0 NE of the most terrifying tasks 011 earth is to choose a hook for a child : one can of course in a cowardly manner evade the task by sending a book token, or in a manner less cowardly by sending a jigsaw puzzle, or something with which to make a noise. There are no sort of standards by which you can do the clumsily except a vague remembrance of the books which you as a child enjoyed (these usually turn out to he the books you feel you ought to have enjoyed) and the blurb in the more serious Sunday newspapers : which blurb is usually a paraphrase on the blurb on the dust jackets of the books themselves.
There are of course elementary rules.
1. Give no thought to the child's aunt, mother, governesa or to other eminent persons who hover round the Christmas tree, In other words, don't give the child a Harrison Ainsworth or a leather bound edition of A Tale of Two Cities, unless it unmtstakably exhibits a passionate and perverse desire for these things.
2. Give preference to books with covers whose design shows Borne imagination, and to books which have pictures in them.
I. Make sure the type is clear and reasonably large; and that the paper is a dull surface, but net grossly thick or furry.
You can learn a. lot of the character of a book by fallowing this last rule, though not perhaps very much of its quality. I learnt in this way of John critd Mary's Secret Society that John and Mary are children who don't like washing their faces, who talk with fashionable nursery downrightness, who have a governess, a nursery maid, parlour maid, scullery maid and cook to attend to their comfort. By this time had I been honestly procuring the book by paying for it at a shop. I would have gently put It down and taken up something else.
I have a prejudice against pert children, particularly when their background is one of the more comfortable backwaters of middle-class society. I am bound to say that John and Mary Improved further on in the book and had a part in some pleasantly smooth adventures.
The prejudices which inflamed me against John and Mary blazed with greater intensity when I read The Makes and the Blackens, which is by the same writer, Grace James. The Blakes are the children of Sir Peregrine and Lady Blake (who was of course a Deloraine), and the Blacketts arc the children of a boot polish manufacturer. There are quarrels and trivial happenings. But the happenings are as dull as the children. The only really attractive thing about the book is the cover, which has an imaginative quality about it sadly lacking within the book. I am doubtful if the insipid adventures of these rather unpleasant children are really "just the one$ that children would love to have in the country," as the publisher assures us all on the wrapper.
Yet following the four elementary rules I set down above I think I might easily have bought The Slakes and the Blackens. Bright cover, good print, many illustrations; and for the first three pages not impossible. But I read the first 127 pages.
The Seasons' and the Farmer I would have bought immediately, and I would have bought it for myself. It is a book about the country that gives an honest account of the happenings in the country that matter. It tells of the land, the plants and the animals; It explains all the activity of the farmer's year. It is written in plain, vigorous English and beautifully illustrated by photographs and by the virile drawings of C. F. Tunnieliffe. There is none of the sentimental nonsense of your stockbroker's countryside. The countryside of wellfenced parklands and ditherings 'with the vicar. The countryside of The Blokes and the Blo.eketts.
From the point of view of production &tents Who Spoke Evelesh is a. triumph at three and sixpence; but I am not so sure that its content is equally triumphant.
Joan Windham writes archly, putting capitals in many unexpected and unnecessary places and stressing words with a very knowing air indeed. The effect is like listening to a nice but effusive schoolgirl.. However, children— for whom after all the stories are written—may not mind that; and even if they do their irritation may not be sufficient to engulf their and-whathappened-next. curiosity. One thing does seem very unfair to them, however. That is to imply, as Miss Windham does imply in her story about St. Simon Stock, that merely to wear a scapular is to escape hell,
A Lif, of Our Lord fur Children in rei fully s.vOlds Miss Windharn's afiectations. The book is an account of thc founding of the Kingdom of Christ.. It does not give all the events of Christ's life on earth. Wisely the author, Marigold Mint, 'resists that the child should fill in the outline pattern for himself by reading the Gospels. Her book attempts to describe only main events and to draw from them their total significance. She has written in a simple way and with no playing about with syntax in the manner that is supposed to make things more interesting for the child, but only amuses his aunte.
It is a quietly beautiful Imola and if you are careful not to make the reading of it just another of those things that have to be done on Sundays it should he very popular to sybornsoever you give It; for there are adventures in it tremendous.
Longrria.ns have brought out for two and sixpence a new life of Father William Doyle. It hi intended " mainly for young people, or for old people who are young." It is called Merry 1.n. God., and there is a gaiety about it—even incredibly enough in the scenes of the sombre bestiality of the battle ground— which is a reflection of the remarkable man it describes.
I wanted to like Nobody's Boy. The cover, designed by Isobel Beard, put MO la good humour, and the publishers' blurb, though it was pretty terrible" through many perilous adventures in which the highest ideals of child life are developed . . . human document for young and old . . one of the supreme heart interest, stories of the world "—did promise something worth while.
The story was of the usual pattern of
the sort of success story which children ere supposed to like. Homeless hero, cruel stepfather, wanderings, sufferings, misunderstandings and eventual discovery of true parents, wealth, and happiness. The pattern was more delicately worked than usual by Rector Mulct. The day to day life in Southern France which is incidental to the young hero's adventures is simply and vividly described. But I fear I found the long sequence of death, hunger, disaster end emelt.* altogether too discouraging. There were times of happiness and almost of laughter, but they were 'very rare and weak candle gleams in a naughty world.
A sequel to this sombre story is NebOdy's Girt. Author and illustrator are the same, so almost is the plot in its essentials. The blurb is remarkably priggish: " One of the greatest inspirational stories, . . Loyal ideals with their inspiring sentiments are preserved through the most discouraging conditions. The building up of a little girl's life is made a fine example for every child."
Refreshingly absent are any consciousness of fine examples . . . loyal ideals . . . inspirational stories from Oxus in Summer, which is a long account of a children's summer holiday. One of those long country holidays which form separate and very sweet small existences of their owa. The adventures are just the kind gait happen on such a holiday, and there is that authentic smell of fantasy in them which changes the little marsh to a swamp and the green hill to a black mni inter in, Yet another variation on the childthat-lost-its-parents success story is Toby Twinkle, by Dorothy Ann Lovell, The sort of collection that has almost every story of the kind you want to read over and over again. There is an index at the back of the collection which lists the stories according to the particular things they contain: cats, fairies, genii, schooldays, Creek, fights. . . .
With Fife and Dram is an admirable anthology of children's verse., small enough to fit unobtrusively in any satchel, and gay enough to please.
If you should want to put a book in the stocking—which isn't always the best place to put it., being more fitted for tangerines, masks and necklaces—you cannot do better than one of the Burns Oates shilling series of biographies for children of the lives of the saints.
Two new volumes have just been Issued: St, Dominic and St. Thomas of Canterbury.
The storiee of these saints are concisely and simply told. They would fit a stocking easily. But they also of course look just as well when presented in less adventurous ways.
So there you are. At least you know a little about some of the children's booke published this year. Very little, admittedly; but you feel not quite so embarrassingly innocent when you go Into the bookshop. And of course there are the four rulee. Beelieing all of