Tuesday 9 June 2009

Favourite children's fiction

Children and YA fiction is my true guilty pleasure. It’s a funny thing but, while I flinch at adult fantasy, I will lap it up when written for a younger audience. Why is that, do you reckon? The children’s books just seem more imaginative somehow and more earthed. I’ve always justified buying a disgustingly decadent amount of children’s fiction on the grounds that I’m merely furnishing a superb library for James. Only thing – he has grown up hating anything remotely spooky or supernatural. So my favourites languish... Well, not really as oddly, I can re-read these again and again while I will never go back to an adult book.
Here, for those who might have children of finer taste and discretion (or share my penchant for marvellously spooky or strange tales), are my total and absolute favourites (for this week at least).

The Old Beloveds
(C S Lewis and Tolkien go without saying)

· The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald – classic up in the highest tower of the castle stuff…just magical. The sequel, The Princess and Curdie is lovely too.
· The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and the Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner. But you know this already – the most accessible and openly mystical of Garner’s books, steeped in old magic and folklore.
· The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper – again, folklore and magic entwined as Will discovers he is one of the ‘Old Ones’ born to battle against the Dark. Don't be put off by the (awful) film - the books are stunning.

The new favourites
(Philip Pullman and J K Rowling are, again, givens)

· The Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud (The Amulet of Samarkand etc). Set in a modern-day London controlled by magicians, Nathaniel, a young and reckless apprentice gains a brilliant sidekick in the form of 5,000 year old djinni Bartimaeus. Smart, slick, scary with a sense of humour.
· The Wind on Fire trilogy by William Nicholson. Never can understand why this hasn’t been made into a movie – Nicholson is a renowned screenplay writer (Gladiator, Shadowlands etc) and this is begging for a film treatment. A dark alternative world with memorable characters you really care about.
· The Wardstone Chronicles by Joseph Delaney. This started with The Spook’s Apprentice and has gone from strength to strength. Dark and very scary indeed – even I am not sure about reading these after dark. Definitely for older readers - 12+
· Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver (Wolf Brother etc). Oh, for heaven's sake, don't you hate this woman? These are just totally and utterly brilliant. Paver researched intensely, meticulously (some might say obsessively) to recreate an ancient world that is totally plausible. Torak is an outcast in a world of spirits and wild animals, fearsome shamans and elemental terrors. Can't wait for the next one.
· Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen by Garth Nix. Another deeply eerie and scary trilogy. Sabriel is the daughter of a Mage, who has to learn how to cope in a world where the dead won’t stay dead. My favourite character is Mogget, the cat who is not a cat. Oh, and the Disreputable Dog (no surprised there). These are my favourite Nix titles - the others don't quite do it for me.
· Tales of the Otori trilogy by Lian Hearn (Across the Nightingale Floor). Set in medieval Japan this is just fabulous. It’s got the lot – action, magic, mystery, love, romance, revenge, nail-biting suspense. It is hugely atmospheric, beautifully written and totally page-turning.

Now James won’t touch any of these with the proverbial bargepole. He likes a bit of action but with not even the vaguest whiff of brimstone. So his favourites have been, of late:
· The Young Bond series by Charlie Higson – with my critical hat on I reckon these are the best written of the whole ‘young spy’ genre. Cracking yarns.
· The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz – again, great fast-moving thrillers but just a tad formulaic for my taste. I still read them though.
· The Cherub series by Robert Muchamore – these are great – spy stories meet the boarding school yarn. Orphans of exceptional ability are recruited and brought up on ‘campus’ – a secret location from which they venture out on very modern missions (drug trafficking, animal rights extremists, religious cults etc). Violent with some strong language and sexual activity – they’re not - at first impression - every parent’s dream but Muchamore gets across some good healthy messages (don't take drugs, don't smoke, don't bully, don't be homophobic or sexist, don't get pregnant in your teens) without being remotely preachy. I'm hugely in favour.

Right then. Back to the reading chair…


Milla said...

this is where we part company, dear friend.
Don't get fantasy in any of its forms - apart from Five Children & It, what's not to like in an it, so maybe I'm not as far removed as I like to claim. Didn't like M Paver much, we struggled through Wolf Brother ... so slow. My boys are very with yours. I'm in mourning for mine not liking my old faves - well, White Boots was never going to be a goer, and I imagine "the swish of the curtain" has lost something in the intervening years, but Ivan Southall and Ian Serralier, Henry Treece, Rosemary Sutcliff.
F10 adored the Harry Potters when F9 but for me, the minute an elf starts talking, I'm off.
So glad you're a bit more cheerful, says revealing a great depth of shallow.

Rob-bear said...

So glad you're "hanging in" during this process. And yes, we're all "hanging together" with you (otherwise we'll all likely be hung separately).

Reading chair.
Wardrobe (as per Lewis).
Same thing.

Blessings and Bear hugs.

Saz said...

'friends keep the darkness at bay'

Reasons said...

i went back and read your last post and I really do feel for you. I hope this fog does continue to lift very soon..to be honest I think you are coping with it incredibly well, although it may not feel like it to you at the time. I am sending you warm heartfelt wishes. Take care.

family affairs said...

Poor you - it could be worse though - you could be strapped in to Expedition Everest rollercoaster and crying....glad to hear you're feeling better Lx

claire p said...

I never got fantasy, my best friend is a white witch and is hugely into it. But she could never convert me. And then, as you well know, I stumbled across the Twilight series. So now I shall be on the look out and will not be so dismissive again.

Glad the fog is lifting, I fear mine is just decending again...

Minnie said...

"More imaginative ... more earthed": probably sums up your perfectly reasonable preference. 'fraid I don't share 'em, tho' (although remember loving G McDonald when a child). My fictional escape routes are historical (Dunnett,Druon), criminal (Robinson,Rankin) or both (Tallis, Franklin). Each to his own ...
Of course you're welcome to use pic - although I do think you could have selected a more flattering portrait of me!
James's going to be a spy, then?
Glad you're feeling better.

Zoë said...

I love fantasy, read all my childhood faves to the kids as they grew, T never got into reading, still hates books (that's a dyslexic for you), R loved to read, and write from an early age. Pullman and Rowling were huge favourites, and also Malorie Blackman.

Glad the gloom lifted a little, hope it continues xxxx

rachel said...

So glad to hear you're feeling a bit more 'up' - it may come and go for a while, but there will be longer periods of feeling good, honest.

Loved your book list - am 100% with you on the subject of children's literature. Have a look at this, that I posted ages ago - attica-slowlife.blogspot.com/2009/03/dusty-treasures_23.html. I didn't get the religious allegory at the time though...And I swear (and he agrees) that my son's great love of books stems from having had the Alice books read to him when he was rather too young for them! Even though he went through a worrying phase later on of only reading 2000 AD comics.

rachel said...

...ooops, sorry, didn't mean to sound all self-promoting. Just excitably wanting to show my own battered copies of The Princess and the Goblin!

maddie said...

I'm a fantasy girl through and through. Just loved The Princess and the Goblin and remember being told off by my English teacher when I reached 'big' school and admitted to reading it.
I am a huge fan now of Ray Bradbury, especially Something Wicked this way Comes. Many of his books and short stories are great for kids, and big kids like me.
Thanks for the contemporary list. I am about to do an OU course in children's literature so there are some great recommendations there.

ArtSparker said...

I probably wouldn't count Philip Pullman's books as children-specific...George MacDonald is wonderful, some of his language is so surprising...he was a minister who was relieved of his duties because of his unconventional beliefs.

I do like the Temeraire series, it's a good one for animal-lovers.

Exmoorjane said...

Milla: I know, I know - though we share Henry Treece and Rosemary Sutcliff - and indeed more cheerful, bless you. But oh oh, how not to like Wolf Brother? Sigh.

Rob-Bear: blessings too, dear bear.

FFF: they do indeed and thank puck for them.

Reasons: thank you, dear heart, so much.

FA: damn good point. Actually yes, I do prefer blank despair to acute terror!

Claire: ah, white witches (bless 'em) aren't always to be trusted in their choice of literature!! ;) Hmm, try Celia Rees - Witch Child... Just very wonderful too.

Phidelm: but you look lovely, m'dear banshee! I know, I'm often alone with this one.....though I love a dash of crime too and can even cope with the historical variety. Nope, not sure James is going to be a spy - says he'd rather shoot people at a distance (scary eh?)

Rachel: oooh, shall look forward to reading that post. Comics are a worrying phase - we've had that too but seems to be (gratifyingly) wearing off.
And no, not remotely self-aggrandising......you daft ha'porth.

Maddie: I'm just blown away by the number of others who loved the P and the Goblin. An OU course in children's literature? Oh wow. That sounds like my kind of course - now want to know much, MUCH more. Though would be scared that, were I to study it, I would lose the magic.

ArtSparker: I think most good children's fiction can and should be able to crossover.....PP certainly does (though they were most certainly designated as children's fiction in the first place). Didn't know that about G MacD - intriguing. Now need to explore more.

Cait O'Connor said...

My oldest gdd loves Michelle Paver and has just written a book review for our library service website. I will recommend some of your choices to her.

CAMILLA said...

Dear Jane,

So pleased the 'fog' is lifting for you, hang in there gal.

My granddaughter was mad about all the Harry Potter books, and loves all books to do with fantasy.

Love and Hugs for you dear Jane.


Bluestocking Mum said...

Hi J
Make the most of the 'better' days - use them and exploit them to the full so you can allow the not so good days to curl you up under the duvet and hermit if you so choose.

Right, as for books of childhood it was always Famous Five and all things Enid Blyton I'm afraid. I've never been a fantasy person either. I adored Alice in Wonderland and read it so many times I know it verbatum and another favourite was 'The Diddakoi' by Rumer Godden. Interestingly it was a story of a little traveller girl who was brought up by her Grandma. But written as only Rumer Godden can.

Take care

Exmoorjane said...

Cait: So much fabulous children's fiction around now....they're spoilt for choice. Hope gdd likes some of these..

Camilla: thank you so much, and for your comments on the other posts. Glad your granddaughter loves reading so much. Do think JK Rowling has done a wonderful job in encouraging children to read.

Angel: I loved the Famous Five too and the Malorie Towers, St Claire's series too. Just loved reading really. Haven't read Rumer Godden's children's books but love her adult ones so shall try. Thanks for the tip.

Edward said...

Agree on your choices - particularly Alan Garner, whose WoB and MoG were brilliantly read to me at prep school. I agree about adult fantasy - I used to read masses of it (Stephen Donaldson's interminable Thomas Covenant, for example) but I'm a sci-fi fan at heart.

I'll get my coat.

Michelloui said...

What a great list of books. Have just stumbled across your blog as if 'meant to be' because I have been creasing my brows over new books to suggest for my daughter--these are all right up her (and my) street. Thanks! I shall bookmark you... (if you dont mind!)

Welsh Girl said...

The Dark is Rising is one my favourite book sequences EVER. The film was a travesty though.

If you want spooky and scary but very good, try Anthony Horowitz's latest contribution - The Power of Five series (four published so far). They are v. good.

Also, have you read Philip Pullman's earlier books? The excellent Sally Lockhart series. They are all set in Victorian England and are fantastic.

I could happily read nothing but children's books. Astonishing how often they make you cry. Far more frequently than adult books now I come to think of it.

Brown Dog said...

Ooh,lovely list, Jane. Quite a few I haven't come across before, so will make list.

Glad to hear you're feeling just a tad more chipper. Children's books help at times like these, they really do.


Frances said...

Good evening Jane,

You sound much more upbeat in this post, but please know that we just want you to be you. Upbeat or mid beat.

All these fantasy books are beyond my reading either as child or adult. Did read and love Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Surely there is a bit of fantasy there?

(Hope you did get my email ... never know what is going to junk)

It's a bit late now for me to make much more sense, although I do wish that I could.

Just want to send you continued best wishes. xo dear friend.

Pondside said...

Hi Jane - I don't know how I missed your last post, but hope that you will continue to take it easy on yourself.
I'll pass the list on to my son and DIL - son loves fantasy and was deprived as a boy because I just didn't get it and thus never got it for him. No doubt he'll buy lots of fantasy for his sons who will most likely grow up to love historical fiction or biography!

Tessa said...

There is an author whom I think you may like to connect with here in the Blogosphere. Although her books are not fantasy, she does write for YA and, in my opinion, does it sublimely well. Her name is Beth Kephart and you can find her at http://beth-kephart.blogspot.com/ - I have a feeling you'll approve.

Jane, I've been away in Turkey and have spent a little time catching up on your recent posts. Always a delight, of course, but I was so sad to read that you are battling the old foggy black dog demon. My heart goes out to you, particularly because despite my cheerful, do-goodie-two-shoes attitude which is assumed by most people who read my blog, I too am at the stage where hanging on is paramount. I suppose it's a kind of Heidi syndrome in my case. Do you remember when she was taken down from the mountain to stay in the city and she got so ill...from homesickness that she was bed-ridden? Well, I don't need to say anymore, except that I really truly hope that your fog will lift soon. It's a battle....but, believe me, it can be won.

And to put the cherry on top of the cheery cake - there is an award I created for people just like you on my blog. I posted about it before I left for Turkey, so, if you feel so inclined, you'll find it under my post of May 22nd. It's all about building bridges and stuff.

Sala Khale - as they say in the old country. xxoo

Annette Piper said...

Oh yes, I'm also a great fan of children and young adult fiction - fantasy or just plain adventure! Thanks for the great list - I will be seeking them out!

DD's Diary said...

Can't remember whether we discussed Twilight but that's another guilty pleasure in store if not - bit patchy but excellent on the vampires and teen lurve. So glad you're feeling a bit better xx god, it's a bugger, sometimes xx