Norm is gone, but Normblog is not. The ideas are vital, the words speak, intimacy with the mind endures.
Norman Geras’s last post on Normblog was titled A book list with a difference, or alternatively, 100 works of fiction you might enjoy. As a small tribute to him, I offer a complimentary list of fiction books. There is no overlap with his list as all of these come from the bookshelves of my children. They are still young and they have as yet read hardly any of Norm’s kind suggestions. Like his, this is not a ‘best of’ or a ‘must read’ list, but a list of books that we have enjoyed, some of which you may know, and some of which you might like to try.
The first one is by Ian Beck:
• Picture Book
This is an extraordinary book for the very young, its images simple yet intensely rich. As the children have grown older they have enjoyed many more of his books, for example his edition of Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, and a version of The Nutcracker written by Berlie Doherty, and more recently his Tom Trueheart children’s novels.
More picture books by a variety of authors:
• Cockatoos, by Quentin Blake
• Sally and the Limpet, by Simon James
• Ant and Bee and the Doctor, by Angela Banner
• My Best Sweet Potato, by Rainy Dohaney
• Dr De Soto, by William Steig
• Katie Morag’s Island Stories, by Mairi Hedderwick
• Nice Work, Little Wolf, by Hilda Offen
• The Quangle Wangle’s Hat, by Edward Lear, pictures by Helen Oxenbury
• McElligot’s Pool, by Dr Seuss
• I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, also by Dr Seuss
• The Pirate Twins, by William Nicholson
• The Bears Who Went to the Seaside, by Susanna Gretz
• The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, by DuBose Heyward, pictures by Marjorie Hack
• Pirates, Ships, and Sailors, stories and poems by Kathryn and Byron Jackson, pictures by Gustaf Tenggren
• Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor, by Mervyn Peake
• The Adventures of Uncle Lubin, by W Heath Robinson
• Eloise, By Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight
• Harry and the Lady Next Door, by Gene Zion, pictures by Margaret Bloy Graham
• Richard Scarry’s Great Steamboat Mystery, by Richard Scarry
• Dotty Inventions, by Roger McGough, pictures by Holly Swain
• Curious George, by Margret and HA Rey
• Gluey: A Snail Tale, by Vivian Walsh and J Otto Seibold
• Une idée de chien - Dans les airs, by Roberto Prual-Reavis
You can see sketches for My Best Sweet Potato, originally titled Woolyman, here. Rainey Dohaney is a pen name of comics artist Renee French.
Hilda Offen, of Nice Work, Little Wolf, is also responsible for the great Rita the Rescuer series, and much more.
Helen Oxenbury is best known now for a very restrained art style, but her earlier illustrations for The Quangle Wangle’s Hat show a wilder imagination. Another early Oxenbury-illustrated book well worth searching for is Meal One by Ivor Cutler. Both Meal One and The Quangle Wangle’s Hat appeared on Norm’s list of a dozen read-aloud children’s books.
McElligot’s Pool is unusual amongst Dr Seuss books as much of the art was painted in full colour. There are of course many more of his books on the shelves upstairs, too many to remember, and lots of them repeated reading for years. I was going to limit myself to naming one, but I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew pressed itself as vital for inclusion. From the Normblog archives, Dr Seuss at 100, on the politics of Seuss, on which see also.
William Nicholson’s The Pirate Twins is another strange story, simply told. I see there’s a small exhibit of his prints at the National Portrait Gallery on ’til March.
DuBose Heyward, author of The Country Bunny, also wrote the novel Porgy, source of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. On which Norm brought us this historical snippet.
I wrote a little more on Pirates, Ships and Sailors, and on Captain Slaughterboard, as well as some other children’s sea stories, here.
Richard Scarry’s Great Steamboat Mystery is his third book about detectives Sam Cat and Dudley Pig, following The Great Pie Robbery and The Supermarket Mystery. Buying new editions of Richard Scarry books can be a bit frustrating, with spinoff titles seeming to crowd out originals, and classics like What Do People Do All Day reissued in truncated form.
Curious George is of course a very famous character, though that has the unfortunate effect that many come to him through the various spinoffs. The seven original books by Margret and HA Rey are still the best, though I do recommend the puppet film adaptations by John Clark Matthews, who also made some lovely animated Frog and Toad films. If you like the book Curious George then you might also like Dinosaur Bob and his Adventures with the Family Lazardo by William Joyce, practically the same story with the dinosaur understudying for the tail-less monkey, and none the worse for that. Lastly, the Reys wrote and illustrated some other lovely picture books beyond the Curious George series, and I also recommend searching some of them out.
As well as Gluey: A Snail Tale, Vivian Walsh and J Otto Seibold are responsible for quite a few other good books, including the excellent Mr Lunch series of picture books, and J Otto Seibold’s website is home to Bubblesoap, probably the best online playground for toddlers.
Roberto Prual-Reavis’s Une idée de chien books are French, but wordless.
Some books written by Allan Ahlberg:
• Each Peach Pear Plum
• The Baby’s Catalogue
• Bye Bye Baby
• Burglar Bill
• Cops and Robbers
• The Little Cat Baby
• The Snail House
The first five were amongst the many illustrated by Janet Ahlberg, as was Peepo, a book nearly every infant in Britain receives soon after birth.
Fritz Wegner drew the wonderful pictures for The Little Cat Baby, and he also illustrated Allan Ahlberg’s excellent children’s novel The Giant Baby. I wrote a little more about The Little Cat Baby here.
The Snail House is marvellously visualised in Gillian Tyler’s paintings. You can see some of them on her website.
Some books written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Garth Williams:
• Mister Dog
• Sailor Dog
• Wait Till the Moon is Full
• The Little Fur Family
I’ve written previously about these and other Margaret Wise Brown books here, here, and here.
The next eight are by Arnold Lobel:
• Small Pig
• Uncle Elephant
• Mouse Tales
• Owl At Home
• Grasshopper on the Road
• Frog and Toad are Friends
• Frog and Toad Together
• Frog and Toad All Year
Arnold Lobel was also a favourite of Norm’s.
Three books by Kathleen Hale about Orlando the Marmalade Cat:
• A Seaside Holiday
• A Camping Holiday
• Orlando Keeps a Dog
See Normblog Writer’s Choice 286 by Joanna Troughton on Orlando: A Seaside Holiday, and Normblog Writer’s Choice 368 by Pippa Goodhart on Kathleen Hale’s autobiography, A Slender Reputation. I have also written a little more about the Orlando books here.
Two by Elsa Beskow:
• Peter and Lotta’s Adventure
• Peter and Lotta’s New Boat
Two by Virginia Lee Burton:
• Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel
• The Little House
I said at the start that this was to be a list of fiction books, but there’s a brilliant book by Virginia Lee Burton that I have to mention even though it doesn’t fit the category, Life Story, a beautiful science book that spirals through scales of space and time from the start of the universe through prehistory and history to a day of the artist in her studio. Some images here.
Three by Esther Averill:
• Jenny and the Cat Club
• Jenny’s Moonlight Adventure
• The Fire Cat
There are more in the Jenny series, varying in length and format. We loved all of them!
Two by Beatrix Potter:
• The Tale of Ginger and Pickles
• The Tailor of Gloucester
See Normblog Writer’s Choice 84 by Ann Turnbull on The Tailor of Gloucester.
Two by my friend Helen Cooper:
• A Pipkin of Pepper
• Tatty Ratty
A Pipkin of Pepper is the middle book of Helen’s Pumpkin Soup trilogy, all of which are great, though that one got the most wear in our house. Tatty Ratty is a story about an old rabbit made new, and is a book that never seemed to get old itself.
Two by my friend Ted Dewan:
• Bing Get Dressed
• The Weatherbirds
There are eight books in all in the Bing series, and an animated series arriving imminently. Bing Gets Dressed has pride of place here because, as a toddler, Bo was a test subject when Ted was editing it. The Weatherbirds is a science book, but with a fiction story to carry you through the facts, Richard Scarry style.
Two by Crockett Johnson:
• Harold and the Purple Crayon
• Harold’s Fairy Tale
There are more Harold books beyond those. And before Harold, Crockett Johnson created the marvellous strip Barnaby, now being published in new editions. For all things Johnson, see Nine Kinds of Pie, the blog of Philip Nel, author of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature. Johnson and Krauss were close friends of Maurice Sendak, so next..
Two by Maurice Sendak:
• In The Night Kitchen
• Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or, There Must Be More To Life
In The Night Kitchen was the first book Peggy learned to read. Well, she didn’t really read the words so much as learn them all off by heart so that she could ‘read’ the story aloud in nursery! Of course there are many other marvellous Maurice Sendak books, and Norm named four here, and more here.
And two written by Else Holmelund Minarik, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak:
• Little Bear
• Little Bear’s Friend
There are more good books in the series, but those two stand out for me.
Some written by Astrid Lindgren:
• Most Beloved Sister
• Karlson on the Roof
• Pippi Longstocking
Mirabelle is a picture book illustrated by Pija Lindenbaum, images here. Most Beloved Sister is also a picture book, with wonderful art by Hans Arnold, images here. Both are gently uncanny stories of friendship.
Some books with pictures, a little longer than picture books:
• Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, by Chris Riddell
• Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney
• You’re a Bad Man Mr Gum, by Andy Stanton, pictures by David Tazzyman
There was a period when there seemed quite a shortage of entertaining books of a length just a bit longer than picture books, but not as daunting as novel length stories. Chris Riddell’s Ottoline books are the perfect remedy. Ottoline and the Yellow Cat is first in the series, followed by Ottoline Goes to School and Ottoline at Sea. Heavily illustrated, they are close to being comics, a good thing that they have in common with Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. They also feature madly surreal humour and a female hero, good things that they have in common with Andy Stanton and David Tazzyman’s Mr Gum series.
Four children’s novels by Erich Kästner, illustrated by Walter Trier:
• Emil and the Detectives
• Annaluise and Anton
• The Flying Classroom
• Lottie and Lisa
We are looking forward to seeing the National Theatre’s new show of Emil and the Detectives, with one of Bo’s classmates in the lead!
More children’s novels by various authors:
• Freddy the Detective, by Walter R Brooks, illustrated by Kurt Wiese
• The Trumpet of the Swan, by EB White
• Larklight, by Philip Reeve, illustrated by David Wyatt
• The Bundle at Blackthorpe Heath, by Mark Copeland
• Good Luck Arizona Man, by Rex Benedict
• The Fledglings, by John Harris
• Black Arts, by Andrew Prentice and Jonathan Weil
• Airman, by Eoin Colfer
• Young Bond: By Royal Command, by Charlie Higson
• The Diamond of Drury Lane, by Julia Golding
• Dragonfly, also by Julia Golding
There are lots of enjoyable books in the Freddy the Pig series, but Freddy the Detective is outstanding; an excellent book for any child considering a career in policing or the law.
The Trumpet of the Swan we have as audiobook as well as printed volume. EB White reads it himself, and his voice is mesmerising.
Larklight is the first in a series, a Victorian vision of Space as a sea of life ripe for conquest by the Empire’s ships, generously and beautifully illustrated. Philip Reeve’s better-known Mortal Engines series was the subject of Normblog Writer’s Choice 325 by Penny Dolan.
The Bundle at Blackthorpe Heath I elaborated on here.
I wrote about Good Luck Arizona Man in an earlier post.
The Fledglings is the first of a series of books about a First World War fighter pilot, Martin Falconer.
Eoin Colfer is best known for his Artemis Fowl series, but Airman is a stand-alone adventure.
By Royal Command is the fifth and last of Charlie Higson’s Young Bond books, and the best I think, though Double or Die is also very good. I preferred both of these to the couple of Ian Fleming books I’ve read. Set in the late 1930s By Royal Command is about Communism, Nazism, appeasement and duplicity, and does those elements some justice while serving the demand for adventure.
The Diamond of Drury Lane is the first in Julia Golding’s Cat Royal books, a series of adventures featuring a gutsy girl at the most modern end of the Eighteenth Century, brilliantly exciting and warm-hearted stories, great reading not just for girls but boys too.
Dragonfly is set in a fictitious history and geography, but has no magic or supernatural elements to its fantasy; instead it’s an exciting romantic adventure that makes military strategy, cultural conflict, and the politics and psychology of religion, into a story enjoyable for children as young as nine.
A stack of comics:
• Cat Burglar Black, by Richard Sala
• Yoko Tsuno: The Time Spiral, by Roger Leloup
• A Lucky Luke Adventure: Jesse James, by Morris and Goscinny
• Astro Boy, by Osamu Tezuka
• The Yellow “M”, by EP Jacobs
• The Rainbow Orchid, by Garen Ewing
• The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc Sec, by Jacques Tardi
• Fearless Fosdick, by Al Capp
• Moominvalley Turns Jungle, by Tove Jansson
In Cat Burglar Black Richard Sala does a very nice job playing with conventions seen in many a girls’ school story, though this is no ordinary school.
Roger Leloup’s Yoko Tsuno comics also have some themes familiar from other adventure comics aimed at girls, yet they’re rich with invention and beautifully drawn. There is a morbid element to some of the stories, but that dark element is probably part of their appeal.
Morris and Goscinny’s Lucky Luke stories are by contrast rather short on female characters, Ma Dalton and Calamity Jane are the only two significant ones I can think of in the whole series. A pity, because the stories are otherwise brilliant. I wrote earlier about Jesse James in a short post here.
More on Garen Ewing’s The Rainbow Orchid here and here.
The character Fearless Fosdick is a parody of Dick Tracy that appeared as a comic strip within a comic strip, namely in Al Capp’s Li’l Abner. There are a couple of books collecting the stories, but the one titled simply Fearless Fosdick and published in 1990 is the more essential.
When I was young, I knew only Tove Jansson’s Moomin novels, which I loved. Recent years have seen new translations of Moomin picture books by Sophie Hannah, daughter of Norman and Adèle Geras, and also complete reprints of Tove and Lars Jansson’s Moomin comics in large hardback volumes. Those big collections of comics seemed to me a little unwieldy for reading to children, and others must have thought the same for now some of the comics stories are being published singly in lighter, easier to handle paperbacks, beautifully presented with sensitive colouring. Moominvalley Turns Jungle is a fine one to start with.
To complete the century, books not particularly intended for children but enjoyed by mine. There may be some bawdy references here and there, and the last one includes a bit of swearing, as well as drinking and violence, particularly towards milk trucks. At your peril then, the final four:
• Technicolor Time Machine, by Harry Harrison
• The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope
• Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams
• Reid Fleming World’s Toughest Milkman Volume One, by David Boswell
In closing, one more Normblog link - here’s Adèle Geras writing on children’s books: The Power of the Page.