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Tag: children’s fiction

READING THE TBR, DAY 299: The Haunting of Hiram C. Hopgood (1987) by Eva Ibbotson

Another Eva Ibbotson triumph, though this one is rather more outlandish than the others I have read thus far.  Because there are ghosts in this one, and everyone is cool with there being ghosts, and moreover — spoiler alert for a thirty-year-old kids’ book — at the end, the ghosts become celebrities.

I mean, sure. Okay.

Despite this nonsensicalness, however, I really enjoyed this book. Even if a twelve-year-old Scottish laird is permitted to sell his ancestral castle to an American millionaire. Even if said twelve-year-old then moves in with the American millionaire and his allegedly frail daughter once the castle is transported across the Atlantic. Even if there is a kidnapping subplot enacted by a woman so enamoured of Hitler that she renames herself “Adolpha.”

Even if there are ghosts and everyone is cool with there being ghosts.

It takes a singular talent to make a story of such silliness enjoyable to the adult brain (or, such I have the audacity to claim). But, as has been amply proven to me repeatedly this year, Eva Ibbotson had just such a talent. 

I am just sorry it took me so long to discover it for myself.


TBR DAY 299: The Haunting of Hiram C. Hopgood, aka The Haunting of Hiram by Eva Ibbotson
GENRE: Children’s Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~13 years.  
KEEP: Yep!

READING THE TBR, DAY 290: Cyril and the Dinner Party (1986) by Michael Palin

Michael Palin is, of course, a comedy god, a fact proven again and again not only through his Monty Python hijinks but his travel narratives, and much more. But does he have skill with kids’ books?

Er. No.

Cyril is a little boy who one day discovers that he has magical powers and can change reality at a whim. He makes his family change form in assorted ridiculous ways — it is all very Harry-inflates-hateful-Aunt-Marjorie — and… well, that’s about it.

It’s fine. Forgettable, but fine.

Kids probably wouldn’t hate reading it. I didn’t hate reading it either. But I was very glad when it was over, and it’s only, like, 20 pages or so. Which makes this book a very good lesson that, no matter how brilliant someone might be, they’re probably not going to be good at everything.

Except for John Cleese, of course.


TBR DAY 290: Cyril and the Dinner Party by Michael Palin
GENRE: Picture Book
TIME ON THE TBR: ~2 years.  
KEEP: I guess.

READING THE TBR, DAY 281: The Enchanted Castle (1907) by E. Nesbit

I have fond memories of The Railway Children, arguably E. Nesbit’s most popular title, and which I distinctly recall reading when I was in Grade 4. But that was the only one of her works I ever did read as a kid, and so, over the years, I have gathered up a number of her sixty or so titles, planning to read them someday.

In the case of this particular book, that someday has at last come.

Twenty years later.

The story centres on Gerald, James and Kathleen — Jerry, Jimmy and Cathy — three intrepid siblings who spend their summer holidays at an English boarding school under the careless stewardship of the French mistress who really cannot be bothered with little things like making sure they don’t die horribly. Exploring the school’s surroundings, the children soon get swept up into assorted magical adventures and bring inanimate objects to life, with little rhyme or reason (and possibly, it’s all in their imagination), and that’s about it.

After a childhood spent slavishly devoted to the works of Enid Blyton, I can feel the influence she must surely have taken from Nesbit. Nesbit is, objectively, a much better writer. The language here is far denser, the characters more developed, and the ideas more sophisticated — indeed, Nesbit is far more accomplished than Blyton in almost every way, except that when I read an Enid Blyton book, even now, I love it, in all its silliness and frequent repetition. But this book, for all its many merits, does not… sparkle for me. Even when it is very, very clever.

Had I read it in childhood, doubtless I would feel differently about it. But now… I can appreciate it intellectually, but I can’t say I especially enjoyed the experience of reading it.

I’ll still read the other five E. Nesbit books on my TBR, though.



TBR DAY 281: The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Classic
TIME ON THE TBR: 20 years. 
KEEP: Eh, sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 278: The Mysterious Howling (2009) by Maryrose Wood

Penelope is fifteen years old.

An orphan of uncertain origins.

And a governess.

More than that, she is governess to three children raised by wolves who have been co-opted by the bombastic Lord Ashton and his histrionic new bride. The “mysterious howling” of the title is the sound these recently trapped — let us not say rescued — children make from the stable in which they have been secreted until someone might be engaged to civilize them.

Dubbed Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia, we see the three children learn to wear clothes, to make polite small talk and write simple poetry, all in aid of appearing at an extravagant Christmas party almost exclusively attended by terrible, terrible people. And possibly being prey.

Funny, clever, exciting, intriguing — this is excellent adult-friendly children’s fiction, and I definitely want more of it. Darn it, I really need more of these first-in-a-series books to be bad, so I don’t end up with yet more books I’ll eventually be required to read.

Or do I?


TBR DAY 278: The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #1) by Maryrose Wood
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Historical Children’s Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 5 years. 
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 275: The Puppy Sister (1995) by S. E. Hinton

How odd. The creator of The Outsiders, Rumblefish and That Was Then, This is Now, three books of teenage angst, also brought into the world this quite bizarre example of juvenile magical realism, in which an Australian Shepherd puppy named Aleasha — heh — decides to become human, and then does.

It’s quite cute, and Hinton’s observations on family, and sibling rivalry, is almost as acute here as it was when she was dealing with Ponyboy and Sodapop, but a dog becomes human in this book. And everyone is fine with it. So, yeah.



TBR DAY 336: The Puppy Sister by S. E. Hinton
GENRE: Children’s Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year.  
KEEP: As a curiosity.

READING THE TBR, DAY 274: What Katy Did Next (1886) by Susan Coolidge

The best part of this book: a now barely grown-up Katy has a reunion with some of her boarding school friends, and we learn what those girls — many of whom I had forgotten, even though I literally met them yesterday — are up to in their late teens. (Mischievous Rose Red is married with a kid! Of course she is.)

The worst part of this book: Katy goes travelling to Europe and hates it.

So, that is what Katy did next. She became the kind of person who hates travelling. And Europe.

I am so done with her.

Bye, Katy.


TBR DAY 274: What Katy Did Next (Carr Family #3) by Susan Coolidge
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Coming of Age
TIME ON THE TBR: ~4 years.  
KEEP: Eh, sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 273: What Katy Did at School (1873) by Susan Coolidge

What did Katy do at school?

Be a total drip.

There is little that I hate more in a story is a falsely accused story line, and the fact that young Katy — newly arrived at a far away boarding school, in company with her sister Clover, the both of them as prissy as all hell — should have been severely punished for writing a note to a boy (which she emphatically did not), and, moreover, that she did not allow herself to be vindicated when the true culprit was at last revealed, just made me furious.

I know it was supposed to be a lesson about being understanding of others’ foibles, of general forgiveness of those that trespass against us, and that even schoolmistresses are human too. Katy’s determination (after her first, satisfying fury; if only she had maintained it) to “live it down,” to prove to all and sundry that she was such a paragon of all the virtues that she could never have done such a brazen thing (and she really couldn’t), is no doubt supposed to be all noble and inspiring. 

Maybe, had a read this book s a youngster, it would have been. Reading, especially early reading, can do much to shape our characters, and maybe had I read this then, I would be an entirely different person than I am now.

This being the case, I’m very glad I didn’t read it then.

Because the person I am now would, like Katy, be a total drip.


TBR DAY 273: What Katy Did at School (Carr Family #2) by Susan Coolidge
GENRE: Children’s Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~10 years.  
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 272: What Katy Did (1872) by Susan Coolidge

In Bookworm by Lucy Mangan, she mentioned What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge, a nineteenth century book I remember reading at much the same time in primary school at which I met the March sisters, Pollyanna and that one girl’s friend Flicka. It was one of those improving kids’ books that aren’t really what we’d consider eminently suitable reading for primary school kids these days, but that everyone then thought of as both age appropriate and of literary worth for a bookworm like me.

When Mangan described the book, though, I realized that I hadn’t actually read it all. I had definitely read the first part, the “few chapters of delightful adventures and mischief-making,” but I did not remember the part where Katy became bedridden and saintly at all. Meanwhile, I knew I had two sequels to the book, What Katy Did at School and What Katy Did Next, in my possession, and I certainly had not read either of those.

It was time to find out exactly what Katy did, indeed, do.

And what she did was she fell off a swing, became temporarily paralyzed, learned to be forbearing, and learned to walk again. (Not, as Mangan reports her sister — not a big reader — said when she finished the book as a child: “Katy did nothing!” ) It’s kind of dull, and also weirdly full of death for a book given to me by my godparents for my seventh birthday, but I have to admit that I am intrigued enough about Katy’s reambulatory life post-what she did that I am definitely keen to find out what she did at school.

Not to mention which of her family members are destined to die next.  


TBR DAY 272: What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Classics
TIME ON THE TBR: 8 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: It was a gift when I was seven. 
KEEP: Yes, because it was a gift when I was seven!

READING THE TBR, DAY 235: The Dragonfly Pool (2008) by Eva Ibbotson

This book is so very many things, and while it is ostensibly a children’s book, it is much, much more than that.

And it is completely fascinating.

It’s an English boarding school book. But it’s also a tale of World War II. It’s a story of a sad young prince from a minor European kingdom. It’s a story of classism and racism. It’s a story of the decline of royalty, and the end of empire. It’s a story of friendship. It’s also more than a touch Sound of Music.

It’s just a delight from beginning to end, and the only problem I had with it is that its title is in no way descriptive, nor evocative, of the book itself, and so may not be as attractive to readers as I would like.

Because everyone should read this book. It is funny, it is wise, it is action-packed but also sweet and thoughtful. It is wildly improbable, but also very, viscerally real. I loved it a lot, this story of an unusual school, a trip abroad for a festival of folk dancing (of course!), a little boy lost and the importance of communication.

Also, Nazis are bad, you guys. Just so you know.  


TBR DAY 235: The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson
GENRE: Children’s Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~5 years.  
KEEP: Absolutely.

READING THE TBR, DAY 210: Howl’s Moving Castle (1986) by Diana Wynne Jones

It is among my greatest shames that I do not like Studio Ghibli films. From Princess Mononoke to Ponyo to Porco Rosso, these Japanese animated features are considered masterpieces of the anime art, but for all that I have been steadily exploring that fertile playground over the past few years (hi, Tristan, my partner in weekly anime nights!), I still have not been able to work up the least enthusiasm for these .

Howl’s Moving Castle is yet another Ghibli film that I abhor, written and directed by the much-vaunted Hayao Miyazaki — in fact, I hate it so much I have never managed to get to the end of it, despite trying multiple times. So when I saw the book upon which it is (it turns out, loosely) based, I belatedly realized there was a way to find out what happened in the end without inflicting any more of that histrionic nonsense upon myself.

Told with great simplicity and no little wit, this very fairy tale-esque adventure sees a lovely young girl magicked into an old woman and forced to infiltrate a crotchety wizard’s ambulatory home in order to, perhaps, have the spell undone. We treat with family and friendship and not judging books by covers and abuse of power, and yes, there is a moving castle, which is kind of a dilapidated Hogwarts on chicken legs.

I really wish I hadn’t seen the anime so I could have imagined all of that for myself. 


TBR DAY 171: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
GENRE: Children’s Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Already Read Bookshop, North Fitzroy.
KEEP: No, I’ll pass this on to an interested child of some kind.