Childhood favourites (Was Oh the horror!)

JOdel at aol.com JOdel at aol.com
Wed Feb 5 15:29:45 EST 2003


Five favorite children's books that I actually read as a child?

No, it wouldn't have all that much resemblance to the same list if I included 
current favorites, would it? Not unless I really thought hard and was going 
for a particular slant on things. But some ofthe stuff is still available. 
Particularly considering that by 1960 I was already turning 14. And a lot of 
my favorite writers I didn't discover until I was in college.

Five, eh? Okay I'll take a stab at it. This is as likely to be five authors 
as it is to be five books, mind you. 

And just about everything was library books. Apart from about 5 of those 
Whitman's collections of childrens stories, and half a dozen tattered Oz 
books which had survived Ma and her siblings, my parents never bought me 
books once I got beyond the Little Golden level. And I never got an allowance.

Right off the top; Oz. The whole series. Everything I could get my hands on. 
(There are about six authors here, although the MacGraws' entry didn't come 
out until about '63.) These didn't set my tastes for fantasy reading so much 
as they did for my physical deffinition of what a "beautiful book" should be. 
This series was one last glorious refuge of Art Nouveau sensibilities, at 
least to a child's eye (and until Neill's death in the '40s. Neill's artwork 
had unified the look of a series which had up to that point had three 
different authors. The illustrators who followed him were Frank Kramer, whose 
work was distinctly inferior -- although easier for me to copy -- and someone 
I cannot remember. The illustrator of the MacGraw's book, Dick Martin, had a 
lovely 1950's style which is absolutely charming on its own behalf, but was a 
severe jolt to the sensibilities of someone who had been brought up on 
Neill.). As an adult I can see that these books are a typographic nightmare, 
largely dictated by the cheap, pulpy paper used by the Reilly & Lee 
publishing company, which soaked up ink like a sponge and demanded incredably 
loose tracking to keep the letters from ever bleeding into each other. But it 
gave them a fine, chunky, "substantial" feel in the hand at least.

Next; Betty MacDonald's children's books. Nancy and Plum was recently 
reprinted by somebody or other. It's a fine, juvenile melodrama, (nearly, but 
not quite as broad as Joan Aikin's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase) awash in 
sentiment and would have probably made a good hook to hang a popular film, a 
la Shirley Temple on. But no one ever did. More widely known and continually 
in print, so far as I know, were the four Mrs Piggle-Wiggle books. Although 
the longevity of those probably has as much to do with the Hillary Knight and 
Maurice Sendak illustrations. (Note: the first book and the third were 
originally isssued with illustratuions by some unknown house illustrator. But 
reissued with Knight's some time in the '50s, I think. Since then, all 
reprints have used Knight.)

Third; C. S. Lewis's Narnia stories, and let's hear it for Pauline Baynes as 
well. These were a fairly late discovery, and I never got hold of The Horse 
and his Boy, or Prince Caspian until I was out of college and could order my 
own copy.

Fourth; Edward Eager. With N. M. Bodecker illustrating (IIRC). Bodecker's 
style was sort of a poor man's Hillary Knight. A copy of Half Magic was in my 
fourth grade classroom bookshelf, and it took me most of the year to actually 
read it. But while Eager will probably go down in history as a very minor 
writer, he was a first class book pusher. He wrote adventures which were 
largely literary pastiches (not quite a precursor to Asprin or Prachett, but 
somewhere on the same continum) and happened to groups of children who READ 
-- and he told you what they read. I suspect more American children were 
directed to E. Nesbit by Edward Eager than ever were by their blue-collar 
suburban parents. 

Last; Well, add it up yourselves. You can see by the above that I didn't 
really go in much for stories about "real problems of real children". 
(Although I did read just all of the Library's collection of Alcott.) And I 
liked "beautiful" or at least attractive books. I mean, what do you *think* 
would round out the list above? Why, the "color" series of Fairy Tale books 
edited by Andrew Lang, of course! What else? Well, there were a few other 
things as well, much on the same order as the above. George MacDonald in 
particular. The Princess and the Goblin, for one, and The Light Princess. It 
took me several tried to get past the first chapter of The Princess & Curdie, 
but I enjoyed it very much once I managed it ands was old enough for what was 
basically a very political story.

Plus, of course, the things that came reccomended by Eager, of course. But 
many of those I didn't locate until I hit college. My school, Cal State L.A., 
had been reeled into the California State College system from the remnants of 
what had clearly been a "Normal" school or other Teacher's training college, 
and had an impressive collection of children's literature.
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