Fuse #8

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Best Children's Novels You've Never Read

When bookshelves of doom linked to the New York Magazine's listing of The Best Novels You've Never Read, it got me to thinking. When I first got into seriously reading children's books I would briefly de-lurkify myself on the child_lit listserv and ask people to tell me their favorite unappreciated children's books. I've a bit of an obsession with forgotten classics, you see. Now I've compiled a couple of the books I've found and enjoyed. Undoubtedly a few of you will have read these already. But on the off-chance that you haven't, here are my picks.

The Best Children's Novels You've Never Read

The Winged Girl of Knossos by Erick Berry - My poor sweet lost-to-time Newbery Honor winner (circa 1935). It's the Icarus tale, but if Icarus was a girl. A kick-ass, take no prisoners kinda girl. This story gives a historical feel to the old myth, making it seem real and close at hand. Good luck finding a copy, though. Libraries here and there might still have their old 1934 editions hanging about, but that's only if you're lucky.

The Seventh Raven by Peter Dickinson - This one's bizarre, actually. It starts off as a nice story about kids putting on an opera. Then it mixes in some politics, a hostage situation, and becomes this wacked out psychological thriller. Shivers.

Black Jack by Leon Garfield - If you've not read Garfield before, this one's my favorite. I love villains that become oddly cuddly. Especially if they're near-hanged villains. That's even better.

The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O'Shea - I'm happy to report that when I put this book on my library's Staff Favorites table it doesn't molder there for months. This puppy has legs. It could be due to the cool cover, or maybe it's just the fabulous premise. I have little tolerance for fantasy novels that go halfway when it comes to the whole Celtic mythology thing. O'Shea plunges in headfirst and damned be the consequences. Plus it has a talking fox. Look me in the eye, right here, and tell me you don't want to read about kids and a talking fox. Right here.

Archer's Goon by Diana Wynne Jones - You have your favorite Diana Wynne Jones. I have mine. And while The Dark Lord of Derkholm runs a tight second, I'm a sucker for any book containing a hired goon. Particularly a titular hired goon.

Little Sister by Kara Dalkey - I actually think I need to reread this one. Tricksters and magic and Japan circa A.D. 1100. Good stuff.

Stoneflight by Georgess McHargue - Before Stoneheart came out, there was Stoneflight. The only work of children's fiction I've found to contain several mentions of the Morningside Heights library branch, the book's just fun and well-written. The personal problems of the heroine meld beautifully with the whole statues-of-New-York-come-to-life plot too.

Below the Root by Zilpha Keatley Snyder - Speaking of which, why not reprint this puppy with a gorgeous new cover? You could certainly entice children with it. It's like The Giver or City of Ember or Atherton or The Wind Singer. Aw heck....

The Wind Singer by William Nicholson - I'm still a little weirded out by the fact that a lot of people haven't heard of this series yet. What's not to like about creepy kids who've been supernaturally aged? Or a cheery marching band from hell? I'm a fan.

Suggestions? Additions?



At 2:40 AM , Anonymous lynne said...

Two of my very favorite books:
"The Ship That Flew" by Hilda Lewis, 1939. Peter has to give "all he has, plus a bit more" to buy a beautifully carved model ship. Turns out the ship can grow and take Peter and his siblings through space, time and even into Norse mythology. I have never forgotten this book; it's worthy of E. Nesbit.
"North to Freedom" by Anne Holm, 1963, translated from the Danish. Also published under the title "I Am David". The movie of that name was based on the book-- LOOSELY based. The book itself is one of the best I have ever read. The first page grips you by the throat and then you're lost in David's world until it's over.

At 9:20 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think The Hounds of the Morrigan is a truly great book. I just heard that Pat O'Shea died, and this is a very sad thing. I know of only one other book of hers: Finn McCool and the Small Men of Deeds. Both of these abound with wit, great characters, and captivating mythology.

At 10:07 AM , Anonymous Chris said...

I loved, loved The Ship that Flew, back in the day. Could not get my daughter to read it, though. I also loved The Diamond in the Window (Langton)-but none of the subsequent ones in the series- and Minnow on the Say (Pearce).

At 10:22 AM , Anonymous Becky Levine said...

I haven't read Black Jack, but loved SMITH by the same author--completely Dickens! I'll have to look up the other.

You have read the rest of the trilogy that comes after Under the Root, yes? Just as good. Trying to get my 11-year-old to dig in. Maybe this summer.

I know, the series isn't that old, but the best book (series)I put off reading for way too long are the Joey Pigza books. I think, in my head, they were going to be light stuff about ADD and I just didn't pick them up. When I did, it was like being hit with a sledgehammer, at high speed. Incredible.

At 10:38 AM , Blogger Sherry said...

What fun! I've read some of the authors on your list, but nary a one of the books you listed. I must add them to my ever-growing list.

My favorite under-appreciated classic? Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott. Everyone's at least seen the movie of Little Women, but I think Eight Cousins and its sequel Rose in Bloom are much better.

At 11:23 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think I could ever pick a favorite Leon Garfield, but my first exposure was The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris, which I still love (though BEWARE the new paperback edition with the cover illustration by Brett Helquist--the entire printing left off the last couple of pages! Devestating!). My little sister loved his picture book--Fair's Fair--and no one's _ever_ heard of that one. The Sound of Coaches is the one that I loved when I was in college, though. I'd better stop now before I list them all.

At 11:24 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh! And William Mayne! Tell me that some of you guys have read books by William Mayne.


At 1:51 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Nine Questions" by Edward Fenton. I interlibrary loan this one every few years. A boy leaves home to seek his fortune with a few treasured items, meets a girl who can't cry and a mysterious con man who turns up in different guises. A little magical, a little mystical...something about it just captured me at 10 years old and still does.

At 4:58 PM , Anonymous Laurie said...

Re: Winged Girl of Knossos, what with all the Lightning Thief love, couldn't it do well in a reprint? I haven't read it, sounds great.

Lots of kids in my school love The Wind Singer.

My personal favorite: Family Sabbatical by Carol Ryrie Brink.

At 9:27 PM , Blogger J. L. Bell said...

Your favorite Diana Wynne Jones is my favorite Diana Wynne Jones.

And for an addition to the list, does anyone anymore read The Story of a Bad Boy, by Thomas Bailey Aldrich?

At 9:46 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bring back the BLUEBERRY PIE ELF !

It was my favorite book to use in storytime, and when I came back to work from having kids, it was OP and has remained so. sob

-librarian, writer, mom

At 10:50 PM , Blogger Little Willow said...

I think that Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy is underappreciated.

I love The Fairy Rebel by Lynne Reid Banks and I feel that it is better than The Indian in the Cupboard series.

Hurrah for Zilpha!

At 11:49 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Our last paperback copy of The Fairy Rebel finally fell apart and had to be discarded. Broke my heart, it did. I insist on now keeping our slowly dying paperback of The Girl With the Silver Eyes (which I really should have included on this list) in circulation despite its increasing rattiness.

I'm devastated, by the way, to hear about Adelaide Harris as I read the new paperback. Off to find a hardcover!

At 3:03 PM , Anonymous Andrew Ogus said...

I'm always glad to see Diana Wynne Jones mentione ANYWHERE. She is so much better than Rowling, and so under appreciated.
Garfield's "The Sound of Coaches" is terrific.
Anything by Peter Dickinson is worth readng an rereading. I highly recommend "Rope" and "The Blue Falcon."
I've read some William Mayne but can't remember any titles now.

At 9:24 PM , Blogger jessmonster said...

I loved the Below the Root series - as I did all of ZKS's books. They're on my reread list.

Another favorite is Kate Seredy's The Good Master.

In the picture book category, my love goes to The Maggie B by Irene Haas. I've passed the love along to a three year old and could now die in peace.

At 9:11 PM , Anonymous stacy said...

I also love Kara Dalkey's Little Sister. Did you know she wrote a sequel to it? I have Little Sister here on my shelf, but I must have checked the sequel out from the library, because it's not in my personal book collection. I remember it being good, but not as good as Little Sister.

My favorite Diana Wynne Jones is Power of Three. Haven't tried Dark Lord of Derkholm or Archer's Goon. Or any of the rest, actually. More books to add to the TBR pile.

At 1:46 PM , Blogger Suzanne said...

Eleanor Farjeon's Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard, 1921, a beautiful love story within love stories, with a Sussex wandering minstrel as the title character.

Archer's Goon is also my favorite DWJ book, along with her underread Tam Lin retelling Fire and Hemlock.

At 2:16 PM , Blogger Celia said...

While I am hard pressed to name a *bad* DWJ book, and thus count pretty much all of them very highly in my favorites list, I think my favorite favorite is Hexwood. because while I claim I am over all King Arthur stories ever, I really just mean the bad ones, not this one at all.

I also adore Hounds of the Morrigan. I got given a copy that sat around for maybe even a year before I read it. And after I read it, I reread it until it fell apart, and was ever so pleased to find a copy in paperback years later (though the paperback is not really as pretty, particularly so far as the conversational sweets are concerned.(Also, i want conversational sweets like that.)). And the fox isn't bad, but I'd have to say it's a toss up between the ducks and the earwigs. Oh, nevermind, I just love them all.

At 2:56 PM , Blogger a. fortis said...

I LOVE Girl with the Silver Eyes. When I was a kid I kept repeatedly trying to move things with my mind, but to no avail.

Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books are great--I'll have to put those on the re-read list. I also really liked The Westing Game as a kid.

At 11:27 PM , Blogger Jessica said...

Two of my childhood favourites, recently rediscovered and just as good as I remembered them: The Plum Rain Scroll and its sequel The Dragon Stone, by Ruth Manley. An odd-job boy with a secret destiny; a Celestial Princess on the lam; an aunt who turns out to be a fox; a yoni who collects poetry and a tengu who is simply bored with life... It is a brilliant and at times laugh out loud funny story set in mythological Japan. Highly recommended! I have seen copies on abebooks, but not in huge numbers.(The Peony Lantern, the third in the series, published after Manley's untimely death, is extremely disappointing and reads as if the publisher grabbed her manuscript notes and printed them without allowing an editor anywhere near it.)

At 2:22 PM , Blogger schwartzbergj said...

I've read so many of these books and I will have to go find the ones I haven't read. Thank you for the suggestions! Now for my nominations:

Bedford-Atkins, Gladys. The Luck of the House: The Story of A Family and a Sword. Chicago: A. Whitman, 1938. It traces the history of a family over nearly a thousand years in a series of stories and is simply wonderful. I lost my childhood copy and was lucky enough to find it on the Internet a few years back. Read it if you can find a copy.

Lodge, Grace. The Marsh Princess. London, 1949. I seem to be the only owner of this wonderful full-length children's fantasy on this side of the Atlantic. It's about a princess who grew up in a tower by the marsh. She loves the marsh and is strange but loved by her caretakers. Then she is summoned to court where people are wary of her because her mother was a fairy. It's about being different and finding one's own place. It's a lovely tale. If you ever find a copy grab it!!

Ward, Patricia. The Silver Pencil. London: Collins, 1959. Not the US book of the same title. This one is about a magic silver pencil that helps a lonely girl on a summer vacation and makes the vacation very special for her. It's a special tale.

How many people reading this have actually read the Oz books, not just the Wizard of Oz but all the other ones, particularly the ones by Ruth Plumly Thompson?? I particularly love The Purple Prince of Oz and The Yellow Knight of Oz and Ojo in Oz for example.

I could go on and on....

Jenny in Chicago

At 6:49 AM , Blogger Jen said...

One of my favorites from youth is A Stranger Came Ashore by Mollie Hunter. Everyone else I've introduced to it, even years later, has loved it.

At 1:42 PM , Anonymous Maureen said...

My 7th/8th graders love The Lightening Thief, The Sea of Monsters, and The Titan's Curse.

They also love the Wind on Fire Trilogy and The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness Trilogy.

At 1:21 PM , Blogger Linda said...

Can old books be included? If so, I think that Louisa May Alcott's Under the Lilacs is the most charming children's book ever written. It is also filled with descriptions of what children did to amuse themselves sans TV, including elaborate Medieval Days. Anyway wonderful story.

At 6:59 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am currently searching for a copy of "The Marsh Princess" by Grace Lodge, (mentioned in a previous comment, as it was one of my favourite books as a child - beautifully illustrated in the edition I had, with Arthur Rackham style drawings and paintings. What about the works of Gene Stratton Porter? "Laddie", "A Girl of the Limberlost" and "Freckles" being the ones I read. They were my Mum's favourites too - quite sentimental and moralistic, but very moving and memorable nevertheless. We managed to get hold of new editions in recent years, as the old copies were falling apart at the seams.

At 4:30 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

my fave book of all time is "Inkheart" and "Inkspell" These are the first two books of Cornelia Funkes trilogy we are just waiting for the third part to come out. Inkheart is about a girl called Meggie and her father Mo. Mo has a special gift that Meggie never knew about! He can bring things alive out of paper and ink. This is a truly heart warming story and it taught me, how easily you can escape this world with the help of words.

At 3:01 PM , Anonymous Jan said...

I too am searching for The Marsh Princess, with the Rachman style illustrations. I managed recently to find a different edition of the book, but nothing can compere with the much loved one of my childhood.


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