I was in Rosa’s room one day tidying up when I was seized by an irrational hatred of all the ‘modern girls fiction’ that lines her shelves and her bed in a perkily rainbow way. Not to name any specific series, but there are a number of sets of books that she owns (and adores) that are all sickly sweet, with protagonists called things like ‘Amaryllis’ (the ones who likes art), ‘Lillibelle’ (the one who adores animals). The covers sometimes make pictures when lined up together. The story lines are universally sacharrine. The authors have hilariously generic pseudonyms like ‘Violet Riverbanks’, and the writing is generally somewhere between excrable and blandly inoffensive.
I have tolerated these books for a variety of reasons. The main one being that surely anything that encourages reading is a good thing. Surely. Surely? But also she does really really love them, and having heard her, aged 4 in Reception, passionately declare that she hated books and would never learn to read, I am still so dizzily grateful that this is not the case that I am willing to indulge her just a little.
But one day I gazed upon the rows of ‘little girls’ books and thought to myself, ‘no more’. Or, if not quite ‘no more’ then I would at least start trying to end their rainbow coloured tyranny, and would supplement our bookshelves with books that were exciting. Books that were wholesome. Books with heroines who were not defined by their hair colour, but by their spirit for adventure. In short, with no small amount of nostalgia, I realised that I wanted to stock Rosa’s bookshelves with the books that *I* used to read when I was little. I remembered a few, but needed some second and third opinions. I turned to facebook.
Facebook can be a funny old site sometimes, but it rose splendidly to the occasion, with the most animated discussion on my status that I think I’ve ever had. Friends old and new came PILING in with their recommendations, liking and sighing over each other’s favourites, oooh-ing and ah-ing at old favourites, crying with nostalgia in at least one case, and brazenly commenting in order to be notified of future titles. It was cheering and moving all at once. So I thought I would blog and share the results.
Any list like this is obviously highly biased. This one is biased in favour of the books I read when I was small, and the books that my friends read. It is mono-cultural list, I fear, and I do apologise for that. Because I was a bookish little girl I am sure there is a bias towards books about bookish little girls. That’s not to say that boys can’t enjoy them, but just for full disclosure.
My criteria are wide-ranging and faintly eclectic: I wanted stuff that is GOOD. Books that you stay up late to read, glancing guiltily at the clock. Books you sit down to read in the summer holidays when you are young and the weeks stretch on endlessly, and then accidentally while away a whole afternoon reading just one more chapter. Vivid books. With characters that you love, and places you feel like you’ve really been to. I have recommended for age 6+ because this is how old Rosa was when I asked my facebook friends. But of course some of these books will be for older children and some will be perfectly good for younger children who are confident readers. These caveats aside, this is what we came up with:
Classic children’s books.
- Heidi, Johanna Spyri
- Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
- A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Ballet Shoes, Noel Streatfeild
- Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery
- Little House on the Prairie,
- Little Women, Louise May Alcott
- What Katie Did, Susan Coolidge
- Mallory Towers series, Enid Blyton
- The Naughtiest Girl books, Enid Blyton
- The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Pippi Longstocking books, Astrid Lundgren
- Little White Horse, Elizabeth Goudge
- The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling
- Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome
- Five children and It, E. Nesbit
- The Railway Children, E. Nesbit
- The Phoenix and the Carpet, E. Nesbit
- Dominic, William Steig
- The Diddakoi, Rumer Godden
- The William books, Richmal Crompton
- The Borrowers, Mary Norton
- The Family from One End Street, Eve Garnett
- The Famous Five books, Enid Blyton
- Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
- National Velvet, Enid Bagnold
- Charlotte’s web, E. B. White
- The Narnia books, C. S. Lewis
- The Sheep Pig, Dick King Smith
- Emil and the Detectives, Erich Kastner
- Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, Robert O’Brien
- The Children of Green Knowe, Lucy Boston
- The Moomin books, Tove Jansson
The wondrous brilliance of my friends is such that even this list doesn’t actually represent the full list of all their suggestions. There are even more books that they suggested, but I realised as I transcribed that I was happy to include some books I hadn’t read (to my SHAME I haven’t read Anne of Green Gables, nor Little House on the Prairie) but including books that I had not read or even heard of felt dishonest, somehow.
But there it is. Incomplete but still wonderful. Based on their suggestions I did an order of second hand books at www.abebooks.co.uk
I have also started running into second hand bookshops, or towards market stalls of books, and emerging with piles of children’s books under my arms and tucked under my chin precariously. Rosa is largely oblivous to the shelf of children’s classics I have started. I am filled with joy at my progress.
And what do you think? Are there any titles that are obviously missing from this list? I would love to have your recommendations!