Last week I had a couple of those random twitter experiences that get your mind working. First Susan at Reading Upside Down outed me as the intrepid children’s book sleuth when Rebecca Newman (@_boobook_ ) was hunting for a book she had read as a child. (You can read about how we did here at her blog. ) I do possess mad googling skillz, and was one of those kids who read every book in the library, so this was a labour of love. Susan knew about my fondness for such pursuits when I helped her sister rediscover the Green Knowe series. Like Rebecca, she could only recall certain aspects of the book – a boy called Tolly, ghosts of children and an old mansion. Her description rang a bell, and we were both excited to find the books and reread them.
Then I had a lovely chat with several folks about the Australian childrens’ books Bottersnikes and Gumbles. It was fun to see how many of us Australians (of a certain age) recalled such details about a series that never reached the dizzying heights of renown as Snugglepot & Cuddlepie or Blinky Bill. They obviously made an impact on us in our young reading years.
So here are a few more books from my childhood that I recall with incredible fondness, yet aren’t often listed in the classics that we ensure we set aside for our own children.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr
I think I read this as my brother was reading it in his class a year ahead. The story of a young Jewish girl (the author herself) who fled Nazi Germany with her family, it was my first real introduction to the Holocaust and the history of World War 2. Before then Hitler was just a name of a bad guy that sometimes got thrown my way at school because my family came from Germany. Since that first reading at around ten years of age, I have sought out many books on the subject, both fiction and non-fiction. My own daughter has just finished Morris Gleitzman’s beautiful Once and Then, which like When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is told from the perspective of a child.
The Cay – Theodore Taylor
I remember the feel and the cover of this book (not the one pictured) quite strongly for some reason. The edition I read seemed quite new – although at the time (around 1982) it was already over twelve years since it’s publication. It’s possible that it just wasn’t one of those books that kids are drawn to, but it has stayed with me, although I haven’t read it since. I remember the cat and the eventual friendship between Phillip and Timothy, and how they looked after eachother when stranded on the Cay.
Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dell
I must have been going through a “stranded on an island” phase, because I’m sure I read this around the same time as I read The Cay. Actually, now that I think about it, we may have been doing a theme of that kind in our library lessons that year, and I was always the good girl who read every book! Animals always featured strongly in the books that I loved, and I remember crying as I read about Rontu the dog (wolf?) in this story.
The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster
Now here’s a great story, that people just look at me strangely when I tell them about it. I have no idea why it isn’t better known because it is so much fun to read. My brother and I had a copy, which I first read at a very young age, when I was probably too young to understand all the clever puns and wordplays. I read it recently with my ten-year-old son, and he delighted in the story of Milo, who travels through the Phantom Tollbooth to the magical lands of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason.
A Little Bush Maid – Mary Grant Bruce
If one side of my heritage led me to reading holocaust and world war two fiction, the other side has given me a deep and abiding love for stories set in the Australian bush. Although idyllised and very much a product of their time with regards to the representation of aboriginal and chinese Australians (and I understand they have since been edited to change this), the Billabong series of books were captivating stories for a young city girl who thought living on horseback and camping out under the stars was a wonderful life indeed. It was also fun to read classic books with a female protagonist that were still ‘ripping yarns’ and full of adventure.
Do any of these books ring a bell with you? What other less-commonly-known children’s books do you recall from your own childhood? Or do you have a book mystery you’d like me to try and solve?