15 Favourite Children’s Books

Reading was one of my favourite activities as a child – still is, in fact – and of course, good children’s books are a pleasure to all ages. Here are some of my favourites, in no particular order.

The Monster at the End of This Book (starring lovable, furry old Grover) and written by Jon Stone. A brilliant example of how you can play with the physical bookness of a book (although I hear the tale has now made an appearance on Twitter).

The House that Sailed Away by Pat Hutchins. Grandma! Cannibals! Pirates! The first time I ever encountered the word posthumous! (Side note: why is it that cannibals are always depicted as boiling people in large iron pots? If you live on a desert island, as such cannibals generally do, where on earth are you going to get a large iron pot from?)

The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt (perhaps better known for her novel Tuck Everlasting). This is the kind of book I hope to be able to write, and you can’t say better than that.

Carved Stone Mermaid Mural
Big Max by Kin Platt is possibly the first detective story I ever read. Big Max is the greatest detective who ever lived. Everyone knew it. The King of Pooka-Pooka knew it, which is why he called Big Max in when his pet elephant Jumbo went missing. It has been decades since I last read this book, but the phrase “The King of Pooka-Pooka knew it” is still current in my family.

My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes is a New Zealand book, written by Eve Sutton (and illustrated by Lynley Dodd, who went on to write the Hairy Maclary books). Cats from around the world do marvelous things, but “my cat likes to hide in boxes.” This book shall forever live in family history as the reason for the following exchange:

Father (who ought to have known better): Look, there’s Mr. Anon! He’s from Norway.
Small children (with gusto): “The cat from Norway –”
Father (knowing how it ends): Shhh! Shhhhh!

Cat refuge (423926200)
Embroidery Mary by Priscilla M Warner is a book that I have loved for years. The little community library where I grew up had the only copy I have ever seen, and great was my delight on the day when it was decommissioned because it had only been borrowed twice in the past ten years (and both of those borrowers were me).

The Warden’s Niece by Gillian Avery tells the story of Maria, a Victorian-era girl who flees her bullying school and is taken in by her uncle, the Warden of an Oxford College – mostly because he is impressed by her dream of becoming Professor of Greek (this was at the point when women had only just been admitted as students).

Mistress Masham’s Repose by T.H. White (better known perhaps for his book The Sword in the Stone and its sequels) is the story of another Maria; a delightfully odd book, full of crumbled grandeurs and vigorous characters. My favourites are Cook (“Any character of yours, Mum,” said Cook superbly, “is what I’d not besmirch my own possession of which with the application of,”) and the classic absent-minded professor.

Beginning reader
Toot by Leslie Patricelli is not a book I enjoyed as a child, mostly because I was in my late twenties by the time it was published. It is a children’s book, however, and it is a favourite, so I make no excuses for including it here. Toilet humour may be considered infra dig by some, but I, like C.S. Lewis, have grown out of wishing to be thought terribly grown up.

Speaking of C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia are such widely cherished favourites that I had probably better be a bit more detailed in my preferences. I particularly enjoyed reading (and re-reading) The Horse and His Boy; and often also The Magician’s Nephew. The Last Battle, on the other hand, I mostly only liked the ending of.

The BFG (by Roald Dahl) is another of those once-read-never-forgotten stories (with, of course, a certain amount of tooting, or rather whizzpopping, of its own). I find it hard to pin down what it is I love about this book, but I do.

The Long Patrol by Brian Jacques was the first Redwall book I ever read – I picked it out by chance in a bookshop – and from the first I loved its unashamed adventurousness. Good stuff.

At A Reading Desk by Frederic Leighton
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett is one of those books which combines dreamy wish-fulfillment with the comforting knowledge that someone has it worse than you, and if they can hack it with grace – and of course, imagination – then so can you. And of course, everyone gets what they deserve in the end, which is always satisfying.

Of course, not everything I read as a child was fiction. There was the children’s encyclopaedia, for a start. I don’t remember what sort it was, but it came in a number of volumes and was my invariable resort when I’d run out of other reading. But I usually started afresh from the beginning of Volume 1 each time, thus learning a fair bit about Abbeys and Abbots if nothing else.

And there was a book of crafts which I still wish I could find a copy of, full of vintage photos and fun things to make. There was a stuffed toy lamb with wire coat-hangers keeping its legs straight; a gardening set which included a rake and wheelbarrow; and dozens of other things. If anyone knows the book, and where I can find a copy, I shall be greatly indebted to you and all my sorrows shall be at an end.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Difficult Lesson (1884)
What are your favourite children’s books? Have you re-read them recently? Feel free to share your recommendations!
Oh, and the cat from Norway, in case it is still preying on your mind, “got stuck in the doorway.”

Great* Wizards of Literature

This week, I thought I’d make you a list of great wizards in literature.

Smoke 1

You’re a list of great wizards in literature!

More seriously (but still not completely), and in approximate order of ancientry:

1) Merlin

First appearance in (written) literature: 1136, i.e. Before English, courtesy of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who turned him from Welsh into Latin. Best known for his connection with King Arthur.

My favourite incarnation is in T.H. White‘s The Sword in the Stone (1938). Enchanted tea-things that wash up after themselves? That’s my kind of wizard. “Let’s dunk the teapot!” Also sound on tiggies.

2) Gandalf

First revealed to the reading public in 1937, in Tolkein’s The Hobbit.
The very epitome of the wise elder, with his robes, his shabby hat, his staff, and his contributions in the area of entertaining explosions.


3) Tim the Enchanter

“I – am an enchanter…. There are some who call me – Tim.”
Literature might be stretching the point slightly in the case of Monty Python‘s 1975 creation, but movies are stories too – let us not be snobbish.
He also is skilled in the area of explosions (if not so decorative as Gandalf’s) and warns the Holy Grail-hunters of the perils of the killer rabbit. “Death awaits you all with nasty big pointy teeth.” Indeed.

4) The Librarian

The Librarian has been part of Sir Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld since the beginning: The Colour of Magic in 1983. It was not until 1986 (The Light Fantastic) that he took on his present form: that of an orangutan.
Devoted to his books and his bananas, he has a strong sense of justice, particularly when it comes to people who refer to orangutans as ‘monkeys’. You Have Been Warned.

5) Questor Thews
The court wizard of the Magic Kingdom for Sale by Terry Brooks, he has been in circulation since 1986.
Questor is a very relatable wizard: like so many of us, he tries his best in some tough situations, and sometimes his best isn’t good enough. The court scribe is a Wheaten Terrier for this very reason.

6) The Bursar aka Professor A.A. Dinwiddie, colleague of the Librarian. First introduced in Sir Terry’s Faust Eric, published 1990, he is a mild and harmless fellow who has lost his sanity in the dog-eat-dog world of wizardly politicking. Fortunately, a precisely calibrated dose of dried frog pills (for recipe see here) causes him to hallucinate that he is sane. And occasionally that he can fly.

Hallucinogenic Frog in Outer Space

7) Professor Dumbledore first saw the light of day in J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997).
Full disclosure: I haven’t read all the books and I do not know all his tale. But this was enough to make me like him: “I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” Brilliant.

8) Derk
Here is the example par excellence of how a talented writer can parody the clichés of a genre without alienating readers who enjoy that genre: Diana Wynne JonesThe Dark Lord of Derkholm, published 1998.
Personally, I love the sequel, The Year of the Griffin just as much, if not more. Derk specialises in genetics, which is why he and his wife have seven biological children, five of whom are griffins.

"Griff" Statue in the forecourt of the Farkasréti Cemetery Budapest

9) Woodward**
Woodward came into existence sometime in the early 21st century – darned if I can remember precisely when – and is currently pulling strings in my WIP, Tsifira.
In appearance he is much like a dandelion – raggedy green with a fluffy white head – but he has spent the last 15 years disguised as a gardener who only ever says “Eh.”
In this disguise he keeps an eye on the growing princess and tends the ensorcelled privet hedge he planted to protect her. But he knows he can’t keep her safe behind the hedge forever.

Is It Still Europe's Tallest Yew Hedge?

So there you have it! It was going to be The Top Ten but I could only think of nine and it seems like a more wizardy number in any case.

It may be that this list of ‘Greats’ is more a list of my favourites – so who did I miss? Who are your favourites, and by whose hand?
All comments welcomed; only spammers will be turned into frogs.

Your obedient servant,
Sinistra Inksteynehand250

* for a given value of “great,” i.e. obtaining and retaining my affection and/or interest

** formerly known as Wentworth; he underwent a name-change between drafts.