Thursday, July 24, 2008

Top Ten Children's Books from my 80s Childhood

After Read Alert's links to the Guardian top tens.

1. Momo by Michael Ende
A richly disturbing children's book about time and narrative. Written by the author of The Neverending Story, a German guy (and man, is it German - you know, in a totally great way). It's title in the US was The Grey Men after the creepy bad dudes, that literally sucked time out of the world (smoking it in cigars).

2. Charley by Joan G. Robinson
I love Charley (her real name is Rowan). She thinks she's being sent to an aunt who doesn't want her so she runs away and makes a home in the chicken coop, then goes a bit wild and loopy. I love all the survival aspects, how she scavenges food and drink. It's a good blend between Famous Five adventure and something a little more psychological without ever being truly dark. It's a great abandonment tale with a neat little twist and a satisfying ending.

3. Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden
I haven't read this for years, and love everything Rumer Godden has written. But this was the one I love most, because it's a doll story and a Christmas story.

4. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (closely followed or perhaps trumped by Greenwich)
Actually the whole series really. Dark is Rising is probably the essential volume. But Greenwitch I loved because it was a very female story, about a deep power associated with coming female adolescence.

5. The Silver Crown Robert C. O'Brien
Everyone should read this book. That is all. ANd I snuck in a token American.

6. The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall
We read this as a class in grade six, then I read it again a few times as a teenager and once or twice as an adult - in fact I think I'm due to read it again. It's about understanding war through children's eyes who get their hands on a gun. I love WW2 fiction.

7. The Little Grey Men by BB
Who was the enigmatic BB? In the day and age the answer is a click away but I spent many hours puzzling over this peculiar pseudonym. Anyway, this was a great book about some grumpy miniature men (gnomes that is) who go looking for their brother Cloudberry. This all sounds twee, but it wasn't at all. This was one of those books I just found one day, wedged in the bookshelf. My parents owned a lot of books and every now and then I'd discover treasures - this was how I first read Seven Little Australians, Little Women and the Billabong Books.

8. Chocky by John Wyndham
My first sci-fi. I think I saw the tv show first but both were good. Wish you could get the tv show on DVD now. Read this in grade two. I remember because it was the year I was at Glenorchy Primary and Dad got it out of the library for me (he was the principal, we ruled the school). Oh NO WAY! Just found the series on Amazon. Gotta get it.

9. People Might Hear You by Robin Klein
I never met a Robin Klein book I didn't want to pass off as my own, but this one is my fave. Got this for Christmas on year and within a few minutes my dog Toby had chewed the bottom lines off the first nine pages. I read it anyway several times (I was a great rereader), and then looked up those lines much later.

10. The Green Wind by Thuerley Fowler
This is a QLB (quiet little book), but has a warm place in my heart.

Cripes, I've just realised how anglo-heavy this is. I read American books too, and particularly liked Paula Danziger - I'm sure she's who taught me how to write dialogue. And Paul Zindel, Betsy Byars, Beverly Cleary's Ramona books...And of course I read lots of Australian books too. Strictly Playing Beattie Bow should go on this list because it was my favourite for absolutely years, but it got squeezed out. Elephant Rock by Caroline Macdonald and Pen and Pencil Girls by Clare Mallory (about a group of south island girls who write and make their own book, including sewing the pages together) are two NZ books I adored. I loved Judith Kerr's When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit too and I can't believe I made that list without Noel Streatfield's Ballet Shoes or anything by Nina Bawden. Oh I could make this list all over again. Better stop now or I'll be up all night and it will become a top 100.

What are your favourites from your childhood?


  1. the silver crown is the only one off that list i specifically remember and it would definitely be on mine (though i had totally forgotten about it), i must have read that book 30 or so times, loved it so much.

  2. I share some of your favourites, The Dark is Rising series, John Wyndham's books, Ruth Park's books, Come Danger Come Darkness in particular.

    I read The Hobbit in grade 2 and The Lord of the Rings in grade 3 and re-read both regularly for many years. The Narnia series, Marguerite Henry's horse books, Walter Farley's Black Stallion series, the Billabong series by Mary Grant Bruce, Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons (and all this others too, I still reread them), E Nesbit, Frances Hodgson Burnett, John Christopher's Tripods series, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, Nicholas Fisk's sci-fi, Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Wishing Tree books (but not much else of hers)...hmm, perhaps I should stop there before I'm up all night too.

    I get a little bit passionate when I talk about books :)

  3. Anonymous12:15 AM

    What a fantastic collection - thanks for sharing. I'm always on the hunt for great children's books and have recently discovered Bayard and their series of StoryBoxBooks, AdventureBoxBooks, DiscoveryBoxBooks They have work by acclaimed children's books illustrator Helen Oxenbury appearing in the Storybox series for September. In addition to this, they also have some great activities for rainy days:,, Enjoy!

  4. Anonymous4:06 AM

    very cool indeed, some of thouse were my favoties too. i found a bunch of great books for my kids at this site.

  5. spammage?

    I wish I had your memory for a start Penni. I can see the cover of the Silver Crown in my head but that's all I can recall.

    I absolutely loved all E.Nesbit's books, I loved the Oz series, Ozma of Oz particularly. Swallows and Amazons. I read everything ever written by Enid Blyton. St Claire's, F-Five, S-Seven, all the Adventure ones .. I've started a collection for my girls, will see if I can order some for their upcoming birthdays from your list. :)

  6. I remember completely loving this book called THE SHAPE OF THREE - about twins who were mixed up at birth because of a fire in the hospital, and later reuinited. I don't remember all that much about it anyomore - except that it really moved me.
    When I was a bit older I LOVED the Ruth Park books - A POOR MANS ORANGE etc - I wonder if they'd be published as YA books nowadays??

  7. Anonymous9:19 AM

    In no particular order (where a book is part of a series, take it as read that I loved the rest of the series too):

    The Little White Horse, Elizabeth Goudge
    The Summer of the Great Secret, Monica Edwards
    Ballet Shoes, Noel Streatfeild
    The Railway Children, E. Nesbit
    The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder
    The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis
    Winter Holiday, Arthur Ransome
    The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
    A Traveller in Time, Alison Uttley
    Tom's Midnight Garden, Phillipa Pearce

    Oh, and I can't leave out Anne of Green Gables!! Or Little Women...

  8. Monica Edwards, definitely, all her books. Diana Wynne Jones (I still read these, and her latest is fantastic - the House of Many Ways), Monica Dickens, the Narnia series, E. Nesbit, John Christopher's Prince in Waiting series, Little Women (and its sequels), Anne of Green Gables, and the whole Anne series, James Herriot's stories about being a vet, anything involving ponies, and more recent YA fiction I love includes Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, and anything Isobelle Carmody.

  9. I've been collecting BB's books since I was about 11 and read 'Lord of the Forest' - his real name was Denys Watkins-Pitchford, and he did the illustrations for his books (they say "written by BB, illustrated by Denys Watkins-Pitchford). Most of his books are naturalist ramblings or stories about animals...much huntin' and fishin' and shootin' but I still love them.

  10. Oh, what a great idea.

    First, the snaps: I love love loved the Ramona series and People Might Hear You (as well as all the Robin Kleins, of course). I even picked up second-hand copies of People Might Hear You and Ramona Forever in the past year. They are books I feel I should own. The Ruth Park books I loved, too, especially Playing Beattie Bow. And Paula Danziger ... wasn't she great?

    Judy Blume, of course. Superfudge. Just brilliant. Dorothy Edwards' My Naughty Little Sister series. Enid Blyton, esp. The Naughtiest Girl in the School and The Enchanted Wood. A collection of children's cautionary rhymes called Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls.

    Kate C, I am so grateful to you for mentioning Alison Uttley's A Traveller in Time - I have been trying to remember the title of that one for years. How I loved that book. It was a repeat borrow from the library.

    Noel Streatfield (Ballet Shoes, The Painted Garden, Curtain Up); the Anne of Green Gables series; Little Women and follow-ups; the Sadler Wells series.

    Nadia Wheatley's The House That Was Eureka was/is just amazing.

    The Secret Garden is one of my favourite books ever, and I remember my mother taking me to the Myer book department, aged about six, to buy it after I fell in love with the ABC TV series. I was so excited!

    And ... best of all ... Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. What a journey, what brilliant wordplay. Magic.

  11. Sorry, have to add Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. What a role model.

    And thanks for that link and the list - really fun procrastination!

  12. Anonymous4:03 PM

    Glad to be of service, Ariel!

    Maybe I should ask if anyone remembers a book about a group of children, apples and Avalon? I can't remember a thing about it except that I adored it, it had a blue cover and ended with something about the silver and golden apples of Avalon. I think the children had to do various quests? Title and author (and plot, largely) have vanished into the mists of time. Ring a bell with anyone?

  13. Hehe, I was waiting for others to mention Enid Blyton as I know she's not PC any more... I loved loved loved her books and read all the Famous Five, Faraway Tree, and some of the Secret Seven books, plus the Mallory Towers and St Clare (?) boarding school books.

    I also loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, Willard Price animal adventure books, any types of biographies - there was a series in my local library organised by occupation, eg. six famous ballerinas, six famous nurses etc. Also the coloured fairy books - Blue Fairy Book, Green Fairy Book etc. Does anyone remember those?

    Judy Blume, "Hello God, it's me, Margaret" (is that the title? I can't remember). And a few NZ authors too like Maurice Gee "Under the Mountain".

    And I know it's not exactly children's lit but I loved the Charlie Brown and Snoopy cartoons and had quite a few books of the collected comic strips.

  14. Anonymous10:45 AM

    A top 10 is too hard for a bookworm child. Laura Ingalls Wilder would probably top my list for amount of rereadings. Closely followed by the Hobbit/LOTR. Then the Narnia series. Ruth Park was a HUGE favourite. Frances H Burnett. Enid Blyton (J and I jst finished Adventures of the Wishing Chair and are currently reading The Enchanted Wood. I'm so glad he loves them too). I was obsessed with the Trixie Belden series towards the end of Primary school. I liked Nancy Drew too though not so much as Trixie. There was also a series written by a Welsh author. Mind has gone blank....The Prydain Chronciles? The Book of Three etc. Anything by any of the Pullein-Thomson sisters (totally horse mad was I). And of course Little Women, Noel Streatfield, Seven Little Australians, Anne of Green Gables, What Katy Did etc. lots of wonderful boarding school books with midnight feasts and people being sent to Coventry.

    OK, I'll shut up now and do something productive with my day.

  15. Anonymous1:26 PM

    Your dad's first. Mine to follow (when I get to it)
    Bob (born 1920s)
    First picture book- Chick's Own
    Just William books R Crompton
    Tarzan by Edgar Rice-Burroughs
    White Hunter C T Stoneman
    Biggles WE Johns
    King Solomon's Mines and She by Rider Haggard
    Iliad and Odyssey
    The Golden Warrior Hope Munz
    Harold 1, last Saxon King of England

  16. Anonymous2:25 PM

    Among my favourites 1950s chilhood

    Johnny Crowe's Garden, L Leslie Brooke, the first book I got from my school library in 1950. Still wonderful words and illustrations

    Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham - Piper at the gates of dawn is my favourite chapter. The prose is so compelling

    Just so stories, Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling - liked the poems with the stories

    A Child's Garden of Verses R.L. Stephenson

    Andrew Lang's fairy books (in many colours)

    World's End Was Home and other Nan Chauncy stories - good to have story set in Tasmania. We first read her books as a serial in the school magazine published monthly.

    My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara and its sequels - Thunderhead and Green Grass of Wyoming

    At the End of the Moonpath, another Australian book written by Donald MacDonald, killed in action in WW2. The main character was a girl called Ita and there were many animals

    Mumphie Marches On, an espionage story like no other!

    And Pollyanna, Billabongs, Ethel Turner, Alcott et al

  17. Anonymous5:32 PM

    little women, anything robin klein, anything victor kellher, anything susan cooper, ruth park, roald dahl, moomintrolls, beatie bow, hobbit.

    mostly australian and mostly ahead of my age group.
    hated enid blyton, anything to do with pooh bear.

    also enjoyed poetry and the beginnings of Tomorrow When The War Began, although that may have been creeping into the 1990's.

  18. i also loved momo but not as much as the never-ending story. i couldn't believe it when i got to the point where the film finished and i was only half way through, and it started to get all dark and complicated... and the descriptions of the coloured sanddunes that are a desert by day and a rainforest by night...

    a huge yes to The Dark is Rising series, but Greenwich was one of my least favourite as I had a thing for Will... also liked people might hear you.

    The Hobbit
    LOTR (got me through year 7, re-read obsessively until i was 17)
    Tom's Midnight Garden
    The Secred Garden
    The Silver Brumby
    The Gumnut Babies
    Narnia Series (started with old worn discovered copy Prince Caspian, gasped with joy when I discovered there were more...)
    So Much to Tell You, John Marsden (and that other one he wrote about the journey, not sure what it was called)
    Duck Boy, Christobel Mattingley
    Bridge to Terabithia

    and that's ten already, but how can I not mention Rosemary Sutcliffe, and if we're edging into teenage years, i reread obsessively anything i could get my hands on by Cynthia Voigt, especially the wonderful Homecoming.

  19. Anonymous6:29 PM

    and I forgot Norman Lindsay's Magic {udding

  20. I'm loving everyone's responses.

    Brazen - Me too. Could read it again actually. Did you read Z for Zachariah or Rats of Nimh? All his books were genius.

    Mim - I missed Swallows and Amazons, and have never been able to get into them as an adult, though they are popular among my friends. Ditto Tolkein, just can't get into him. I loved the Narnia books. Read some of Nicholas Fisk's books. Should revisit him. Thanks for reminding me.

    Spam schpam

    Rebecca - googled it. Sounds great. i think you're right about Ruth Park's books. She's definitely 'crossover.'

    Jo - Loved Enid Blyton's books, especially famous five (secret seven seemed less compelling), children of willow tree farm, and the boarding school books. I also liked the Amelia Jane books about the naughty doll. You should definitely try and get your hands on Pen and Pencil Girls - I'd be interested to know if NZealanders know it as well as we know some of the Oz classics. I haven't read all the Oz books yet but I think I might have to get them 'for Fred'. I love TWWofO. Can't wait to read it to Fred.

    Kate there's a few on your list I haven't read, don't think I've read any Monica Edwards though the name rings a bell. Or The Little White Horse. I haven't read Traveller in Time either, though I adore Alison Uttley's Little Grey Rabbit stories. As you know I didn't discover Laura Ingalls Wilder until I was growed up (though I did watch the series, comfort teev.)

    Rebekka - Haven't read any Monica Edwards either. Loved Anne of Green Gables. And yeah, Isobel Carmody is great. My favourite of hers is the odd one set in a suburb. The Gathering?

    Thanks Anna! I remember discovering some more books in the same series a few years after reading Little Grey Men and being very excited. Don't think my copy is around anymore, but doing this post has reminded me to look out for BB in second hand bookstores.

    Ariel, I've been slowly collecting all the Noel Streatfield's I can find, I love The Painted Garden. I love the way she writes about talented kids - it's like a kind of magic realism - this hidden immense possibility. I wrote about Alice in Wonderland and Secret Garden in my thesis. I always thought I'd quite like to grow up and be an expert on Alice in Wonderland, you know do a PhD on some obscure aspect. And yes to harriet the spy. And I wish I'd written the Ramona books.

    Maria - Judy Blume was a fave of mine too, she'd definitely go on my alternative list. Tiger Eyes and Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself were my favourites. And I loved Snoopy too. And Garfield and I read Betty and Veronica comics with a fervour nearing obsession.

    Dani - I'm a bit less into Enid Blyton's magic books as an adult but they were intensely real to me as a kid. Folk of the Faraway Tree was the first chapter book I read by myself. I read Trixie Beldon too, they were shelved in the same part of the library as the Milly Molly Mandy books, so you triggered that memory!

    Mum- yours and dad's list is very interesting - I should work my way through them both sometime (I've read some). I've never read My Friend Flicka. Was Prelude (about Eileen Joyce the piano player) yours? I found it among my books and I've lent it to Kate C. I also forgot about Mollie Hunter - A Stranger Came Ashore was my favourite, but I liked all her books. You introduced me to Mollie Hunter after you read it for uni, is that right?

    Zose - of course...Roald Dahl! I loved Boy, his autobiography. And I have Fantastic Mr Foxput away for Fred (who isn't into chapter books yet). Crikey, just read that Fantastic Mr Fox is being made into a move with George Clooney and Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett providing the voices (animated I guess).

    Remembered some more:
    Necklace of Raindrops by Joan Aiken (short stories)
    Cat's Magic by I don't know who, about a girl who rescues a cat and ends up being granted the ability to go anywhere she wants by the goddess Bast, only problem is Bast is a bit vague about time. Lovely story.
    Emma's Island (and The High House and Emma in Love) by Honor Arundel. Emma's Island was the middle book, but I think the best.
    Strictly Private by Roger McGough, which was an anthology of poems
    Displaced Person by Lee Harding - about someone who starts to turn 'grey' and disappear out of the world
    The Seventh Pebble by Eleanor Spence
    New Patches for Old by Christobel Mattingly
    Balyet by Patricia Wrightson
    Eleanor Elizabeth by Libby Gleeson
    Mr McFadden's Halloween by Rumer Godden (I know I already mentioned her, but that was especially resonant).

    One day I'll make a list of picture books.

  21. Meli - Oh yeah! Bridge to Terabithia. Definitely. And I loved The Neverending Story too, and had the same experience as you - the second half is so awesome. But I can't go past the fact that Momo lived in an amphitheatre.

    Mum - yep, Magic Pudding. All the Aus animal classics like Blinky Bill, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and Muddleheaded Wombat. And remember that odd little book Sid Sixpence that Nana bought me? I think I still have that somewhere.

  22. Anonymous7:51 PM

    OMG finally I found someone else who read The Silver Crown! It's my favourite book from when I was a kid. The funny thing is, I hated Z for Zachariah, and I only realised years later that they were the same author.

    I'd forgotten about Chocky - you're right, I'm going to have to find it and read it again...

  23. Such a good post and good comments to read.

    Penni, I'm glad you mentioned Joan Aiken. I loved her - very dark. The titles sum it up: Midnight is a place, Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersby.

    On Hodgson Burnett: I loved Little Princess even more than secret garden.

    And Willard Price! By crikey, I lurved that (barely) post-colonial, hegemonically masculine, not-at-all green series with a passion, especially Gorilla Adventure.

  24. Sally J. Freedman rocks! I reacquired that one again lately, too. Apparently that one is very autobiographical.

    Your thesis sounds even more fascinating, now, if it incorporates two of my all-time favourite books.

    Please become an Alice expert and write some articles I can read. Just selfishly, you know.

  25. Living overseas I have collected all the books that on on the bottom of the list as well as Careful He Might Hear You, as I want my children to read them too. I also was a BIG Roald Dahl fan. But my favorite book which I have also found a copy of is Cheaper By the Dozern. Nothing like the films but it always left me thinking I could do things like learn to type by painting over the letters and learn a language by playing the tapes in my sleep, etc. I swore I would do the same for my children. I love rereading all the children´s books over again to remember the nice things about growing up.

  26. All right Ariel, just for you.

    I don't think I've ever read Careful He Might Hear You, but I found the film haunting as a child.
    Cheaper by the Dozen is my mother-in-law's favourite book!

  27. Brilliant list! I loved People Might Hear You as a kid, but frankly it scared the crap out of me. I know it wasn't actually on your list, but you mentioned Seven Little Australians - LOVE LOVE LOVED that book!

    Oh what a fabulous idea for a blog post, think I need to be a copycat some time this week. ;)

  28. Anonymous8:58 PM

    Hey great list. I loved the Dark is rising series!

    You've virtually covered all of my favourite books, but this got me thinking about what our kids will remember when they are our age.

    I'd imagine "His Dark Materials" will be on the list, as will Harry Potter etc.

    I also think a lot of shorter books will make it. My eldest loves the Bayard Discovery box books we get each month because he can read them when he's having breakfast or if he just wants 20 minutes to chill out.
    Try: for the shorter books, and Amazon for the Philip Pullman ones if you haven't read them. They are amazing :)

  29. do you think you can help me?
    i'm looking for a book for a friend. and this is all the hints I have.
    Its about a monster that this little boy finds in the forest.
    and he take him to his basement to live and feeds him.
    and then he grows really big and his mom kicks it out and he's sad.
    the little boy is sad he has to say goodbye to his friend.
    (its a story about friendship)

    the illustrator reminds me of the illustrator Where the Wild Things Are.
    You have no idea how much you would do if you could help me.

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