Some favorite children's books and authors

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All the gothic requisites are here - an eerie castle, an evil uncle, helpless orphans, indomitable governess, intrigue and adventure.  Wittily told by various narrators, this book will keep you turning pages well into the night.




A charming tale of India and a young boy's mission to return the sacred conch to its rightful owners, the monastic healers in a mystic mountain Shangri-La.  The author so strongly evokes the rich sights, sounds, and tastes of Kolkata that reading the book is an almost sensual experience.


A Murder for Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner

During the reign of Elizabeth I, a young girl witnesses the political murder of her father, and disguising herself as a boy, finds refuge in a cathedral choir school.  A very fun book!






  Old Friends


One of my favorites ever!  And no one seems to read it anymore.  This delightful book has nothing to do with Shirley Temple or Broadway productions.  It is the life of a thoughtful, sensitive, imaginative, and thoroughly misunderstood girl who is sent to live with her aunts Miranda and Jane.  Her efforts to be good and please her aunts usually end in funny and sometimes moving misadventures.  The book follows her from her arrival at the aunts' home (not Sunnybrook Farm - that is Rebecca's  private name for "the old Hobbs place" where she has lived with her impoverished mother and six siblings) to adulthood and romance. 


 The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.               I love this book so much, that when I looked at the illustrations by Arthur Rackham, I got misty eyed.  I read it when I was small, when I was big, read it to my daughter, read it to my granddaughter, and every time, I loved it all the more.  

"One does not argue about The Wind in the Willows. The young man gives it to the girl with whom he is in love, and, if she does not like it, asks her to return his letters. The older man tries it on his nephew, and alters his will accordingly."

A. A. Milne




The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde                          When I was six, I heard, read on the radio, a story which disturbed me very much, and remained with me for years.  Although I always remembered it and the intense impression it made on me, I didn't know what it was.  One evening in graduate school days, I took a tea and toast break from my studies.  While waiting for the toast to to toast, I picked up one of my daughters books, read the first line of this story, and knew it was the one I had heard so many years before.   I love all of Oscar Wilde's writing, but because of the Happy Prince, I think I love Oscar himself.  What in incredible person he must have been!


Another old timer, but so funny.  Unfortunately very unPC, but wonderful nonetheless.  It's the story of a turn of the century 12 year old boy, his friend Sam, and his dog Duke, and the trouble they create - always with good intentions, of course.  I have laughed till tears ran down reading about Penrod's troubles trying to quietly amuse himself in church!


In Five Children and It by E. Nesbit, the five children find and free a sand fairy in a sand pit - not your run-of-the-mill fairy, but an ugly, vain, and grumpy one - who offers to grant them wishes, but as so often the case in freely granted wishes, things do not turn out as anticipated.  A witty and funny story from the early 20th century - the first in a delightful series.  



Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald, the story of a poor Highland boy, is not the George MacDonald book that most folk read, but it is my favorite.  It has been a long time since I read it (I plan to remedy that soon), so I cannot say much about it except that I found it a moving book.   There are three editions of this novel.  The original contains much Scottish dialect that is nearly incomprehensible to us.  Another is an abridged version with nearly half gone, and the third, which I recommend, has the dialect translated, but is otherwise left intact. .


Pinocchio by Carlo Colludi (1883)                                   This Pinocchio, who begins life as a stick of firewood, is not the fellow from Walt Disney.  He is much stupider, naughtier, very selfish, altogether far less cute (in fact, not cute at all), and thus far more more interesting.   The book is a rather dark social commentary, portraying a dangerous and selfish world, against which those in poverty are nearly helpless.  The trials Pinocchio must endure before he comes to his senses are varied and fantastic. 



For years I didn't read this because I thought it was about boy scouts in the Andes.  The Andes part is obvious, but boy scouts??  Actually it is the first in a wonderful series about a delightful family living in the Lake District.  The children have many adventures boating, camping, and chasing pirates.  


  Noel Streatfield is the author of many children's books, most notably the "shoes" series - Circus Shoes, Movie Shoes, Ballet Shoes,  and more, which actually are not a series at all but quite separate books.  My favorite of her books is The Growing Summer in which a family of children is sent to Ireland to stay with their eccentric Great Aunt Dymphna.   Here they are left largely on their own, and must learn to cope with independence and responsibility.    


 Gentle humor is a distinguishing characteristic of Eleanor Estes.  You just feel better after reading one of her many novels.  I think my favorite is The Alley.  I am reminded of it whenever I pick up a Stanley screwdriver.  Read this wonderful book to see why.                                  



Josie and Joe by Ruth Gipson Plowhead  My daughter and I both love this book and refer to it as "the canning novel."   The heroine, Josie, is a tomboy who wants nothing more than to be on the baseball team with her twin Joe.  When Joe, the teams best player, falls ill for the big game, Josie trims her hair, impersonates him, and wins the game.   However, since Josie is not allowed on the team, she joins 4-H  and becomes a master canner, winning the blue ribbon with the preserved white huckleberries she gathered on a hike in the high mountains.  Incidentally, this book is also memorable as it is the only library book I ever dropped while reading in the bathtub.    


This book by the author of Mary Poppins is very different.  For safety, a young girl is sent to live with relatives in America during WWII.  No magic, no umbrellas, just adjustment troubles, loneliness, and the adventures of daily life in an unfamiliar land.  


Doesn't everyone love  the All of a Kind Family?  These stories of a Jewish family living in turn of the century lower east side New York are truly happy-making, and probably provided many children  with their first insights into wonderful Jewish customs and traditions.




A lonely boy, Toby, is sent to live with his great-grandmother in a very old house in the county.  He is fascinated by a portrait of three children who lived in the house in the 17th century.  His grandmother tells him tales of the children, their horse, bird, and flute, and gradually Toby realizes that the children are still there and are eager to be his companions.  



This Newberry winner by Robert O'Brien is the story of little field mouse, her children, and the super-intelligent escaped lab rats who are helping her when she must move house and  her sick son or risk death from the plow.  


Thomasina, the Cat Who Thought She Was God by Paul Gallico                                                                   Once again, not Walt Disney.  I was unsure whether to include this book among children's literature or adult, as it is a book for everyone.  It is narrated by Thomasina, but is really the story of the relationship between a lonely little girl and and her frustrated father, a veterinarian who does not care for animals and feels he should by rights be treating humans.   Another wonderful Paul Gallico cat book is The Abandoned, the story of a selfish little boy who is turned into a cat and learns humanity.


Alice Turner Curtis - Little Maid Series

My mother loved these books, and so did my daughter and I.   They are stories of young girls living during the Revolutionary War.  The books give a sense of life in those times, a sense of the history happening then, and are filled with adventure as the girls inevitably meet a Revolutionary War hero, and perform a dangerous, patriotic, heroic act themselves.   My favorites, I seem to recall, were The Little Maid of Nantucket and The Little Maid of Provincetown.




Beverly Cleary                                                           Everyone loves Ramona, and I certainly do too, but when I was young, Ellen Tebbits was my favorite character.  And in recent years, I read Emily's Runaway Imagination, and thought it was one of Beverly Cleary's  best.  It is the story of a little girl living in Eastern Oregon in the 1920's, and the trouble her imagination gets her into.  Emily is a great reader, and her goal is to bring a lending library to Pitchfork.  


Of all Mark Twain's books, Tom Sawyer seems the most suited for children.   I think Huckleberry Finn is the best, period, and my daughter and I both read it as young children, but Tom's adventures seem to me to be more accessible to a young person.    


Joan Aiken's Wolves Chronicles, including The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersea, and Nightbirds on Nantucket are great fantasy adventure.  Wittily written, with quirky characters, devilish plots, perilous escapes..... what more could one wish for???


My granddaughter and I have an ongoing discussion as to the relative merits of A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, which is, according to her, the most awesome book ever. I think they are both pretty awesome, but A Little Princess is just a teensy bit more so.   


The book first of The Dark Is Rising series based on English mythology and legend, tells of a family on holidays in Cornwall - the discovery of an ancient map, and the race between representatives of the forces of good and of evil to find the Holy Grail.   


In A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley, a modern day London girl visits her relatives living in a very old country farmhouse.  There, she is intermittently carried to the sixteenth century and days of political turmoil.  With her family (ancestors actually), she struggles to save Mary Queen of Scots. 


The Watson Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis
This Newberry winner is a heart warmer, and exciting as well.   The story is told from the viewpoint of the younger son in a very realistic (by which I mean not "sappy") family who travel from Flint, Michigan to visit Gramma in Birmingham.  The oldest son is having troubles, and Gramma is the only one who can straighten him out.  The book describes the horror of a very dark day in American history.  Curtis' other books, Bud not Buddy, and Bucking the Sarge are excellent as well.




A lonely little boy - a bit "different"- wanders of onto the prairie and is nurtured  by a badger for a summer.  This is a truly wonderful book - it changed my life - at least for a few days.  


Two children run away from home, and to avoid the usual discomforts of life on the road, sneakily stay overnight in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It has been a long time since I read this book, but I recall that I liked it incredibly!  I think I am due to read it again.  


This is not really a children's book, but I read it as a child, so I am including it. I loved it!  It was very funny, but not only that......   At one point in the story, the narrator, Betty MacDonald, had just had a baby.  The mailman asked her if "her innards were back together yet," or some such thing.  My friend and I thought this was truly titillating, and we read it over and over for perverse thrills!  We also looked at the underwear ads in the Montgomery Ward catalogue.  A different age!


What a surprise to discover that the author of another one of my beloved childhood books was the sister of Betty MacDonald.  This book is about a Seattle girl who has everything but a best friend, until an exotic girl from France moves into the next door house which has been long empty.   


The Family at One End Street was winner of the 1937 Carnegie medal.  It is novel in that it is one of the first British books for children about the children from a working class family - the mother a washerwoman and the father a dustman - both "professional  cleaners up of other people's messes."   One of the sequels, Holiday at Dew Drop Inn, is my particular favorite.  



This is one of the first "chapter books"  I ever read, and I dearly loved it and the other two in the series.  Sadly, I don't own it, nor does my library, and I don't remember enough to tell you much about it, other than that it was really good.     The island is not actually invisible.  The invisible thing is the fact that it is an island. It is a bit of land in the woods which is surrounded by water - creeks, a river - making it an island of sorts.  The children discover an abandoned sod house on it where they have their adventures.  


My daughter asked why I did not have Miss Bianca on this page, and I said because Miss Bianca is not really one of my favorites.  She replied that she is one of hers, and so should be here.  So here she is.  Presenting the beautiful and talented Miss Bianca!  Mouse detective extraordinaire!


Rebecca's all time favorite character is Freddy the Pig.  She has read all the Freddie books time and time again.  Somehow, Freddie and I never quite bonded, but all my cousins love him as well, so for their sakes I had better include Freddy


Before chapter books, there were beloved picture books.  Any book illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky  is bound to be wonderful.  The first books ever that I actually remember are The Tall Book of Fairy Tales, and its companion, The Tall Book of Mother Goose.  Of course, I did not have them in Russian.  



This is another picture story book, a gift from my grandmother when I could not yet read myself.   I demanded it be read to me over and over, and then later I read over and over - until long after I was beyond the suggested age limit.  Then I read it to my daughter and granddaughter.  Actually, I still reread the stories to myself occasionally, and still  dearly love the illustrations.  


I have not read this book, but since I am an orthopedic nurse, I thought I had better include it.  I am embarrassed to confess that I really did read many Cherry Ames books, and liked them quite well.


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