a merger of businesses to her father’s advantage. But Louise only likes the young man in question Reynier as a friend she has known from long, nothing more. Meanwhile she is having her portrait painted by Master Haitnik, something that brings her in close contact with the painter, his family, and his gangly apprentice Pieter. But this story is much more than just these personal and social relationships. It takes us into the world of painting (how portraits come into being, how they are planned, the thought, and the vision involved besides the execution), as well as questions of science, philosophy, religion, and tolerance, a lot of which is relevant even today. While I wasn’t exactly pleased with the ending (based on a historical event though it was), the rest of it is a really wonderful read. The sequels (again I haven’t gotten hold to these yet), trace the stories of other characters who some centuries later (during the French Revolution, and then World War-II) happen to find themselves in possession of Louise’s painting, an idea that I found really intriguing. My review is on goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2068992183?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1
A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley
This was again a gift and from the same friend that sent me the Gone-Away books, and I’m not entirely sure if this qualifies as a children’s book at all. This is a combination of history and fantasy, more specifically time travel, and tells the story of Penelope Taberner who is sent to some relatives in the country to convalesce and in that house finds herself travel back and forth in time, landing up in the Elizabethan age and amidst the Babington Plot which sought to rescue Mary Stuart (Queen of Scotts) from captivity. This is a lovely read but also a sad one in a sense with Penelope’s sheer helplessness when she is unable to help the Babingtons who she comes to know so well, and at having to leave the friends she grows to love. A wonderful book which I’m not sure I have quite the right words to describe.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
This is the first of a series of eleven Wolves Chronicles, which are connected and yet not―each (at least till book 3) following a character from the previous book (but not the main one) on a new adventure (book 3 onwards, I think we stay with one character). So while Willoughby Chase is about two little girls Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia, who fall into the clutches of a rather evil governess when Bonnie’s parents go missing at sea, and the second Black Hearts in Battersea follows Simon, a little boy who had helped the two girls in the first book, on a full-blown adventure of his own. I’ve only read these two so far but these were really good fun, he first with a pretty mean villainess, and an equally enjoyable adventure/mystery in the second, with great imagery and a bit of a dark/gothic touch. From what I’ve heard of the others, they’re really enjoyable as well. Illustrated by Edward Gorey. My reviews are: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1511853980?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1 and https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1519300202?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1
Just William by Richmal Crompton
The first of thirty-nine books by Richmal Crompton follow the adventures of William Brown, mischievous school boy of eleven as he and his friends the Outlaws (Douglas, Henry, and Ginger) go from one adventure to the next, whether it is exploring the little lane behind his house or adopting a ‘norphan’ or exhibiting a dangerous animal (his dog painted with green spots), among other hilarious adventures. Lucy Mangan in Bookworm called Crompton the Wodehouse for children, so I probably needn’t say much more about just how funny these are. Illustrated by Thomas Henry and Henry Ford (I love the 1920s and 1930s illustrations), aside from being downright side-splitting fun, these also take you into the social scenario of the time, give one a ‘feel’ of the period, and in fact take one in a way, on a journey through time in the periods in which the books were written, new developments reflecting in the themes of the stories. (Each is a collection of short stories.) I knew of these books as a child since these were among my mother’s favourites but only got down to reading them as an adult.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
All I’ll say about this (and the Harry Potter books in general) is I was quite sceptical about reading them initially but when I did, I really loved them all. The first, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, remains my favourite in a way because that “magic” of the first entry into the wizard world is something special.
The Three Investigators by Robert Arthur
This series of children’s mystery stories are written by various authors but the one’s I’ve read so far have all been by Robert Arthur. Earlier editions had intros by Alfred Hitchcock. Technically I knew of these as a child and also had one, but it is only as an adult that I really began to read other titles in this series which features three boys Jupiter Jones, Peter Cranshaw, and Bob Andews, Jupiter being the brains of the operation. What I love about them (the ones I have read so far including the Fiery Eye and the Screaming Clocks) are the imaginative solutions, which I found much more interesting than some of the other children’s mystery series I’ve read. I’m really looking forward to exploring other titles in this series.
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett
One might describe this series as a little bit gimmicky, thirteen books, each with thirteen chapters and a macabre, glum atmosphere, but they’re also really good fun. The series features three children Violet (inventor), Klaus (reader/bookworm), and baby Sunny (who develops into a great cook since she is really good at using her teeth), who are orphaned when their parents die in a fire, and move from one relative or friend to another while the evil Count Olaf is trying to get them, and their property into his own hands. These are fun adventures but also very witty (for instance baby Sunny saying “Ackroyd” when she meant “Roger” J) and full of allusions and the author poking fun at different things (like fads in the Ersatz Elevator). Perhaps not a series that can be read all at once, I think they’re crazy and great fun in smaller doses. So far I’ve read 6 books in the series plus Snickett’s “Unauthorized Autobiography” which tells one some answers but not all. I’m looking forward to reading on and seeing how things play out. (Illustrated by Brett Helquist).
So those are some of my favourite children’s books that I discovered as an adult. What are yours?