Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

This week in Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times which is hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness I’m focusing on books for children (of all ages).

Children's Bookshelf

This shelf is in the smallest spare bedroom of our home and when we moved here after Jack retired I grabbed it as a sort of hobby room of my own for my stuff, which includes books and sewing/crafting materials. It is not at all tidy in fact sometimes the whole place resembles a burst cushion, but if you are a crafter you’ll probably understand how that comes about!

Anyway the shelf is home to a lot of classic children’s illustrated books – Winnie the Pooh, The Secret Garden, Peter Pan, The Wind in the Willows, European fairy tales and others.

I love Kate Greenaway’s illustrations although some people complain that her figures aren’t well proportioned. I sort of agree but they are very charming and the copy of The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning is lovely. Apparently the book was first published in 1888 with wood block designs engraved by Edward Evans. You can see some of the Kate Greenaway illustrations here.

I also love Arthur Rackham’s illustrations. My copy of his version of Rip van Winkle which is written by Washington Irving is a delight, the colours are muted as you would expect of Rackham, but that adds to their attraction to me. You can see some of the images here.

Melisande cover

I had to buy E.Nesbit’s Melisande when I saw that it was illustrated by P.J. Lynch. I wanted it as soon as I saw the cover. I love those medieval European buildings as well as Melisande and her gorgeous flowing locks. You can see some of the illustrations here.

The Nutcracker retold by Anthea Bell has lovely illustrations, although more modern than some of the books on this shelf. The illustrations are by Lisbeth Zwerger, you can see some of her work here.

Lastly – for the moment – Merlin Dreams is a book that I haven’t read yet. It’s written by Peter Dickinson and illustrated by Alan Lee who is apparently a highly regarded fantasy illustrator. This one doesn’t have so many illustrations, it’s obviously meant for older children. Alan Lee’s work is very ethereal looking to me, perfect for this book of Celtic fantasy. You can see some of his work here

Guardian Review links


I suspect we’re all being driven around the bend by the political news – in the UK anyway, but the Guardian Review section has an article about the relationship with Europe that some well known writers have, J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Mary Beard, Michel Faber, Sandi Toksvig and others contribute their thoughts to this article. The photo above is of Porto and it took me straight back there and the lovely trip along the river we had.

The Book of the Week is Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout which is apparently a set of interlinking short stories, but as I thought that Olive Kitteridge was exactly that – and not all that well interlinked – I’ll be giving that one a miss, but you might be one of the many fans. You can read about Olive, Again here. But I’m just saying – ‘Why oh why?!’

I’ll be reading The Life and Loves of E.Nesbit by Eleanor Fitzsimons at some point in the future although it will probably be quite a sad read as from what I know of her it wasn’t an easy life. You can read Sarah Watling’s review here.

I know so many people who adore cheese so I imagine that A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles by Ned Palmer will be a big seller, especially for Christmas, have a read here if you’re a cheese addict.

Lastly I’m wondering if any of you have read anything by the American author Laird Hunt. I found the review of his new book In the House in the Dark of the Woods interesting but I’m wondering if it might veer too much to the horror side for my liking. You can read Justine Jordan’s review of it here.

Guardian links from the Review

I’ve just finished reading The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard. It’s the first book in the Cazalet series (I’ve yet to blog about it) and I’m trying to get my hands on the second one as I really want to get back to that family. Anyway, I noticed an article about Elizabeth Jane Howard in the Guardian Review section this morning, if you’re interested you can read it here. It’s by Artemis Cooper who has just written a book about Howard.

Elizabeth Jane Howard

The photo above is of Elizabeth Jane Howard with her then husband Kingsley Amis. Like many writers she was a bit of a conundrum herself I think. On a frivolous note I wonder if she ever regretted sticking her middle name on her books – I know I would have if I had been her.

There’s an article about the ghost stories that E. Nesbit wrote for adults, it’ll be Halloween before we know it so it might be of interest to anyone reading books for that spooky season. You can read the article here.

I’ve always been interested in children’s books but in recent years I’ve become quite distant from what’s going on, mainly due to having no small people in my life at the moment. I must admit though that I still do buy children’s books if I happen to see any with beautiful illustrations. So I was interested in this Children’s roundup by Imogen Russell Williams.

If Shakespeare is more your cup of tea you might like to read Margaret Atwood’s article on rewriting The Tempest for the 21st century.

Edinburgh Botanics and books

On Thursday we had a family dinner date in Edinburgh so as it was a lovely bright day we decided to go early and have a walk through the Botanic Gardens. As you can see the crocuses were enjoying the sun.


Then it was on to the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll realise that Stockbridge is usually a dangerous destination for me, due to the secondhand bookshops in the vicinity. Mind you it was only about three weeks since we had been there so I did think (half hope) it might be a case of slim pickings book wise, but I was wrong!

Books Again

China Court by Rumer Godden
The Princess Sophia by E.F. Benson
The Three Hostages by John Buchan
The Hand of Ethelberta by Thomas Hardy
Harding’s Luck by E. Nesbit
The Herb of Grace by Elizabeth Goudge

I know I read China Court way back in the 1970s but I’ll read it again and I seem to be collecting the Goddens that I read when I was a teenager but then I borrowed them from the library.

I have a horrible feeling that I gave my Nesbit books away before we moved house, when I was trying to de-clutter. But they might still be in a box in the garage, I live in hope, I definitely haven’t read Harding’s Luck anyway. The House of Arden comes before it so I think I’ll have to read that one first, I might just put that one on my Kindle.

I don’t think I’ve read anything by Goudge before but I know she is well loved by some people.

The Princess Sophia was written in 1900, long before Benson wrote his Mapp and Lucia books that I love.

I seem to be collecting John Buchan books although it’s a good long time since I actually read any.

I read a lot of Thomas Hardy books as a teenager and I loved them although they are often quite grim, especially the endings. The Hand of Ethelberta is apparently a comedy in chapters – could be interesting, but then again, might not be. Anyway it’s one of those wee books with thin paper and gold topped pages, like most of my other Hardy books, so it’ll fit in well – after I’ve had a bit of a shuffle around of that bookcase!

Have you read any of these books?

I Have Post

Anbolyn of Gudrun’s Tights has been participating in The Month of Letters challenge. Well, I’ve always loved getting post but nowadays unless it’s books which I’ve bought the post is deadly boring. So I asked Anbolyn to send me a postcard to cheer things up. I was thinking that I’ve never had anything from Arizona before but actually I don’t think I’ve ever had any post from America.

So I want to say a big thank you to Anbolyn for sending me not one but two lovely cards which I received this morning. I can’t decide which one is my favourite. The Green Inspired geometric card would make a fab design for a quilt. I doubt if I’d ever get around to sewing something so intricate though, but I can dream.

I love E. Nesbit’s book The Phoenix and the Carpet but my copy is an old one with a blue cover. This Puffin Books design captures the Edwardian atmosphere of the book beautifully. As you can see it cost 3/6 which in ‘new’ money is 17½ pence. I’ve done a wee bit of research and this version of the cover seems to have been published in 1959 – which just happens to have been the year I was born. How apt is that!

I haven’t shown you Anbolyn’s handwriting but it’s lovely, the sort of script which would look good embroidered, and she writes old-fashioned ‘S’s which I used to do and gave up for some reason.

So Anbolyn, a wee surprise (not me) will be winging its way to you within the next day or so. Stand by for my scrawl!

The Magic World by E. Nesbit

When I was in the kitchen at Christmas (when was I not in the kitchen, I’m definitely going to make it all easier for myself next year) I had the radio on as usual and I was listening to Radio 4 extra which usually has something entertaining and different along the lines of vintage comedy or classic fiction. This time I realised it was E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It which I read some years ago as I never did get around to it as a child.

If you like Edwardian fantasy/fairy tale type things then you’ll enjoy Nesbit, her writing is quite humorous. She was writing at a time when life seemed to be so much simpler and more wholesome – if you didn’t get consumption or typhoid and you weren’t a ‘slavey’ in service.

As it happened I was in the middle of reading a book of Nesbit short stories called The Magic World – a collection of twelve stories involving magic. Perfect for children of all ages and I’m going to be passing my copy of this Puffin Classic on to a ten year old girl I know. I’m not sure if she’ll like it, it might be a bit too old fashioned for a modern miss but she did love the omnibus book of Little House on the Prairie which I passed on to her as part of my decluttering efforts.

Edith Nesbit lived from 1858-1924 and she was a bit of a shocker in her day. She lived a very Bohemian life as a member of the socialist Fabian Society. They were a fairly loose moralled bunch for the times – well for any times really and as I recall she had an affair with H.G. Wells amongst others. It was a bit of a toss up as to who fathered the children involved. But although she was a very successful writer her charitable deeds almost led to her becoming bankrupt, so her heart was in the right place!

Book Covers

A Reader in the Wilderness has been Blog Hopping again and the question last week was about book covers. Do they influence you? I know, I’m a week late!

I started buying books for children before I actually had any weans to read them to. I must admit that the books were purchased just because I couldn’t resist the cover, or the illustrations. A lot of them are in the depths of the farthest away attic and I don’t fancy braving it at this time of the year. There are enough spiders in the house at the moment, coming in from the cold, I hate to think what the attics are like!


These book covers were designed by J.P.Lynch, who obviously has a penchant for roof-tops. The covers certainly attracted me to buy them, but the stories are lovely too.

Despite the fact that we have hundreds of books for adults in the house, there aren’t really any which I would say were particularly eye catching. It has really annoyed me in the past that covers often have absolutely nothing to do with the contents of the book. It’s as if the publisher has just pulled an old illustration out of a cupboard and said, “That’ll do!” I know for a fact that the person who does the art work for publishers is often paid more than the authors are and that is just absolutely crazy.

I’ve always loved Michael Foreman’s illustrations.

My husband writes literary science-fiction, mainly short stories but he has had one novel published under Little, Brown’s Orbit imprint. Sadly he was given absolutely no say in the book cover design whatsoever. We were both really disappointed when he received his first copy as we didn’t think that the cover would attract anyone to it at all, especially if they didn’t already know his writing.

A Son of the Rock cover

Obviously the artist just went with the title and hadn’t actually read the book. If he had done so, he could have come up with something really lovely instead of artwork which would have been more suitable for a horror story. Such is life!

Flashback Challenge

I’ve been reading about all these book challenges that are going on and thought that it was about time that I signed up for one myself. The Flashback Challenge seems like a great excuse to re-read ‘old friends’ and I’m really enthusiastic about it, so I’m planning to read 12 books again, one for each month of the year – and here they are.

Flashback Challenge books

As I’ve never participated in a book challenge before, I’m just presuming that the idea is you write a review in your blog. Anyway, that’s what I’ll be doing with these books, although not particularly in this order.

1. The Enchanted April – by Elizabeth von Arnim.
2. Lark Rise – Flora Thompson.
3. And Quiet Flows the Don- Mikhail Sholokhov.
4. The Fortunes of War – Olivia Manning.
5. Strong Poison – Dorothy L. Sayers.
6. The Railway Children – E. Nesbit.
7. The Golden Age – Gore Vidal
8. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee.
9. Scenes of Clerical Life – George Eliot
10. Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie.
11. Kidnapped – R.L. Stevenson.
12. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier.

I’m looking forward to it.