Friday, February 12, 2010

Rock cakes and smuggler's coves

We all know that if there is one thing you should not do to your children it is to impose your embarassing ambitions, tastes and foibles upon them.

If you want them to become a neurosurgeon, don't force it.  If you love sailor suits and think they look charming, don't make your child wear them.   And if you want them to have the same obssessive childhood hobbies, be a subtle directionist, and do not push it on to them.

This has been hard for me.   What I want my children to be is bookoholics.   To me, there is nothing more important than a love of books. Books are my stalwart companions, and I learned that early on, as a child, when my happiest times were lying in the sunshine in my bedroom reading an Enid Blyton book.

(this is what my shelves looked like, photo from here)

So for my daughter, I have started a little collection of all the books I read over and over when I was young.   Predictably, and perversely, as yet she shows no interest at all in them.

Here is my list.  I haven't collected them all yet, but I figure I still have a bit of time.
And in case you are wondering, they are all quite readable by adults too.  

1. Joan Aiken 'The Wolves of Willoughby Chase' (1963). 

(image by Superflygirl on Flickr)

These books are set in early 1800s during the reign of James III, positing an alternate history of England in which James II has not been deposed, but instead Hanoverian insurgents agitate against the monarchy.  To add to the excitement, wolves have invaded England from Russia via the channel tunnel.

This books tells the story of cousins Bonnie and Sylvia who are left by Bonnie's parents in their house Willoughby Chase under the care of the sinister and villainous Mrs Slighcarp.  

This book is part of a series which included Nightbirds on Nantucket and Black Hearts in Battersea, which also feature Simon and a new character, the wonderful and feisty Dido Twite. 

These books are so imaginative, and scary, they thrilled me to bits when I was a little girl. 

2. The 'R' Mysteries and the Adventure Series by Enid Blyton

A little confession - I recently looked at the Enid Blyton Society website and I couldn't find a single Enid Blyton book I hadn't read. 

Now, we all know about Mallory Towers, St Clares, the Faraway Tree, Noddy, the so called racism, the so called sexism, the library ban and other things. But, in spite of all that, what Enid Blyton does so well (the same point has been made about JK Rowling) is engender a love of reading whcih endures for a lifetime.

I loved all the school stories of course and desparately wanted to go to a boarding school in Cornwall and be naughty in a prim way, but I most of all loved the adventure stories.  The above is the Barney series, and below, one of the Adventure series.

Both series consisted of groups of siblings and friends (there is always one outcast eccentric friend who is especially clever at getting out of sticky situations) who have wonderful adventures in sinister castles, villages, islands, etc. 

(all Enid covers from the Enid Blyton Society)

3. Lucy M Boston's Green Knowe Stories, starting with the Children of Green Knowe

This is a ghostly story set in an evocative house.   Part of a series of 5 books (I think).

4. Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden

Rumer Godden has written some fabulous books including The River.  Having spent much of her childhood in India, she often explores themes of belonging and homesickness.

In this book Nona is sent from steamy India to live with cousins in cold rainy England.  Life is utterly miserable until she is given two Japanese dolls, and instructions to build them an authentic Japanese home, which she proceeds to do.  This was my first introduction to tatami mats, rice paper walls and kimonos.   The book also comes with instructions for the house. 

5.  Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards

Yes, this is the Julie Andrews of Mary Poppins and Sound of Music fame.  She is a rather good writer.  This book tells the story of Mandy, a girl in an orphanage who discovers an abandoned cottage in the forest behind the orphanage.  She cleans it out, 'does it up' and all ends happily when the man who owns it ends up adopting her.

A magical story for girls who want to live in their own home separate from their family (as I did.  Nothing personal, it was just what I wanted). 

6. The Chalet School Books by Elinor M Brent Dyer

As a little girl my Chalet School addiction knew no bounds.   Elinor M Brent Dyer wrote 59 of these books, over 45 years (between 1925 and 1970), so it was pretty much impossible to collect them all.   But wonderful to obsess over. 

The Chalet School was set up by an English women, Madge Bettany, in the Austrian Tyrol in the 1930s.  The stories cover the many and varied adventures of the girls and their teachers over decades.   

They had more substance and drama than the Enid Blyton boarding school books, and were truly exotic, being set in Austria.    Following the rise of the Nazis in Germany the school moved to Guernsey, then to England, and island off Wales and finally to peaceful Switzerland. 

Yes these books feature feisty heroines too, and some wonderful character names - Mary Lou Trelawney, Daisy Venables, Prunella Davies, Eustacia (can't remember surname) and Verity-Ann Carey. 

7. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

We all know about the Secret Garden.  This is about a little girl, Sara Crewe, who is sent to Miss Minchin's boarding school in London.  Instead of being treated kindly, a per her father's instructions, she is treated with cruelty and once her father dies, matters deteriorate.   

This story does have a happy ending, and Burnett's story of a clever, imaginative little girl who manages to make the best of an appalling situation, is quite enthralling. 


Dumbwit Tellher said...

Jane I'm embarrassed to say that I have never read a Enid Blyton book. I think I need to rectify that a.s.a.p. My children love to read but I think the credit goes to my mother for always encouraging them & buying them lovely books. Reading (which I admit I don't do enough of) really does open up our world and our imaginations. Such a lovely, lovely post. You are such a good mom I can tell just by the word you write and how you write them. Very wise xxx deb

brismod said...

What a great selection of books to grow up on, Jane. I'd like to track down a copy of the Joan Aiken book...for me. My 8 year old son loves to read even though the subject matter is dubious (star wars novels). I'm just grateful that he can read in this day and age of poor literacy for boys.

Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

What a great post and such beautiful covers. I've started reading Enid to my four-year-old son (The Magic Faraway tree) and he loves it. I did a post on it not too long ago.

Natasha in Oz said...

You have selected some wonderful books here Jane. I too was an avid reader as a child and LOVED Enid Blyton books with a passion. My daughter has inherited this same love of reading quality literature, but, my son...well, thank God he reads but he is a fan of Andy Griffths and any other kind of book that has the word "bum" in it! Oh dear...Why can't he just read "Secret Seven" or "Famous Five"...

Best wishes for a happy Valentine's and a great weekend,

Anonymous said...

OOOoh I loooove all these books. But I will put two of them on my wishlist at an online bookstore; 1.)Miss Happiness & 2.) A Little Princess. I hope it available in Dutch.

We don't have a television (we do, but only for DVD's in the weekends), so the kids more or less automatically get a book when they are really really bored.

Oooh, thank you for this beautiful post, XXX. C. Have a nice weekend Jane.

Anonymous said...

:-( Not available in Dutch. Added them to my list anyway. It's good for her English (lessons).

Elaine Prunty said...

oh you've just transported me back in time , my first ever visit to a library and the most amazing book ever....MANDY ..... now that i know who the author is...i'm going to do everything i can to get this book .... the secret seven were my enid blython favourites.

Mise said...

I've read them all (she said with simple pride). Even all the Chalet School ones toward the end of the series, when they were getting a bit repetitive. And Rumer Godden's The Diddakoi was a favourite of mine for years, an early introduction to Making a Home, just like Mandy. Maybe Noel Streatfield too?

I hope your daughter gets years of happy escapism from these. Happy collecting and rereading!

Unknown said...

Oh Memories! I love Enid Blyton books. My dad would read me Famous Five before I went to bed and he would do different voices for each character. He even did a high pitched english accent for Anne and George.
Janette x

Aussie New Yorker said...

Oh, The Wolves and Children of Green Knowe bring back so many memories! My favorite Blyton books were the Faraway Tree series with Mr Moonface and the Saucepan Man. May I suggest you add to your daughter's collection "The Little White Horse" by Elizabeth Goudge (if it's still in print) and the Dark is Rising" series by Susan Cooper. We have to keep the old books alive! Thanks for the inspiration. I'm going children's book hunting this weekend

count it all joy said...

I'm so glad I found you and your blog. I'm right there with you regarding books and the love thereof. Enid Blyton, Trixie Belden, Nancy's all gold. Meredy xo.
p.s. I'm going to go back through your past posts as soon as I get a spare moment and a big cup of coffee.

Ange said...

Jane You sent me back down memory lane. I bought all the Enid Blyton books I could and read them to my kids.. for I have always loved reading. But number one here doesn't and I spend inordinate amounts of time trying to find one with a topic she's interested enough to pick up... Enid Blighton doesn't make the grade. Number two reads - and number three is waiting to learn. Only problem - they're in a French shool so have learned to read in French. Must get back home for a holiday to get the English reading back up to scratch. But what to do with a child that doesn't like books???

Emma said...

Oh, this could have been my childhood bookshelf! Except I have never read any of the Rumer Godden books and I too lived in India as a child. I must rectify that immediately, they sound wonderful. Emma

karen said...

I've never heard of these sweet books. But I just love the last book, and that illustrator Tasha Tudor is a favorite of mine. I'll have to find this one... I like to collect the works of Tudor. Thanks for a lovely visual and informative post. I love old books, and the illustrations on their covers we really don't see to much of anymore, at least not as beautiful as these.
happy valentines day!

Maria | Vintage Simple said...

Well, as far as obsessive hobbies, reading is really a good one to have (and pass on). And I think as long as you are being a 'subtle directionist,' your daughter will come around.

And I have to sheepishly admit that I haven't read any of these books, I don't think - but I can relate to the essence of this post, for I had my own favorites that allowed me to escape into the fantasies living in my head. And it was wonderful.


Eni said...

Talking of Enid Blyton, I am glad to inform you that I have published a book on her, titled, The Famous Five: A Personal anecdotage (
Stephen Isabirye

Anonymous said...

Loved many of these books as a child, especially the Green Knowe books which can be hard to track down these days.

There are actually six Green Knowe books, I believe. There's a list here:

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