Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Prospero's Children by Jan Siegel

The Fern Capel series: Prospero's Children, 1999; The Dragon Charmer, 2000; The Witch's Honour, 2002

I found this series of books by chance when I took The Greenstone Grail (Amanda Hemingway) out of the library. On opening it, I found that the author had written an earlier book, Prospero's Children, under a different name, Jan Siegel. "Aah," I thought, "I've read that - in fact, not only have I read it, I think I know where there is a copy." Once found, it went straight onto the pile for a re-read. At the same time, a Google search told me that there were two sequels, as there are with The Greenstone Grail. By now happily engrossed in the latter, and with the prospect of further additions to the bookshelves, I was rather pleased.

In the first of the three books, Prospero's Children, Fern Capel and her brother Will accompany their father to Yorkshire to look at a house that has been left to them by an elderly cousin. Although Fern, who has been "managing" her father since her mother's death, regards the house as too cold and impractical to keep, it nonetheless exercises an odd compulsion which makes them return, this time with their father's girlfriend, Alison, whom Fern deems unsuitable for her father. It soon becomes clear that Alison is there for her own ends; not only a witch, she is also under the sway of an Old Spirit, Azmordis, who speaks to her through a stone statue in the house, and she is using the Gift - her magical powers - to search for the key to the Gate of Death, which she means to open. In so doing she inadvertently opens the door to the lost land of Atlantis, dying in the process. Only Fern now has the Gift and can go to Atlantis to find the key and close the door.

Monday, 9 July 2007

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

This is my all-time favourite children's book. My copy, much read, dates back to when I was twelve, and has illustrations which are very-badly coloured in. When I picked it up recently to write a recommendation for a friend it was three chapters later before I could put it down.

Set in Devon in the 19th century, it tells the story of Maria, an orphan who moves from a dull London existence to Moonacre Manor, to live with her guardian. Maria's first impressions of the valley as a place of unalloyed perfection gradually give way to a realisation that there are things amiss - the Black Men who live in the forest which adjoins the Moonacre estate guard the coast fiercely, and have been known to take lambs from the village of Silverydew. Maria and her new friend Robin set out to put things right, ably assisted by both animals and humans from Moonacre.

Goudge, as always in her books, details the minutiae of everyday life which creates security and comfort, with vivid descriptions of place, texture, taste, character. Her animals are particularly good - they are strong and interactive characters without being unduly anthropomorphic. Some of Goudge's best characters are members of the Anglican clergy, and she writes about moral fortitude and integrity with a delicacy of understanding and perception which, in a cynical age, I find genuinely uplifting.

Its suitability for the iPod generation is questionable, but it's worth a try!

Sunday, 1 July 2007

A new project!

 "A house is never said to be perfectly furnished for enjoyment, 
unless there is a child in it rising three years old, and a kitten rising three weeks."

Robert Southey, the poet, lived in the Lake District, where his house, Greta Hall, was home to three families - his own, and those of his two sisters, Mrs Coleridge and Mrs Lovell.

The household had a number of cats - Hurlyburlybuss, for whom this blog is named, was one. Southey is credited with having written the original version of The Three Bears; he seems a worthy posthumous patron of a blog dedicated to children's writing and I hope he would have approved.

I have been blogging since 2007 at GeraniumCat's Bookshelf, and an important strand there has been my interest in children's writing. In 2008 I compiled a list which was my personal choice of 101 children's books which I thought everyone ought to have read, or have read to them. Ever since, I've meant to expand on the list (I limited myself to only one book from each author) because I had to leave out so many favourites. I stopped at 1975, too, because after that date I only kept up intermittently for a number of years.

My love of children's writing remained undiminished, though, and I've decided that it's time to do something more with it - hence this new blog. I'll be adding reviews to the original list and expanding it to include other books by listed authors, books published since 1975 and anything else I can think of. I know there are other sites out there which do something similar, and no doubt better, but this is a personal project and will run alongside, and complement, GeraniumCat's Bookshelf.

101 Children's books, 1840-1975

This is my personal choice of 101 children's books that you may have missed during childhood but might consider catching up on now. Since it is based on my own reading it has a definite UK bias, and I have ruthlessly limited myself to one book by each author (very difficult, which book by Edith Nesbit is really my favourite?) Nonetheless, you can reasonably assume that, where authors have written more than one book, I am confident in recommending their work, although I must add that Enid Blyton only got in by the skin of her teeth. My choice is largely aimed at the older child, so it doesn't include many the excellent books which children read with pleasure, but were not specifically written for them (for instance, Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat) and picture books have been ignored, with one or two exceptions, most notably Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, which ought to be on everyone's reading list. It should be remembered that good illustrations play an important part in children's literature, and some of the books listed below have been illustrated by remarkable artists such as C. Walter Hodges, Charles Keeping and Pauline Baynes; for adult readers I would almost always recommend finding an edition with the original drawings. I've also mostly omitted short stories, choosing only to include a small selection of the most famous. I think the book it hurt most to leave out, because it's so very different from the one by Dodie Smith I chose to include, is The Hundred and One Dalmatians, which ought to be on any list of classic children's books, but if I started listing multiple titles by authors, it would go on for ever. The most notable omission is R.L. Stevenson's Treasure Island which is, as far as I am concerned, unreadable, and I think few people now read G.A. Henty's Under Drake's Flag.