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Monday, April 02, 2012

International Children's Book Day

To my shame, I only heard about this yesterday, but hey, I can maunder on about kids' books any old time!

So here are a few books I loved as a child, when I wasn't reading books that were way too grown up for me. No, not those kinds of books! I mean things like Robert Graves' The Greek Myths, which I read cover to cover in about Grade 3, because I was madly into Greek mythology. I don't know what my friends made of my descriptions of the Triple Goddess and the Sacred King. I read Arthur Koestler's The Gladiators (his Spartacus novel) when I was about twelve and for my thirteenth birthday I got Suetonius's The Twelve Caesars from a classmate. I remember looking up from my life of Julius Caesar and asking, "Dad, what's a homosexual?" Poor Dad said, "Er, well, it's - you know, men with men...?" I didn't know, but I loved my Suetonius anyway.

And when I wasn't reading way-too-mature stuff I was reading a variety of kids' books. I got through the entire series of How and Why Wonder Books, from Horses to Lost Cities. When I was writing my book on women scientists, I suddenly realised I had used a sentence from the How and Why Wonder Book of Scientists. I still have some of them and am fond of them. The Lost Cities one got me madly into archaeology, which I still hope to study when I finish this part of my working life. They were illustrated in sepia and when I first saw my book on the history of the wheel, Rolling Right Along, I was touched to see that it had been illustrated in a way that reminded my of those old How and Why books. If they publish this sort of book now, I don't know of it. They were wonderful books written especially for children who liked to learn things and I still remember bits from them. I first heard of Schliemann in a How and Why book. I know the history of ballet and the names of great dancers from another.

I loved all those girly books about horses and riding. There were, to start with, the British ones. The Pullein-Thompson sisters were my favourites. Between them, they wrote dozens of books about girls and their ponies and the occasional boy. In fact, my favourite was Show Jumping Secret by Josephine Pullein-Thompson. The protagonist is a boy who buys Secret, an elderly mare, and trains her for a show jumping event called the Foxhunter. He has three snobby cousins who can't understand why he wants this bag of bones and jumps instead of doers dressage. Of course, he wins, eventually.

The only Aussie riding book I remember reading was Joan Phipson's Good Luck To The Rider. Just so you know, this one won a CBCA award back in 1953, so it wasn't just another pony book. The heroine finds a colt by his dead mother on the family property and adopts him. He is an ugly bag of bones, so her brother jokingly suggests she calls him Rosinante. As she's never heard of Don Quixote, she thinks it's a nice name for a horse and accepts it. After she finds out, it's a matter of holding her chin high and making sure that Rosinante becomes a horse to be proud of. The book was reprinted some years ago in a series called "John Marsden Presents" in which he wrote a set of introductions to Aussie YA classics.

Of course, there was the wonderful Silver Brumby series by Elyne Mitchell, which I loved and still do. Thowra the Silver Brumby and his friends run free in the Snowy Mountains. They may talk to each other, but they aren't anthropomorphised. They think like animals and act the way you would expect horses and kangaroos to act.

I was also - I admit it! - a fan of Enid Blyton. Okay, her books are racist, sexist, classist and any number of other ists, but kids loved them and possibly still do, when parents find copies of, say, the Faraway Tree books and read them to their young ones. My sister tries to find the editions that haven't been fiddled with in the name of political correctness (e.g. Dame Snap instead of Dame Slap, which implies child abuse - well, of course it does! She's a nasty woman who hits the kids in her class! Yeesh!). They're hard to find these days, but you can still find the originals second-hand and remaindered if you look.

So, hands up those of you who got interested in spec fic because of the Faraway Tree books, hmm? (Raises hand). Despite all the irritating pixies, goblins and saucepan men, they were my first glimpse of "strange new worlds" - a different one every week! Just go to the top of the tree and be in a magical Land. I would still love to find a recipe for Pop Biscuits, those great cookies which Silky the elf makes, that burst in your mouth with a flow of honey.

I read some of her boarding school books and actually, part of my fascination with Harry Potter started with her boarding school novels in which students have midnight feasts and solve mysteries (sound familiar?).

I loved her crime fiction, though I have often wondered just how much of a go she is having at police. Of course, the five kids and a dog have to solve the mystery without the help of police or where's the fun? But does the local cop have to have the name of Mr Goon? (Goon, get it?)

Mr Goon is the local policeman in the Five Findouters series, which I prefer to the Famous Five. The books are funny. Poor Mr Goon has to put up with being constantly beaten to the mystery by the kids and their dog, Buster, and the humiliation of having Buster snap at his heels. Their leader is Frederick Trotteville, mainly known as Fatty, who is something of a Sherlock Holmes figure, right down to his liking for disguise. In one book, The Mystery of the Missing Necklace, he disguises as an old balloon woman and challenges his friends to see through his costume. Then he gets dressed as a waxwork Napoleon!

I did read several Famous Five books, which always happen during the holidays so the four kids and dog can get away and have an adventure somewhere new. Of course, they have picnics and eat sandwiches, tinned fruit, slabs of chocolate and hard-boiled eggs and wash it all down with lashings of ginger ale. Even as a child, I wanted to shove Julian, the bossy boy leader, over a cliff. I did love George, the girl with short hair who insists on doing boy things, and which readers can say she wasn't their favourite character? There was Anne, the domestic one who did all the cooking  and Dick, the one with the least personality. In Recipes For Crime by Kerry Greenwood and Jenny Pausacker, an anthology of food-based crime stories written as tributes to famous crime writers, there was a Famous Five story in which, I'm pleased to say, both girls glared at the boys at the end and made them unpack the picnic. Julian, especially, had it coming.

I could go on like this all night, but I won't. Anyone like to name their own favourites from childhood? Come on, don't be shy! Let's have a discussion here!


Stephanie said...

Oh, I adored Enid Blyton, and the Silver Brumby books were favourites of mine, too. In fact, one of my first "novels" was a dodgy Silver Brumby rip-off.

Stephanie @ RIASS

Sue Bursztynski said...

And mine was an Enid Blyton ripoff.;-)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Additional! There's recipe for Pop Biscuits in Yahoo Answers!