By ISABEL QUIGLY
IF you write reviews of
children's fiction with parents and children, and not just librarians, in mind, then paperbacks are a good thing to deal with. Because these are what one actually buys and pocket money and children's book tokens are spent on.
I don't know any parent who goes out and buys middling children's story-books at ten to twenty-one shillings, when the libraries are bursting with them and the good ones tend to be paperbacked anyway in time. My fiction for children is bought either in paperback or secondhand (Marryat, Baiantyne or Henty in nice old editions at Is. each at our local market).
It is only very occasionally, if the edition is very special or the book is one to read and pore over for years, that I get the expensive hardback—as you often have to with non-fiction—history or hobbies, technical this or that of every sort; and with some poetry for children too.
Paperbacks once meant Puffins but now mean all kinds of others. The Collie series, price 3s. 6d, which paperback the Hamish Hamilton Antelope series, are reliable for the six to eight group, as their authors show— names like Alan Ross, Meriel Trevor. Noel Streatfeild, John Pudney, Dorothy Clewes. Of the four in my batch, Midnight Adventure by Raymond Briggs, The Long Chase by Brian Read, The Lorry Thieves by Maureen O'Donnell and A pony and trap by Ellis Dillon; the first three
are solid modem adventures set in realistic bungalows and farm cottages and terrace houses, the last is rather fcyer and funnier, being set in Ireland.
The Dragon series (Atlantic Books) at 2s. 6d. are lowerbrowed and the Red Dragon section (age 8-12) includes a grisly lot of the only children's author I simply can't read, Miss Blyton; but there is Henty in it too (though abridged and to some extent re-written) and Buckeridge, the Jennings man, though a lot less funny than usual in A Funny Thing Happened, perhaps because he tries too hard.
Puffins are busy, with a new Puffin club for their readers and all sorts of old favourites. There's a new Paddington (Paddington Abroad), a new Moomintroll for Finn Family addicts, a new Eileen Colwell collection of Listen-with-Mother style stories, rhymes and jingles, Time for a Story, which is as good as ever and that means first-rate for the four-to-sevens, another Jennings (Our Friend Jennings), which is well up to standard for those who like this old fashioned prepschool stuff, and for Dr. Dootittles, with the original drawings which many find lovable but I'm afraid I find merely hideous.
Then there's David Thomson's Danny Fox, who always comes out on top through sheer foxybrain power (excellent), and for older children a book already well known in America, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, mingling science fiction, metaphysics and cosy American family life. All these are 3s. 6d., except for two of the Dr. Dontittles, which are 5s.
Of all these, the only puzzle I find is Paddington, who grows more and more mechanical, though everyone still seems to love him, children certainly and parents perhaps more reluctantly. The trouble with him always seems to be that you never know his (psychological) age. Is he a child or a grown up and how do you treat and consider him? As a lovable adult eccentric or a cuddly small boy? The recent Paddington broadcasts gave him a grown-up voice, which was startling yet showed the confusion that surrounds him. Sometimes I think the 'pictures (by Peggy Portnum) are the very best thing about him.
To be cosy and at the same time firm and unslushy is the virtue of the best writers for sixyear-olds, and (in hardback now) Elisabeth Roberts' Simpey and His Grandmother (Methuen, 10s. 6d.) is just that. Simpey's grandmother is a large woman pushing eighty who jumps to keep rheumatism at bay and falls through the floor-boards. She isn't above jumping on a pogostick, ,either. A gnes Slight Turnbull's George (Collins, 10s. 6d.) is American and funny in a more adult way, George being a talking hare who wears spectacles and cures headaches and a good deal more.
One masterpiece is more than you can reasonably expect in any batch of books for review — a bonus and a surprise whenever it comes. My bonus is political satire, no less, and wondering if it needed more knowledge of world events than is usual an ten year olds I tried it out on mine, who gobbled it up gleefully. Roy Fuller's Catspaw (Alan Ross, 15s.) satirises America and Russia as Dogland and Pussia, each in its own estimation the home of freedom, enterprise, scientific marvels and string quartets. Victoria, a girl who wanders Alice-like through a door and gets there, is sent to spy from one to the other. Genially brilliant, it occasionally turns up phrases (and what's more concepts) as memorable as Orwell's "Some are more equal than others" How's this for the political prisoner's song:
"Twenty years, twenty years, twenty years ago, But they sent me to the salt
mines, twenty years ago, All I did was nothing, and all I said was no,
But they sent me to the salt mines, twenty years ago." MI I did was nothing is what I think I meant by a concept.
From a pile of books on more or less everything from having a baby to making a film, I choose the Muller "Junior true book of . -." series at 10s. 6d. (Elephants and Bridges are both fine for the sixes or so), the Faber "Your book of . . ." for older children (I'd say nine-onwards) also 10s. 6d.—Parliament by D. M. Prentice is clear, useful and charmingly illustrated; and Methuen's "Outlines", 15s., a history series for, I'd say, young teenagers—two by Audrey Cammiade, clearly written and with plenty of good pictures, maps and charts, are Lincoln and the American Civil War and Franklin and the American War of Independence.
For the youngest practicaf scientists I like Bruce Roberts' Science Fun in Nelson's Howdo-you-do series, 5s. But the series I do not like is Warne's "Olive brando" at 5s. each, six semi-fictionalised New Testament stories translated f r om the French and with some of the nastiest "holy-picture" st y le illustrations I have seen for ages. I thought this type of "holy book" had been quietly dying.