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Colin in Kent Posted 5 months ago
Children’s books of yesteryear

Spurred on by my brother taking it upon himself to throw out all my childhood books a few years ago, I began collecting vintage children’s books, first as a means of replacing them, and then as an interest in itself. I tend to focus on magic or the supernatural, but also find normal ‘kitchen sink’ narratives a fascinating insight into attitudes at the time. I also love the cover and interior art of classic 60s and 70s books.

So, my question is – do you have a favourite book or author that stands out in your memory from childhood? Something that you returned to time and again, and influenced your tastes or the way you saw things? There are some great resources on Goodreads and Facebook, but I’m interested in people’s personal experience of, and relationship with, their favourite books when they were growing up.

6 likes & 190 replies
    • HevF 15th July 2021 at 8:32 pm

      Heidi. When I was growing up I had my sister’s copy and loved the story and especially the illustrations. Eventually she moved and took it with her. I managed to get another copy of the same 1952 publication and thought my girls would love it. They didn’t. But it still has pride of place on my bookshelf.

      • Colin in Kent 15th July 2021 at 9:26 pm

        And quite right too! I had mixed success trying to introduce my daughter to my childhood favourites. I think the appearance and format of some just put her off, and she never really got into the E. Nesbit or Alan Garner. Others she took to, which I guess is all about establishing one’s own identity. Heidi is an interesting choice – there seem to be thousands of positive reviews on Amazing!

    • CK2407 15th July 2021 at 11:27 pm

      ‘Trumpet of the Swan’ by E B White who also wrote ‘Charlotte’s Web’. Such skill is teaching how to empathize. I read ‘The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe’ many times but not the rest of the Narnia Chronicles by C S Lewis who instilled the thought that Good will triumph over Bad (which is what we all hope for in this World …)

      • Colin in Kent 16th July 2021 at 9:55 am

        I’ve read Charlotte’s Web, but I’ve never heard of Trumpet of the Swan! I’ll have to look that out now. I have to say, although The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ is a classic, Lewis progressed a lot as a writer as the series went on. My three favourites are The Magician’s Nephew (which is about the creation of Narnia, and shows how the Witch got there), Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair.

    • CK2407 16th July 2021 at 10:51 am
    • louise.nicholas500 16th July 2021 at 3:21 pm

      Yes i rebought most of them. Im 52. I couldn’t get this but it is johny morris animal book, i i did buy the Silver Sword-ian Serrailler, Charlotte’s Webb-EB White, Roald Dahl-Fantastic Mr Fox, a collection of Carol Beach york- more early teen mysteries. I loved the secret 7 anf vhilfren of cherry tree fsrm – Enid Blyton.

      • Colin in Kent 16th July 2021 at 5:24 pm

        Thank you – that sounds like a really good selection. And the first appearance in people’s recollections of Roald Dahl, another hugely popular writer. Again, not familiar with Carol Beach York at all – I shall look her up!

      • aspie auntie 25th July 2021 at 6:55 pm

        The animated film based on Fantastic Mr. Fox was brilliant! Wes Anderson made more of Mr. Fox’s family and friends and the scene where his son Asher and his cousin Kristofferson play with his dad’s train set in the bedroom reminded me of how my dad made one for my nephews.

      • Vicki H 30th September 2021 at 7:47 pm

        I loved Charlotte’s Web 🙂

    • Diggersjo 25th July 2021 at 7:54 pm

      I loved the green knowe series by Lucy m Boston

      • Colin in Kent 27th July 2021 at 10:01 am

        Ah, now this is a series I’ve long contemplated getting. I’ve seen the tv adaptation and there are very active fan groups. It looks very interesting.

    • Skinny_G 10th September 2021 at 6:49 am

      Enid Blyton, A.A Millnes and Shirley Hughes

    • Vicki H 30th September 2021 at 7:46 pm

      I read a lot as a child (still do!). I loved The Chronicles of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland/Alice Through the Looking Glass. I found books a real escape, I could travel to another world and forget about what was going on at home, books were my saviour when I was a child and I still find solace from reading. My tastes as an adult still veer from time to time towards fantasy worlds, I especially love Jasper Fforde now.

    • Vicki H 30th September 2021 at 7:49 pm

      Reading some of these replies is really bringing back some good memories of books I enjoyed as a child – need to write a list of books to buy to share with my grandchildren 🙂

      • Colin in Kent 30th September 2021 at 8:07 pm

        I’m not sure I’ll ever have grandchildren, but I still like discussing books with my own (grown up) children. There are some great memories to be found in this list, you can also find terrific lists on Goodreads (although some are a little eccentric since anyone can add ones). Plus, I just like collecting them myself!

    • Vicki H 30th September 2021 at 8:24 pm

      Thanks Colin, new to this site so need to start having a look around, will have a look at Goodreads too

    • Pennypitstop 4th October 2021 at 9:58 pm

      Rupert Annuals….i got one very christmas and loved them. i wish i still had them they are quite valuable now.
      and Little Grey Men my dad used to read it to us at bedtime….memories aaah.

      • Colin in Kent 4th October 2021 at 10:43 pm

        The Little Grey Men won the Carnegie Medal in 1943 for best children’s book. I absolutely adored it and other books by ‘BB’. He was a wonderful writer, illustrator and naturalist.

        The odd thing is, that for all my love of reading and books, I don’t ever remember either of my parents reading to me. I suppose they must have. I loved reading to my own children.

    • Pennypitstop 4th October 2021 at 11:27 pm

      Reading is such an important part of childhood and i don’t think many children read nowadays which is such a shame. your parents probably read to you when you were quite young and because of that you learned to read early and started reading independantly. I loved reading to my son but i don’t think i carried on once he could read himself, or not as often. he still loves reading so i do think it is key to loving books. There are so many books I have on my bookshelf waiting to be read….i wish I could absorb them or speed read like they do on the sci fi films LOL .

      • Colin in Kent 5th October 2021 at 3:31 pm

        I know – same here. I’m actually thinking of not asking for books for Christmas for the first time ever because I have just so many waiting to be read.

        Yes, I certainly read to my children until they were 6 or 7 and then they were voracious readers. As you say, it is key.

    • Anonymous User (no longer active) 5th October 2021 at 2:54 pm

      My favourite book was Fantastic Mr Fox. I read it several times which was unusual for me. I may have to find it again to see why!
      Really disliked the animated film though it just didn’t capture the feeling.. maybe because I wasn’t an 8 year old 😆

    • Colin in Kent 5th October 2021 at 4:00 pm

      Yes, I think a lot of people look at the past with the eyes of their childhood selves. Having said that, some film versions are indeed a travesty (ie, The Dark is Rising), so you could be right!

    • Lisa Jeanne 7th October 2021 at 10:05 am

      Nobody has mentioned the Prince Valient books, perhaps because they were more like comics. I managed to pick up a whole set at a second hand book store when my son was about 10. He still has them (he’s now 28). Being dyslexic, they were an excellent way for him to gain an interest in reading as the illustrations helped greatly. Atrix & Obilics and the Tintin books were also favourites of his, probably for the same reason.

      • Colin in Kent 7th October 2021 at 1:09 pm

        A very good point! Actually somebody posted that recently in a King Arthur group on facebook I’m in, and the generally consensus was that it was an excellent introduction to the story for children, with great artwork. I absolutely loved Tintin, among my group of friends though you tended to be either a supporter of Tintin OR Asterix, you couldn’t be both – it seemed to create a very partisan fanbase!

    • Bakingbree 14th October 2021 at 1:00 pm

      I loved receiving my Rupert the Bear annual every Christmas. I wish now that I’d saved them. At school I remember enjoying Emil and the Detectives and The Silver Sword. I remember much preferring The Secret Seven to the Famous Five.

      • Colin in Kent 14th October 2021 at 4:12 pm

        I went in an antiquarian bookshop in Tintern a couple of years ago and they had hundreds of Rupert Annuals, apparently they have the largest collection in the UK – very expensive they are now! I loved Emil and the Detectives, although I don’t think I ever read the sequel (I didn’t even know there was one until recently). I didn’t know it was a pre-war novel, but it makes sense that it influenced the Blyton books. Like yourself I tended to prefer the Secret Seven, although I preferred the Five Find-Outers to either.

    • Markie Sharkie 14th October 2021 at 5:38 pm

      As a young child it was The Magic Far Away Tree. Then as an older child Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. Smiling just thinking about them.

    • CJ12 18th October 2021 at 9:30 am

      Hi Colin , my absolute favourites the Heidi trilogy loved everyone.
      The Enid Blyton series Famous Five , Mallory Towers .
      Ballet shoes by Noel Streatfield .
      The secret garden .
      Anne of Green Gables
      Nothing more satisfying than reading a series by the same author .
      My son was the same he read all the Harry Pottter books all the Roald Dahl books .
      As an adult in my 20s/30s I loved reading collections of books by the same author .
      I was very lucky as a child to have comics too loved Bunty , Mandy , Jackie ,Diana .
      And those small comic Story books anyone remember them ?

      • Caroline of Smoggy land 18th November 2021 at 9:37 am

        I read all of the Anne of Green Gables (also the Emily books, by L M Montgomery), Heidi (plus the 2 follow up which were written by her translator), Secret 7 and the Famous 5, Ballet Shoes (I was inspired to read this after watching the series), What Katy Did (then What Katy did at school, What Katy did next and then there were 2 books about her sister Clover).

        I read the Silver Sword in school as part of English Lit.

        I didn’t read Mallory Towers until late teens, early 20s.

        Secret Garden, I remember watching the series and didn’t like it. I recently read the book a couple of years, back and enjoyed it (I picked it up on a charity stall, wondering if I would like it more as an adult and I did).

        I always received an Annual book as a kid at Christmas, then as I grew – I was given novels for Christmas (Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Children of the New Forest, Far from the Madding Crowd).

        • Colin in Kent 18th November 2021 at 11:33 am

          I agree, Annuals were so important at Christmas, we usually got a couple between my brother and myself and would then swap. It’s interesting as well that you were inspired to pick up books after watching the tv series, I do wonder at those connections – I’ve done similar myself after watching children’s series as an adult.

    • Colin in Kent 18th October 2021 at 11:01 am

      Thanks CJ, there are some excellent ones there – I’m not sure anyone has mentioned Ballet Shoes or The Secret Garden. Also, I didn’t know Heidi was a trilogy, that’s new to me.

      One thing that prospective authors are told if they want to make a lot of sales self-publishing is to write a series of books, something that hooks readers and creates ‘brand loyalty’ (of course, they have to be good!). Time and again you see that readers love immersing themselves in a world they can return to again and again, so I completely agree. As a younger child I read the Wildwood books by Elleston Trevor (they go for fantastic prices now, and I’ve only been able to pick up one, ‘Mole’s Castle’), and as I got older I loved the Adventure series by Willard Price. I think Mallory Towers is still popular and there are even new ones still being published.

      I agree, I think people often overlook the importance of comics in a child’s development. My wife’s favourite was Misty (but she was always into the more spooky stuff), but it sounds like you have a roll call of 70s classics there. I don’t remember small comic story books, what were they?

    • diains1622 31st October 2021 at 7:57 pm

      Still read Alan Garner Weirdstone books sadly the last part of the trilogy went Way over my head….

      • Colin in Kent 1st November 2021 at 5:26 pm

        I certainly think it wasn’t the conclusion that many expected (or wanted). Obviously Garner moved away from children’s fiction decades ago, and approached Boneland with the same mindset as his adult stuff. I can see how it brings everything full circle (or did, since it was meant to be his final novel, but he’s just released another this week) but it is redolent with greater concerns than Colin and Susan’s adventures. I have mixed feelings about it, but you have to respect his art even while I would have loved a proper part three.

    • Brighton Belle 1st November 2021 at 5:32 pm

      Secret 7 Enid Blyton

    • Jaxx 2nd November 2021 at 5:48 pm

      Ant and Bee books when very little and The Changes by Nina Bawden. I got the DVD for Christmas last year. Also loved Follyfoot and Cobblers Dream

      • Colin in Kent 3rd November 2021 at 9:06 am

        I had forgotten Ant and Bee – I remember the logos on the books from my bookselling days, I don’t think I ever read them myself.

        Your other tastes look very similar to mine! With The Changes, do you mean the series about Nicky, where people destroyed all technology? The original trilogy was by Peter Dickinson and I have the dvd as well. It’s a terrific series. I also have the Follyfoot dvd and the original Cobblers Dream book!

        • Jaxx 3rd November 2021 at 4:27 pm

          Re The Changes – yes that’s the one. My other favourites were the The Silver Brumby books by Elyne Mitchell. Also the Jill pony books, I can’t remember the author.
          As you can tell I was a horse mad child!

        • Colin in Kent 4th November 2021 at 8:46 am

          It’s a really popular thing for young girls and it remains one of life’s mysteries for me. My cousin was too, and as she lived in the next road and we spent long summers playing together I was forever getting dragged to the local stables to watch her spending hours mucking out stables in return for the privilege of trotting round in a circle for half an hour on some nag. (My opinion of horses suffered a blow from which it never recovered when a donkey took a chunk out of my arm at Crystal Palace when I was seven or eight).

    • MalcolmC 2nd November 2021 at 9:48 pm

      The Tale of the Land of Green Ginger by Noel Langley (the original version, not the inexplicably edited version currently in print). It’s still a good read if you are over 50, as long as you have the sense of humour of a 10 year old – guilty as charged.

      It tells the story of Abu Ali, the son of Aladdin (who is now emperor of China). Abu Ali’s first words are “Button-nosed tortoise”, which immediately mark him out as fated to perform an important task when he grows up. On reaching maturity, Abu Ali duly sets out on his quest (the hero’s journey), has various adventures, and struggles to do good whilst foiling the schemes of the Wicked Princes, Rubdub Ben Thud and Tintac Ping Foo.

      I read it as a kid, I then read it both my children and they loved it too.

      I had to source another copy recently as my previous one fell apart. That was when I found the abomination of the curtailed edited version that misses out some of the best bits. Fortunately second hand copies are available (a good 1937 first edition copy will set you back over £900 – in my dreams).

      • Colin in Kent 3rd November 2021 at 9:12 am

        I’ve never heard of this book at all, which is pretty remarkable, not sure how it passed me by but I shall certainly look it out. It sounds fantastic. I can see there was a 60s Puffin version, and the current one is in Faber Children’s Classics – is this the one that is edited?

        • MalcolmC 3rd November 2021 at 9:51 am

          The original version was from 1937 but this is very rare and expensive (more importantly out of my price range). The version I grew to love was the 1966 Penguin version, reprinted in 1970. The Faber version, based on a 1975 Penguin re-write, has edited out much of the charm of the prose. An example can be found in the first couple of paragraphs and it gets worse (in my humble opinion).

          60s puffin version

          ISBN 140302565

          “May Fortune preserve you, Gentle Reader. May your days be filled with constant joys, and may my Story please you, for it has no other purpose.

          And now, if you are ready to begin, I bring you a Tale of Heroes and Villains, just as in Life; Birds and Beasts, just as in Zoos; Mysteries and Magic, just as in Day-dreams; and the Wonderful Wanderings of an Enchanted Land which was never in the same place twice.”

          Faber version:

          ISBN 0571226183

          “Fortune preserve you, gentle reader. May your days be filled with constant joy, and may my story please you, for it has no other purpose.

          And now, if we are all ready to begin, I bring you a tale of the wonderful wandering of an enchanted land which was never in the same place twice.”

        • Colin in Kent 3rd November 2021 at 12:02 pm

          I completely agree – no comparison really. It’s very much diminished in beauty and wonder in the Faber version. I will have to avoid 1975 and after versions.

    • Caroline of Smoggy land 3rd November 2021 at 8:35 am

      I loved reading the Anne of Green Gables books (and Emily, by the same author), Little Women, Katy, Heidi, 101 Dalmatians (Disney have got this wrong, twice – they’re 4 adult dogs, not 2 adult dogs and 99 puppies), Ballet Shoes, the Railway Children (who also rescued a family from a burning barge).

    • Cowanr 3rd November 2021 at 9:11 am

      I am David written by Anne Holm in 1963
      A book to live your life by
      Also the Narnia books, as a child growing up in foreign countries the children in the books were my friends

      • Colin in Kent 3rd November 2021 at 9:30 am

        I’ve never read I am David, I’ve seen it mentioned here several times. I think it was one of those things I associated with school libraries and dodged somewhat. The Narnia books I was obsessed by.

    • Colin in Kent 3rd November 2021 at 9:20 am

      Another good list! I’m hardly surprised that Disney got 101 Dalmatians wrong, they seem to change classics willy nilly to suite their own sensibilities. Did you read Starlight Barking, you tend to hear much less about that?

      I’d also forgotten the extra incident in the Railway Children, I haven’t read it since the 70s and you tend to think you know it inside out because of the prevalence of the film. I did recently pick up a 60s copy so can see I’m going to have to read it again.

    • Jilly Pilly 3rd November 2021 at 10:52 am

      I’m currently teaching The Wind in the Willows (having extracted references to smoking and gypsies!) in my English class. I adored the book when I was small and am hoping today’s kids love it equally as much (although analysis of literature can take some of the pleasure away!) I’m counteracting that by reading it aloud, chapter by chapter, and hoping that helps!

      • Colin in Kent 3rd November 2021 at 12:20 pm

        That’s very interesting Jilly – I also adored it, one of my favourite books. Will you be reading ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ – it’s the one section that’s always dropped from adaptations, presumably because although there was a resurgence in nature worship and ‘Pan’ as a concept when the book was written, it’s usually deemed too confusing and alien to a modern audience. What age is your class? How are they responding?

    • LUCYJORDAN 3rd November 2021 at 11:34 am

      I remember a series of books written by Lucy Fitch Perkins, which I read in the early 50s. They were all about twins. I.e. The Eskimo twins, the Mexican twins, the Swedish twins, etc etc. I really loved these books, and how they let me see how children of other parts of the world lived their lives. There were lots of similarities, which sometimes surprised me, and at the same time, their culture and traditions were fascinating and educational too. Apparently they are still available i believe

      • Colin in Kent 3rd November 2021 at 12:22 pm

        That’s fascinating Lucy – another series I’ve never heard of. I love the way this thread keeps throwing up series that I know nothing about. I’ll look these up.

    • Staying Alive 4th November 2021 at 8:58 am

      I don’t think anybody could ever beat Mark Twin

    • Staying Alive 4th November 2021 at 9:01 am

      The little mermaid
      The snow queen
      But ugly duckling

    • Barjan54 8th November 2021 at 10:23 pm

      Liked Arthur Ransome’s books, ‘The Little White Horse’ by Elizabeth Gouge & it was about a Unicorn. I enjoyed Ian Serallier’s ‘Silver Sword’ & Enid Blyton’s ‘Mallory Towers. Like many others I loved AA Milne’s stories, along with his poetry which is not really remembered much. I read quite a lot of poetry as I had a speech problem & reading poetry out loud helped correct the problem. There were so many other children’s books that I loved reading that are really too numerous to mention. I always had my nose in a book, such a lovely escapism from every day life.

      • Colin in Kent 18th November 2021 at 11:37 am

        Sorry for the late reply, only just seen this. I agree, I think children’s books can be fundamental to the developing mind and imagination, and I have a firm belief that it makes a better person. I read incessantly at that age. I also distinctly remember the impatience with which I learned to read. I finished everything well ahead of the class, but was never allowed to go onto the next book in the series until everyone had finished. It was like walking out into a newly discovered land, where every turn in the road opened up exciting new visions and companions.