Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Classic Children's books

I was chatting with one of my oldest and dearest friends over the weekend and she asked me to tell her about some interesting books that her kids would enjoy. I'm a reader and collector of children's fiction so it's something I'm enjoying doing - Nance, this post is for you! Though it's more about the authors I enjoy than specific books, because in genre writing, many of them do an excellent job throughout their body of work. In this blogpost, I'm only covering the older authors - I'll have to do a whole new post to cover modern ones.

Let's start with the golden oldies. I love the classic children's authors from the 1920s and 30s and even older. Louisa May Alcott is contemporary even today, and Little women and many of her other books relevant and resonant in the characters that inhabit them. You can read and re-read these books from childhood to adulthood and always find something to think about, something to delight you. I enjoy Laura Ingalls Wilder too - her meticulous and easy-to-read frontier diaries of an american family settling the Wild West. It's interesting to note how independent the women were in spite of their traditional roles. Then I've always enjoyed Frances Hodgson Burnett, though I have to admit she errs on the side of the sentimental. Kate Douglas Wiggin and LM Montgomery also spring to mind for their happy yet spirited leading characters.

For ensemble casts combining boys and girls, I like Edith Nesbit and Noel Streatfeild. The children are so real and without any open sermonizing, many messages are driven home. The kids squabble and bicker like any normal children would, and are strong characters. I also admit to enjoying Enid Blyton - particularly the Five Findouters series, The Magic Faraway Tree and The Wishing chair series and the individual books - Those Dreadful Children, the Put-em Rights, The Family at Red Roofs and all the ones about farm and circus life - Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm and Mr. Galliano's Circus, the adventure series and what are now called the Barney mysteries. Some of the other Blyton's I love are the Books of Fairies, book of brownies series, the Mr. meddle and Mr. Pink Whistle series, which are funny and fun. I've also always loved her Children's version of Pilgrim's Progress - The Land of Far Beyond. For younger kids, Noddy is fun and good reading. Blyton is an underrated and amazingly prolific writer who could as eaily write about the world of fantasy as about real children in the modern world. The only books that I didn't much enjoy were the Famous Five - which were too gender-role stereotyped.

I recommend Beverly Cleary - both her Ramona and Henry Huggins series are both peopled with believable characters and are funny and insightful. I like many of her other books too - Emily's Runaway imagination, for instance. I also really loved Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond - a book about Puritan New England in the 1600s and have all her books including the lesser-known but equally interesting The Bronze Bow. Elizabtha Enright is another author who does lovely Ensemble books, including her series about the Melendy children - vivid, distinct little characters - and the Gone Away Lake.

I also love William, Billy Bunter and Jennings - and feel the enjoyment in particular of William becomes higher as you age ( as I have blogged about before). Adventure stories of all kinds appeal to me, from The Scarlet Pimpernel to Rafael Sabatini to Biggles to the Hardy Boys and the Three Investigators, though these are for pre-teens and not kids.

I also think childhood is a good time to introduce some of the classics - Tom Brown's Schooldays, Tom Sawyer and the many versions of the greek epics - Roger Llancelyn Green is particularly good with the Greek myths. And one of my favourite fairy tale books - which I just rediscovered on amazon - is the World's Best Fairy Tales by reader's digest. This has an exhaustive list of fairy tales from around the world, and is apparently now in two volumes. It had some delightful new fairy tales -from Andrew Lang's collection and beautiful colour illustrations. The copy I had was second-hand when I got it, and is now falling apart, so I am delighted to have found this for my kids to enjoy.

I have carefully refrained from ascribing reading levels to any of the books, because firstly all kids differ in reading ability. Secondly, I feel that if you get the kids interested in a story, they will wind up raising their reading level in order to read what they like - I remember starting the Findouters series at age 5.
So cheers and happy reading!


Pelicano said...

Hey Priya,
I still have urges to re-read some of my fav classics from my much-younger- always a nice respite. I took a trip through Minnesota several years ago and visited Walnut Grove..population 650! The land that the Ingalls' owned is now owned privately, but they offer quaint, self-pay-by-placing-a-few-dollars-in-a-slotted-box, self-guided-by-sign-post tours, and I spent a few minutes sitting at "the big rock" resting near the edge of Plum Creek that Laura wrote of. Black dragonflies darted here and was so peaceful and tranquil, and strange to think of how famous she later became.

bird's eye view said...

Pelicano - you're so lucky to have gone there. She has an amazing gift for description, using the simplest of words, don't you think?Someday I'd love to go there and to Minnesota, the setting for the Betsy-Tacy books.

Devaki said...

I loved Enid Blyton books as a child... read The Magic Faraway Tree and The Wishing chair series again recently and was surprised to find myself enjoying them just as much even now. And I was left grinning for no reason the rest of the day too! :-)