nostalgic

I am looking forward to the Christmas holiday immensely. It seems to be the only time when both of us actually entirely stop working. This year, part of that lovely non-work time will be spent on Islay. Hurrah! There will be walking! Wild, wintry landscapes! Roaring fires! Last time we had a holiday, we really enjoyed reading each other’s books — by which I mean the work of authors one of us hadn’t read, and the other had recommended. I earmarked George Eliot and Josephine Tey for Tom, and he suggested Boris Akunin to me. This was fun. We thought we’d do this again, but this time with the books we’d read as children instead. I am excited about this swap; have been preparing a small selected list, and have begun to order second-hand copies of the books.

pa-studio
Edward Ardizzone, self portrait (1952) © Tate Gallery.

This list needs thought. The selection must be appropriate. For as well as being books one was fond of, one must also be able to imagine the other person being fond of them as well. For example, I devoured the work of Jean Webster, and Pamela Brown, but I unfortunately can’t imagine Tom being gripped by either Daddy Long Legs or The Bridesmaids. (Um, did that come out wrong?) There are other books I loved as a child — Noel Streatfield’s Tennis Shoes, for example — that I think would be very likely to get on my wick if I read them now. I was also a voracious, secret reader of my Ma’s Georgette Heyer novels, but these are emphatically not appropriate Tom-reading, nor do they really count as kids books (however formative they were for me).

jennie

I had a granddad who was not only very keen on libraries, but on sales of library books. Many of the books I read as a kid were picked up by him at sales at Rochdale, Heywood, and Bury. I grew up surrounded by wonderful, worn copies of 1950s hardbacks, and loved so many of the books he gave me, with “removed from circulation” stamped inside. Paul Gallico’s Jennie is one of these. In fact, I think Rochdale Central Library must have got rid of all their old Paul Gallicos in one go, as I read and adored most of his books — The Man who Was Magic being another favourite. Jennie‘s feisty, Scottish, feline heroine is the exponent of a very grown-up exploration of autonomy and dependence, and I remember Peter’s fight with the enormous yellow-toothed rat as one of the most thrilling and terrifying things I ever read. Thinking about it now, I am sure there is probably something suspicious about Gallico’s writing about relationships in Jennie, as much as in his deeply disturbing Love of Seven Dolls (which I was also very fond of), but, like many people, I have managed to maintain a largely uncritical take on the books I really loved as a child. I wonder if this will change in Gallico’s case if I read him again . . . hmm.

Philosophising cats appear again in another of my ex-library favourites: Eleanor Estes’ Pinky Pye, which also features ornithology, a Very Small Owl, and the marvelous illustrations of Edward Ardizzone.

ardizzone3
Ardizzone’s illustration of Mr Bish reunited with his little owl. Eleanor Estes, Pinky Pye, (1958)

Much of my best childhood reading seems to have been illustrated by Ardizzone: his wonderful drawings really brought my copy of Stig of the Dump to life. I remember being fascinated by the American setting of Pinky Pye, and finding the sandy, summer landscape of Fire Island incredibly exotic.

One kid’s book I can’t imagine ever not liking, and which has to be at the top of Tom’s list, is Michael Ende’s Momo. I was given this book as a gift from my auntie Anne, and I think my copy must have been the 1984 English translation. My memories of Cassiopeia, Beppo, and the grim men in grey are very vivid indeed. Its a quarter of a century since I first came across it (gulp) and I am really looking forward to reading it again as well as to seeing what Tom makes of it.

This process of selection is interesting: I am picking books that I think Tom would like, but also the books that I think I would still like too. These books retain a certain spooky staying power, while the majority of things I read (and loved) then do not. What works of children’s literature have staying power for you? What would be on your list?

31 responses

  1. Arthur Ransome’s sailing books (I’m re-reading Coot Club at the moment), Ballet Shoes (a wonderful book with wonderful illustrations), Anne of Green Gables, Little Women. Sadly, however, I already know my boyfriend’s opinion on all of these!

  2. Last night one of Norway’s most famous children’s book authors – Anne-Cath Westly – passed away (at the age of 88), and made headlines in the news this morning, alongside money-market news from all over the world. it strangely put some of our contemporary crises in perspective. I know that money-market is serious business, but so is writing books for kids, these are stories that become parts of out life forever. Nothing can be more serious than that.
    My favorite authors are:
    1. Tove Jansson (Finland), I still read her books with great joy and pleasure, even if (or maybe because of-) melancholy and loss is central in her writings.
    2. Astrid Lindgren (Sweden): Pippi is a great heroin, but the stories about the Brothers Lionheart and Ronja are also great, as are Emil, Rasmus and all her other characters.

  3. I re-read Momo this year. I had a copy of it as a child but unfortunately my parents got rid of most of my children’s books and toys, thinking I wouldn’t want or need them again. Argh!!! So I’ve been buying up copies of old favourites. I never really like Momo, or The Neverending Story for that matter, but I highly recommend Ende’s Wunschpunsch, which I think is The Notion Potion in English. It’s wonderfully fun and quirky and NewYearsEve-y. It has magic and evil and animals that talk – doesn’t get much better.
    I think my favourite author back then was Erich Kaestner (also German) – I still remember most of his stories vividly (including the wonderful illustrations they came – and still come – with), and my favourite one of his is The Thirty-Fifth of May, which is totally silly and fun and quirky and weird.

  4. I’m saddened to hear of the passing of Anne-Cath Vestly (that’s how her last name is spelled in my copy of ‘Hello, Aurora,’ which is sitting right next to me now). It’s amazing how a Norwegian writer could have such an impact on a little girl living in Chicago, but she did. It’s one of my all-time favorites, as well as titles by Eleanor Estes, Lois Lenski, L. Frank Baum, Beverly Cleary, C.S. Lewis., Maud Hart Lovelace, Judy Blume and the Nancy Drew series. P.S., I’m a long-time lurker finally coming out of hiding! Love the mix of topics on the blog, keep up the good work. — Leah in Arizona

  5. i second the Tove Jansson. The Moomintroll books are wonderful.

    Also Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain about Taran the wanderer. (Five book series? Four or five, can’t remember.)

  6. I like this idea and will maybe nick it for DH and me ;)
    Momo would also be on my list… I love Michael Ende (so much that I have his books in German also). Other authors would be Astrid Lindgren (Swedish author) “Ronja Røverdatter” and “Brødrene Løvehjerte”. Another Swedish author and favorite is Selma Lagerlöef with her “Niels Holgersen”.
    I also would have to have Tolkien on my list. I had it read to me when I was 5 or 6 and read it myself when I was 8. Both the Hobbit and LOTR made deep impressions on me.
    … to be honest, I’ve never stopped reading children’s books! They are wonderful!

  7. We read to the kids every night, though at 10 and 8, they are more than old enough to read to themselves; none of us want to end this tradition.
    When I was a child I read the railway children and liked it well enough but it wouldn’t have been anywhere near the top of my list. I read it to the children some time ago. On reaching the end, I became a total wreck – completely blubbering all over the book. The kids were most perplexed about this so I called Chris to finish it off as I couldn’t hold myself together. He lost it an’ all. Don’t know what that was all about but take care with your choices, people!
    My list would include The Amazing Koalas (and Michael Wiley), Flat Stanley, Anne of Green Gables and the Kathleen Fiddler Omnibus (is that you, Peter Pitkin? Ye-es!)

  8. The “Anne of Green Gables” books, “We Go By Sea, We Go By Land” by P.L Travers (I absolutely devoured this book as a child!), The Dido Twite books by Joan Aiken, “The Seven Little Australians” by Ethel Turner, “Goodnight Mister Tom” by Michelle Magorian.

    I’m sure there are plenty more, but I can’t think of them at the moment!

  9. Sorry – I just realised that the P.L Travers book is actually titled “I Go By Sea, I Go By Land”. And I think it was published in 1941.

  10. I second all those who mentioned Astrid Lindgren. I just love Pippi or Karlsson or Kalle Blomquist. And I love Erich Kaestner with Emil, the detective, or Puenktchen (=Dot-ty) or the two Lotties. Other favourites have been Dr Dolittle, Little women, Nils Holgersson, the “Leatherstocking”-books, the books of Karl May and other “adventurous” authors. Oh yes, and Mary Poppins was also very popular with me.
    As to the question of whether my BF would or would not like to read one of those – well, I would like to try and copy this wonderful idea. Have fun!

  11. Well after some deliberation mine would be The Family From One End Street by Eve Garnett and don’t know whether this is allowed or not, Beryl the Peril Annual. I managed to buy the first Beryl annual published in 1959 a while ago and sat chortling to myself all afternoon. Thank God for childish humour…..

  12. I didn’t really leave the ‘book-world’ and enter the ‘real-world’ until I was about eighteen, so it is hard just to make one or two suggestions. Reading through the comments above has been a highly pleasurable nostalgia trip.

    A few years ago my husband and I were amazed to discover that we both shared a passion as children for the same abridged version of Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, with illustrations by Arthur Rackham. He since bought me a beautiful old copy of the book, which we read with our children on holidays.

  13. I read a bunch of Beverly Cleary when I was young, and have read some of the books aloud to my boy. They are still great, and he has really enjoyed them. A while back we also read The Trumpet of the Swan and I was surprised at how much I remembered of the story!

    I have reserved some of the stories you listed at the Library! We’re in between books right now (bedtime reading with Jerry) and I am glad to have some new books on the list. Thank you! Your exchanging of books idea is great, and I can’t wait to hear what Tom gives you to read!

  14. One of my favorites books was James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert. By some miracle I still have my childhood copy.

  15. I hunted down a copy of Jean Webster’s DEAR ENEMY–which I still loved, but would never give anyone to read (mostly for fear of not enjoying their not-enjoyment).

    Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt is still great, though, as is A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and The Just So Stories.

  16. Ooh yes – anything with Ardizzone illustrations! I remember outraging my prim Presbyterian mother with “hey diddle diddle the cat did a piddle…” from a book illustrated by him! Noel Streatfield “Thursday’s Child”, Frances Hodgson Burnett “A Little Princess” , Eve Garnett “The Family From One End Street”. I am collecting a similar list for my daughter’s christmas.

  17. I loved Jennie, The Borrowers and Daddy Longlegs. I’m also a great fan of Georgette Heyer and especially Jane Austen. I nearly cried when I came upon the Collected Works of jane Austen and found out that she had only written six novels.
    I can also recommend Casey (sorry don’t remember the surname of the author, her first name was Joyce, I think) which is also a wonderful story about a cat.

    A Dutch Knitter

  18. I do not know if my favorite childhood’s books have been translated into English. They were written by Monteiro Lobato. I was quite pleased when I found him on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monteiro_Lobato. They were just fantastic. As a teenager I read my father’s phylosophy books, all of Agatha Christie’s books and lots of french science fiction like Renee Barjavel.

  19. What about Linnets and Valerians? It is one of a handful of Elizabeth Goudge’s juveniles thatI adored as a kid.

    I happily second the Ransome books – we had a pilgrimage to see the Lake District and sail to Wildcat Island last summer. It brought tears to my eyes, standing there and thinking about it.

  20. Oh – and I was so pleased to see Jennie there! My dad read that to me, along with Jungle Book and the Hobbit. The copy I had was titled The Abandoned and I have never quite figured out if it is the same story (a little boy turns into a cat) or a different story about another cat named Jenny. If you can find Paul Gallico’s Abandonded it makes lovely reading.

  21. Diane Wynne Jones – I only came across her as an adult but her fantasy fiction beats Harry Potter into a cocked hat. My absolute favourites from childhood are the Joan Aiken ‘Wolves of Willoughby Chase’ series – especially the second and third (‘Black Hearts in Battersea’ and ‘Nightbirds on Nantucket’). Is it any wonder I ended up working on the 18th century – even if it’s not Aiken’s Jacobite and semi-magical world? I gave one to my book-resistant little cousin who has become totally gripped. Catherine Webb’s recent ‘Horatio Lyle’ series is a good equivalent, so I’m trying that out on her for Christmas.

  22. You might give him a try with Georgette Heyer;
    choosing just the right one would be important.
    I know a hetero male who enjoys them for the
    wit and comedy of manners.

  23. Hi Kate
    I found your blog when looking for an illustration from Pinky Pye for MY blog. I adore this book, I reread it every summer and I am 43 years old. Like you, I find that Edward Ardizzone seemed to be the illustrator of most of my favorite children’s books, like Nurse Matilda and anything by Eleanor Estes.
    Fire Island also seemed exotic to me, and I live in the US.
    Anyway, I wave to you from across the ocean and will add your blog to my check-in-on list.

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