Children’s books week

And, while I’m on a roll: Happy Children’s Books Week! I read so many books as a kid that it’s sometimes hard to remember which ones I liked best. But my favorite author was Joan Aiken, who wrote a whole series of novels set in a kind of alternate-history England in the 18th century. Years later, I realized that her fictional England was the result of the premise "What if the Stuarts had stayed in power instead of being ousted in 1688?" (There’s a Pretender to the Throne in these books, and he’s not a Stuart but a Hanoverian, i.e. a member of the royal family from which George I et al. came. A character in Black Hearts in Battersea, one of the early novels in the series, lurches drunkenly into a room singing "My bonny lies over the North Sea, / My bonny lies over in Hanover, / My bonny lies over the North Sea, / Oh why won’t they bring that young man over?")

Even though the history went over my head at the time, I loved those books intensely. The heroine of the series is a girl named Dido, who first appears in Black Hearts in Battersea as a bad-tempered guttersnipe, befriends the hero, Simon (who turns out to be the lost heir to a Duke), and is lost at sea at the end of the novel. But she turns up again in Night Birds on Nantucket, a spoof on Moby-Dick that involves a demented Quaker whaling captain chasing a great pink whale. She gets taken to South America, meets the reincarnation of King Arthur, and thwarts a seriously creepy set of villians in The Stolen Lake, and returns to England just in time to foil a plot against the new Stuart king in The Cuckoo Tree. I’ve still got most of those books; they’re among the very few from my childhood that I wouldn’t let my mother give away to younger relatives.

Other childhood favorites: Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, especially the title book; The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; Helen Cresswell’s Bagthorpe family saga; and my much-beloved Faber Book of Children’s Verse. I was also an Edward Gorey fan at a tender age, thanks to the animated title sequences for Mystery! on PBS, but I didn’t discover his books until a bit later.

What were your favorite childhood books?

3 Responses to “Children’s books week”

  1. Jane Dark says:

    Like you, I adored the Dido Twite books, though I have a hard time calling the series that, because I found my way into it through The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, in which she’s not featured. And I really wanted to find out what happened to Simon and Sophie!
    And I loved the Arabel and Mortimer books, as well.
    And The Dark Is Rising series: love, love, love!
    Did you ever run into Pat Shea’s The Hounds of the Morrigan? It was another one of my favorites.

  2. ChrisTheRed says:

    Mary Stewart’s Merlin series (Crystal Cave, Hollow Hills, Last Enchantment), her This Rough Magic, and T.H. White’s Once & Future King. Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy. Tolkien, of course, too.

  3. Amanda says:

    Oh, yes, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase! That was the first one I read, too.
    I missed The Once and Future King, somehow, though I did like Mistress Masham’s Repose. And there’s a ton of LeGuin I haven’t read yet. Fortunately, there’s always time to rectify that.