Some children’s books
by other authors

recommended by Kellie Strøm


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Or children’s novels, or books for older children - but how old? With my own children I’ve found it hard to predict when they’ll be interested in hearing longer stories, and which ones they’ll be able to concentrate on. There is a period of years where they have an appetite for both picture books and longer books. Some of the books below I’ve read to my children between the ages of three and six, and others are ones that I’ve just enjoyed myself.

The Bundle at Blackthorpe Heath

The Bundle at Blackthorpe HeathThis is an exceptionally fine book. Mr Mark Copeland has written a true-to-life account of life with an insect circus, in this case Piper’s Grand Insect Circus. The artistes and beasts are depicted throughout in perfectly judged drawings, and for those young folk who might harbour dreams of running away to join the insect circus one day, the book also includes George Piper’s notes on the training of insects. What’s that you say? You’ve never been to an insect circus? Well, step right up and learn more at the website of the Insect Circus Society (of Great Britain). My young family and I were lucky enough to see an insect circus performing last year in the Hoxton Hall, and I saved the poster here.

Patricia Lynch

On a recent visit to Ripping Yarns, a brilliant children’s secondhand bookshop in Highgate, London, I came across an old Puffin paperback of Patricia Lynch’s The Bookshop on the Quay, with illustrations by Peggy Fortnum. The book, published in 1956, is set in a Dublin barely recognisable today, with the cattle market in the city centre and the Liffey busy with shipping. Peggy Fortnum’s line drawings are marvellous, both accurate and atmospheric.

I have a memory of my mother reading another Patricia Lynch book aloud to my brother and I, Brogeen Follows The Magic Tune, and I still have the old hardback, its dustjacket with colour art by Peggy Fortnum now quite torn.

Another one of her books I heard read aloud as a child growing up in Ireland was The Grey Goose of Kilnevin, this time as a serialisation on a children’s radio programme. Children were invited to send in illustrations of the story to the station, and the presenters would describe some of them on air, so I did a drawing of the marketday at the start of the story, and had the pleasure of hearing my picture on the radio!

Since rediscovering her through Ripping Yarns I’ve also read Orla of Burren, an enjoyable tale where three children slip back in time and meet the Irish pirate queen of Elizabethan times, Granuaile, and I’m now reading the rest of the Brogeen books. She published 48 children’s novels according to this site, and though most are out of print, secondhand copies aren’t hard to find.

Brogeen Follows the Magic Tune
Brogeen and the Green Shoes
Brogeen and the Princess of Sheen
The Bookshop on the Quay

As far as I know none of the books in print include Peggy Fortnum’s illustrations.

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Patricia Lynch, StorytellerUpdate: Since I wrote the above, Phil Young’s biography of Patricia Lynch has been published, Patricia Lynch, Storyteller. It’s a very intersting and thorough book, well illustrated. Particularly intriguing to me are the stills from the RTÉ TV adaptation of Brogeen Follows the Magic Tune, with puppets by Eugene Lambert. There are also some lovely illustrations from early editions of her book by Jack B Yeats, Sean Keating, Isobel Morton-Sale and others.

Patricia Lynch, Storyteller is published by Liberties Press, Dublin.

Erich Kästner

emil and the detectivesOn that same trip to Ripping Yarns I found a copy of The Flying Classroom by Erich Kästner, best known in these parts as the author of Emil and the Detectives. Only his Emil books are currently in print in the UK, but happily I’ve been able to find The Thirty-fifth of May and Lottie And Lisa in the Barbican Children’s Library.

Erich Kästner’s children’s novels are written in a befriending intimate voice, in a simple masterful style. He was a children’s advocate! Here’s a quote from his prologue to The Flying Classroom:

‘At last I took up a children’s book that the author had sent me, and began to read it. But I soon had to put it down; it annoyed me so much! And I’ll tell you why. The writer tries in his book to make children believe that they are always full of fun and so happy that they hardly know whether they are on their heads or their heels. The hypocritical fellow pretends that childhood is made up exclusively of butter and eggs and pure cane sugar.

How can a grown-up forget his own past so completely that he doesn’t know how wretched and unhappy a child can sometimes be? (At this point, I should like to beg you from the bottom of my heart never to forget your own childhood. You promise? Good!)

It is really all the same whether you cry over a broken doll or, in later life, over a lost friend. It makes no difference what causes your unhappiness; what matters is how unhappy you are. Children’s tears are, God knows, no smaller and often weigh heavier than the tears of grown-ups. Do not misunderstand me. We don’t want to get all sentimental, but we must be honest even if it hurts. Honesty before all things.’

The Flying Classroom was published in 1934, the year after Hitler came to power. Erich Kästner had already witnessed the Nazis burn his books. Further on in the prologue he wrote:

‘...And make a careful note of this: Courage without common sense is all rot; and common sense without courage is all bosh! History tells us of many periods when stupid people were brave or sensible people cowardly. But none of them was much good.

Not till the brave become sensible and the sensible become brave shall we have what people have often erroneously observed: the progress of humanity.’

For more on Erich Kästner’s life and work see this page from Harrie Verstappen’s enormous Looniverse site.

Several films have been made of his books. The first screen adaptation of Emil and the Detectives, by the UFA studio in Berlin, was scripted by Emeric Pressburger and Billy Wilder. When the Nazis came to power Emeric Pressburger, who was Jewish, had to flee Germany. He became famous in Britain as one half of Powell and Pressburger, aka The Archers, who together wrote, directed and produced such rich and compelling films as Colonel Blimp, A Canterbury Tale, A Matter of Life And Death and The Red Shoes. Pressburger remained a lifelong friend of Erich Kästner, and the first English language film version of Lottie And Lisa, titled Twice Upon A Time, was directed by Pressburger. I’ve written a little about their friendship here.

Emil and the Detectives
Emil and the Three Twins

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Website published by Kellie Strøm, 10 Lupton Street, London NW5 2HT, England, tel +44 20 7482 3978

Written October 2003, updated September 2007