The web page of the ABPress based in Oxford and Sibiu, soon open for business: muses and misspells on its books. Randomly decrepit, stiff joints, possibly neo-bankrupt: so out of touch it needs help, but so analogue it cannot be helped. Nonetheless temperamentally enthusiastic, moderately irascible.
Books with sequels are ideal recommendations for children: if they are enjoyed, the quieter they are for longer. Here is a random selection:-
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
Mary Norton (1903-1992) was London born and raised in the Manor House, Leighton Buzzard. She was a member of the Old Vic for two years and did not start writing until her two sons and two daughters were born. The Borrowers’ origins came from her childhood short-sightedness, which made her look closely at the teeming country life.
In The Borrowers, The Clock family, father Pod, mother Homity and daughter Arriety, are just 13 centimetres tall, and live under the floorboards near the grandfather clock in the Old Rectory. Conservative old Pod has little formal learning, but is courageous and devoted to his family. Homily tries hard to keep her appearance of gentility, but is easily flustered and not very brave. The daughter Arriety is obedient, but has a teenage longing for adventure and feels trapped. They survive by ‘borrowing’ from the humans upstairs, furnishing their home with matchboxes, a thimble for a cooking pot, corks for stools – their ingenuity is endless. Life is happy, apart from the ever-present threat from the cat and the humans. One day Pod is seen by a human boy and the rat catcher is called in. They flee and the search is on for their relatives – and safety.
The sequels follow their adventures, (reading in order is therefore recommended) and one takes over where the previous one ended. In order of writing they are The Borrowers, Borrowers Afield, Borrowers Afloat, Borrowers Aloft, Borrowers Avenged. They discover the excitement and danger of the outside world, and have many adventures: setting up home in an old boot by a stream; in the walls of a gamekeeper’s cottage; in a discarded kettle on the stream; a house in a miniature village; and because of their own carelessness a spell with a greedy human family called the Platters, who plan to keep them like zoo animals for the rest of their lives. Pod’s resourcefulness comes to the fore, and all ends well.
The Snow Spider Trilogy by Jenny Nimmo
Jenny Nimmo lives in Wales, and the Trilogy takes place amongst the mountains she knows well. In The Snow Spider, the first book, Gwyn’s Grandmother gives him five gifts for his ninth birthday… This is just the beginning. The family have a curse on them, for Gwyn’s young sister Bethan disappeared five years earlier and his father feels Gwyn is to blame. He has to work out his grandmother’s gifts – seaweed, yellow scarf, tin whistle, twisted metal brooch and a small broken horse – and fulfil what might be his destiny as a magician in the Welsh folklore tradition, in order to lift the curse. One in every seven generations has the power – is it his turn? The appearance of a glowing and mysterious snow spider called Arianwen sets things in motion: he spins intricate webs, one of which contains a silver gossamer image resembling his sister. Gwyn discovers more of his power as he floors a bully without touching him, and has visions. Evil beckons him and he has to fight hard to combat it.
Emlyn’s Moon follows, and The Chestnut Soldier, a darker tale than the others, allows the characters to blossom and this is as wonderful a finale to an enchanting saga.
Jenny Nimmo has also written the Children of the Red King series, which features Charlie Bone, an ordinary boy who lives with his mum, two grandmas (nice and nasty – as in life!) and Uncle Paton. The series starts with Midnight for Charlie Bone; there are now eight books in the series.
The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland
This is the opening of a supremely brilliant trilogy of books. Set in medieval England, the sequence depicts a boy who, like Jenny Nimmo’s Gwyn, has to balance events of his own life with a magical parallel life, revealed to him through a magician’s gift. Alongside Philip Pullman, Kevin Crossley-Holland has staked a claim to be at the forefront of British children’s writing after the Second World War.
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
These seven books are based on the author’s unpublished autobiography – she identifies herself further with her young heroine by calling her by her own name – and is a fascinating insight into not only a different era but a different way of living. When she started writing her classic Little House book series in 1932, she was preserving tales of the lost pioneer era in American history. The books are now published in over forty languages.
Little House on the Prairie is the best known of the series, but it starts with Little House in the Big Woods, where we meet Laura as a little girl. Between them and the nearest town there are many wild animals, so they are as self-sufficient as possible.
In succeeding books, we follow the family on their travels by covered wagon through Indian Territory. These books follow the life of the family, building their house, taming the land, fighting a prairie fire and other hardships, compounded when locusts invade in cloud-like swarms and eat the wheat crop.
Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, one of five children. She lived with her husband mostly by their own efforts, animals and vegetables. Almost daily, carloads of fans would stop by, eager to meet ‘Laura’ of the Little House Books. Laura died aged ninety in 1957.
Another American classic series of books is L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, the story of a feisty, red-haired orphan, Anne Shirley, who in some way mirrored the life of her author. With green-grey eyes and freckles, she was adopted by the Cuthberts of Avonlea in the belief that the child was to be a boy. Having spent the first eleven years unwanted and being shunted between orphanages and homes, she begins to grow as a person, and her mischievous antics – including dyeing her hair, and falling off of the roof, make readers delight in her personality. The seven books that follow are also warm-hearted (and best read in chronological order).
Michelle Paver’s successful six-part Chronicles of Ancient Darkness begins with Wolf Brother, where we are introduced to twelve year-old Torak.
The Magician’s House Quartet by William Corlett begins with The Steps Up the Chimney, set in a remote house in a Welsh valley, where in the absence of their parents, William, Mary and Alice spend Christmas with their Uncle Jack. Things are not quite what they seem, and they are led irresistibly up the hidden steps in the chimney to the secret room where the magician lives. They are soon playing a crucial role in a struggle between good and evil, which escalates throughout the sequence of books.
The Dark Is Rising award-winning sequence by Susan Cooper comprises five books, each book interlocking with each other, and unfolding a sequence of mystical adventures drawn from different aspects of British folklore.
Enid Blyton was a master storyteller and wrote many novel sequences, the most famous of which (and perhaps the best) is the Famous Five. The young heroes and heroines solve problems and have topping adventures, usually when on holiday camping, or in an old house, and without too much intervention from adults. On the edge of political correctness in our current ‘nanny state’, these exciting tales might appeal to a more cosseted generation. There are shipwrecks, secrets of state, and even ordinary thieves. The Secret Seven books are equally gripping: a children’s secret society meet regularly in the garden shed. Problems which have perplexed the police come under their scrutiny, and they shadow or interview the suspects, and find even the smallest of clues; nothing is too large or too small to tackle, and they always win.
C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series of books is a classic of children’s literature. must reads with the advantage of a big screen accompaniment. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, of course, is its contemporary (and more commercial) counterpart. The latter series of books especially made good playground currency once. But that aside, HP is not a wholeheartedly great read! Shoot me?