I’ve read several children’s books already this month, which has become unusual. The first was Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright. I just wanted to check a reference in this book and ended up re-reading the whole thing, which didn’t take long. It won the Newbery Medal in 1939 and is utterly delightful. Garnet Linden lives on a farm in Wisconsin and the story is one of a happy summer with friends, neighbours, animals and adventures that could really happen. Elizabeth Enright wrote four very popular books about the Melendy family, starting with The Saturdays; these were all published in the UK by Puffin Books. I also like Gone-away Lake and Return to Gone-Away, about children who discover a (nearly) deserted settlement of old houses.
The next one bears no comparison but is mildly interesting. The House in the Holly Bush by Jo Hatcher was first printed in 1960 and it’s hard to imagine it being published now. I’d never heard of the author but the photograph and copy on the dustwrapper suggest that she was popular at one time. I can trace only six other children’s books written by her. This is a Christmas-time story, with young heroes John and Christopher quarantined when John’s sister gets measles. They are day boys at a local prep school and the action moves between school and home. Tree houses in the wood, a spot of holly rustling and some alarming London adventures make this pure fantasy but I should think a seven year old might still enjoy it, especially the enormous amounts of food eaten and some of the boys’ genuinely funny remarks.
Stephen Mogridge is a much better known writer due to the series factor: eleven books in the New Forest series, three ‘Barry’ books and five about Peter. He doesn’t merit a mention in Victor Watson’s Reading Series Fiction but the topography of the books ensures that he is still collected. New Forest Discoveries is set around Lymington and all the places mentioned (including Corfe Castle) are still recognisable. They are perfectly agreeable books: two brother/sister pairs, very different characters; other friends, all quite believable; ponies, boats, New Forest countryside; crooks and spies. What more could you ask of an adventure book? Quite a lot, if you measure them against Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine series but if minor authors interest you, worth a read.
The next is a school story, The Clue in the Castle by Joyce Bevins Webb. What a hoot! Although set in Castle Monastery School, it is not a school story as we know it but a mad web of intrigue and coincidences. Apart from the notorious books by J Radford Evans I think this is the strangest I’ve read. ‘She was twenty-nine and it might not be possible much longer to disguise herself as a schoolgirl.’ Ha ha ha! My copy is a Spring Books edition and I love these endpapers.
The pictures are so much like the ones in the comics I used to read, Girl and Girls’ Crystal. When I was in the Guides and had to wear a beret, I always wished my hair would curl around it the way the girl’s does here. I had the last laugh when long straight hair came in.
I had to wait a long time for Amazon to supply Dragon Castle by Elinor Lyon. She’s one of those long out of print authors being republished by Fidra Books. (This link takes you straight to the Elinor Lyon page.) I’m a great admirer of the Scottish Ian and Sovra stories; these are generally the most sought after because they form a series. The standalones are well worth reading, though; I like Wishing Water Gate and Sea Treasure. The author had a good feel for landscape and for children’s behaviour. Dragon Castle is one of the books set in Wales; it’s a pleasure to read a story set there which has no Welsh sentimentality or Arthurian fantasy about it. (You can tell I’m a Ransome fan, eh?) Martin is sent to stay with distant relatives he’s never met. Once arrived, he much prefers the company of another family of children, also related to him. There’s the usual inverted snobbery here: dislikable family is rich and spoiled; nice family has not much money but lots of books. The plot is a treasure hunt to establish ownership of an ancient, ruined castle; plenty of dashing about and stalking and very enjoyable.