Children’s classic fiction – the favourites, part 1

Today, in light of my recent post on the Vintage Children’s Reading Challenge, I want to do a whistle-stop tour of some of my favourite classic books and their authors. Just thinking back to these wonderful childhood reads got me all misty-eyed and nostalgic. Some of these books might be new to you but some will no doubt be favourites of your own, either way come with me and take a wander in the dreamy mists of children’s classic fiction.

  1. E. Nesbit – Oh it had to be Edith to start them off. I adored E. Nesbit’s books when I was young and even now if you take a look at books like The Enchanted Castle, or The Railway Children you will find an addictive and entertaining read (not all of these authors have worn as well as Nesbit but I’ve included them for the sheer joy they brought me).  Nesbit wrote some truly great characters in her stories, like the imperious and opinionated Phoenix and the grumpy and evasive Psammead (that’s ‘Sammy-ad’ for the uninitiated) and many fans who read the books as children will even now shiver with horrid delight at the mention of the Ugly-Wuglies. Nesbit was also a fascinating individual, smoking cigarettes and wearing her hair short way back in the Edwardian era, and she brought up her husband’s child (born to his mistress) alongside her own. Her autobiography Long Ago When I Was Young is well worth looking out for. You can catch up online: http://willow.creative-interweb.com/library/book/kids/nesbit/
  2. philippa_pearcePhilippa Pearce – Do the classics get the recognition they deserve? Well, in 2007 a panel of reviewers set out to discover the nation’s favourite Carnegie and Kate Greenaway winners of all time and awarded Pearce 2nd place for Tom’s Midnight Garden (Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights was no 1 btw): Not bad going for a book published in 1958. In the novel, as the grandfather clock strikes 13, Tom is transported back through time to to meet his Victorian play-mate Hatty. Is she a ghost, or is he? I loved reading Tom’s Midnight Garden but also A Dog So Small and The Shadow Cage and Other Tales of the Supernatural which features, amongst other creepy stories, a memorable one about a wonderfully unpleasant child-sized mannequin.
  3. Catherine Storr – Marianne Dreams. On her tenth birthday, Marianne is forced to bed with a fever. Unsurprisingly disappointed, she picks up a pencil and starts to draw a house. That night she dreams, and as she does she finds herself transported to the house she has drawn, and the haunting and mysterious world beyond. A fantastic story that has always stayed with me and remains one of my all-time favourites.
  4. L.M_MontgomeryL. M. Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables. In 1868 Louisa May Alcott published Little Women, a well-loved classic (and deservedly so) spawning a host of similar books including What Katy Did (by Susan Coolidge and also good) and L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.  I ate up this series, making it the favourite choice for me above Alcott or Coolidge, and even picked Anne for my youngest daughter’s middle name (it must be Anne with an ‘e’ as you’ll well remember if you read the books). Other fans, similarly inspired by Anne, contribute to ‘an important part’ of tourism in Prince Edward Island, Canada, where apparently her image is on their number plate.
  5. L.M. Boston – Green Knowe series. In his great-grandmother’s ancient house Tolly befriends the spirits of 3 children tied to the house and with them explores the enchanting history of this ‘ancestral home’. For the fourth book in the series, A Stranger at Green Knowe, Boston won the Carnegie Medal, and was a  runner-up for both the first and second books. You can find out more about this wonderful ‘real life’ house here: http://www.greenknowe.co.uk/history.html The Children of Green Knowe was adapted into a BBC drama serial in 1986 and I don’t think the public have stopped pestering the BBC to make it into a DVD. There is a rumour that the original series has been lost, but fear not, you can still catch the episodes on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdhiI8XmJQI . “Green Noah, demon tree, evil fingers can’t catch me!”

As always, if you have any thoughts don’t be shy – share! Do you think Nesbit and Pearce deserve more credit? Or have I missed anyone better? (Part 2 of this feature will be coming soon btw!) Do you have a favourite that needs more praise? Tell us about them! I need lots of suggestions for the reading challenge.

Published by Jill London

Hi, I’m Jill, a writer and teacher living in the UK, usually behind a desk but sometimes on a sofa with a book or a film. I began writing at around age three, legibly by five, although I didn’t write any stories until I was older. Aged eleven, I began writing children’s fiction, mostly middle-grade fantasy and I’m still doing it to this day. I have had stories published online and in My Weekly magazine. The best bit about writing is when ideas pop into your head (from the writing fairy presumably?) and everything starts clipping together like a jigsaw puzzle. The worst bit? When you start to get the feeling there's a piece missing from the box...

7 thoughts on “Children’s classic fiction – the favourites, part 1

  1. Anne Shirley is my ultimate inspiration!!! Of course I love Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott because my mother read them to us and we all cried when Charlie died. Still sad about that. My reason for writing at all is that I wanted to read more books about flawed, good people in nice towns—but not sickly sweet–you know, for adults. Avonlea is the perfect little place! In my books it’s Englewood, NJ. haha. Really like your writing.

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    1. Thanks! I know exactly what you mean about characters needing to be flawed, though. I loved that Anne kept getting into trouble, even though she did try to be helpful, bless her! One of my favourite characters of all time was Mary Lennox exactly because she was such a difficult child – I felt such an affinity with her – you could read about her and not secretly wish she would fall on her face, or feel guilty that you weren’t ever going to be as pleasant or cheerful as some other sickly heroines.
      As for settings, Avonlea was perfect. I certainly wanted to live there!

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      1. I think the biggest challenge for me when writing is to write about girls/women. Men fascinate me–the good, the bad, the ugly. I feel like since I’m not one of them, I can see them more clearly. The question for me is do I want to make women “strong” by today’s standards which sometimes strikes me as a weird copy of manhood or do I write about an idealized womanhood of the Victorian Era? Luckily there are tons of real women who fall in between these two extremes. In the Anne of Green Gables series it’s a bit disappointing how she turns out as a woman–her personality seems to drop away.

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      2. I agree, she did seem to fade a bit personality-wise, like the old gumption was just a childish phase rather than a streak of character. I think it takes a lot of thought to make a heroine who is strong and independent without being macho.

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