Review of small press and independent books.
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My favourite picture books were mostly by Shirley Hughes.
The first book that made me cry was (surprise, surprise) Black Beauty.
Enid Blyton - the Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair books (surely acid-inspired), then the Mallory Towers and St Clare's books, then the Adventurous Four books. I wrote a couple of 'novels' heavily influenced by the latter.
The 'Pen and Gwen' books - I could recite these by heart. When I was about 8 I created some picture books with rhyming narratives in similar style.
Coral Island - enthralling story, quite poetic about the sea. I was in love with at least three of the characters. My favourite book of all, despite the 'convert the natives' bit.
Watership Down - more male camaraderie and again, I was in love with a couple of the characters - despite the fact they were rabbits!
A Little Princess
The 'Little House' series - I went through a phase of insisting my hair was put in two plaits.
I don't like Shirley Hughes books precisely because of the illustrations. My kids had a load of these passed on from some cousins, and I took one look and left them to it. I know I'm in a minority. I think I found everything about her too prosaic. Having grown up on the fabulous illustrations by Pauline Baynes for the Narnia books, I just didn't want to look at pictures of children that didn't also have centaurs and dryads etc. Shirley Hughes books for me were totally devoid of Romance, and I craved Romance in all its forms, whether the in the allegorical world of Narnia, or in ancient Norse Myths, or Middle Earth, etc.
Black Beauty, yes! Fabulous book. At the same time I was reading that, I was also being moved (though the fact makes me cringe now) by Heidi and 101 Dalmatians. I can still read Black Beauty. Can't touch the others.
Enid Blyton - for me, it was the 'adventure' series, ie 'The Castle of Adventure' etc. Thoroughly enjoyed them. No idea of what I'd make of them now, but I know they were well paced and exciting and I loved them.
Not come across 'Pen and Gwen'.
Never read Coral Island. Don't know why not. My favourite embarrassingly racist books were those by Rider Haggard (King Solomon's Mines etc) and John Buchan (Prester John etc)
Watership Down - I was possibly a bit too old for this when it came out, so I liked it, but not as much as if I'd read it younger.
A Little Princess - this sounded vaguely familiar, so I just went and googled it. According to Wikipedia, "The novella appears to have been inspired in part by Charlotte Brontė's unfinished novel, Emma, the first two chapters of which were published in Cornhill Magazine in 1860". Charlotte Brontė's unfinished novel? Really? I didn't know she'd ever written something called 'Emma' (and considering she loathed Jane Austen, that's a really odd title for her to have used). I'm utterly intrigued. However, back to 'A Little Princess' - I must have read it, probably from the library, or maybe I saw an old film version.
The 'Little House' - don't know this one, but I wore my hair in two plaits for a long time, for what it's worth.
I did buy some of the old Enids a few years back. It's quite interesting to look again, pick fault all you like, realise that we have, as a society, learned quite a lot in a relatively short time (about what counts as human, criminal, elitist etc) and then acknowledge that Ms Blyton certainly had grasped the rules of storybuilding that modern publishers demand.
Recommendation: However old you are, if you know Enid Blyton's novels, you'd have great fun with Ali Sparkes' "Frozen in Time" in which an experiment in cryogenics results in a bunch of modern kids coming face to face with some Blyton-style characters.
The 'Little House' books as in 'Little House on the Prairie'. What I saw of the TV series looked very dull so I didn't watch it, but the books evoked places and a lifestyle I found fascinating. They're another set I'd probably find conservative, racist etc now. Oh dear!
I didn't know A Little Princess was inspired by Charlotte Bronte, but it sounds likely. Another of my childhood favourites was Jane Eyre - when I was 11-12. Sometimes I wonder if I've ever loved a human as much as I loved that Rochester!
Hi Sophie - please tell us more about 'Pen and Gwen'; I've never heard of them!
Pen and Gwen were a pair of penguins, and the books rhymed. That's about all I remember now and they probably aren't worth looking up, but as a young child I could recite them by heart on account of the rhyme. Therefore I wrote some rhyming tales of my own in imitation, but mine concerned a family of rabbits.
Cathy, if you've not read 'Watership Down' since you were a child, I strongly recommend going back to it as an adult with a lot of experience in the structure of fantasy, because there's a whole level to it that goes clean over your head when you're ten. Adams' natural history is all very well, but his rabbit mythology is absolutely astonishing: the tales of the rabbit hero El-ahrairah (The Prince with a Thousand Enemies) that the characters tell each other from time to time are an education in myth-making.
Maybe I was both too old and too young for Watership Down. Too old to read it simply as a children's story; too young to enjoy the mythology fully. I know I found the philosophy mildly repugnant, but can't remember why any more. Might be interesting to re-read, certainly.