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

Christmas/Winter Books

I think that if you live in the UK there are lots of children’s books which make you think – Christmas – it’s because of that fabulous tradition pantomime. My local theatre always has about 2 months of panto from the beginning of December and well into January. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, Puss in Boots, Peter Pan – something different every year. All of those stories spell Christmas and if you’re lucky – as we were in Kirkcaldy, it’ll be produced and performed by a real veteran of the craft, the late Jimmy Logan was great in panto.

Oscar Wilde stories

I have a book of Oscar Wilde stories for children which is illustrated by P.J Lynch. I love the cover which as you can see is of snowy medieval rooftops and the first story in the book is The Selfish Giant who doesn’t want to share his garden and builds a huge wall around it to keep children out. It’s forever winter in his garden – The Snow covered up the grass with her great white cloak and the Frost painted all the trees silver. It’s only when he learns to share it that the garden is transformed by the spring. This is a Christian story but if like me you aren’t particularly religious it’s still worth a read, you should be able to read it here in his Happy Prince and other stories anthology.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Again, this series is very Christian, but don’t let that put you off. What is it about cold and ice, it’s always used in literature to portray evil and nastiness? It could just as well be used to mean pure and clean, but that doesn’t seem to happen. In the first book of the series, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe Lucy explains about the White Queen: She isn’t a real queen at all, she’s a horrible witch, the White Witch. She has made an enchantment over the whole country so that it is always winter here and never Christmas.

White Queen Narnia

What a ghastly thought, but fear not, at the end of the last Narnia book Father Christmas turns up! C.S. Lewis was a good friend of J.R.R. Tolkien and when Tolkien read that bit he advised Lewis to take that bit out of the book before sending it to his publisher, he felt that it spoiled it but Lewis was determined to keep it in. I’m in two minds about it.

One of my sons was obsessed with the Narnia books as a youngster, in fact I almost lost my voice reading them to him, way past the time when he could read perfectly well himself! Then he got obsessed with the Doctor Who books.

Next week, I’ll chat about some more Christmas/Winter books which I’ve enjoyed, sometimes re-reading them to get me in the mood for the season.

The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde

Yesterday the weather forecasters gave us the oh so cheery news that we are stuck with this freezing cold weather until the end of April, due to the position of the jet stream. I couldn’t help being reminded of the two winters we endured when we lived in Essex and the town of Braintree was snowed in for a week. We had never seen anything like it before, and it is only about 20 miles from the centre of London.

At that time Maggie Thatcher had just got in as Prime Minister and I was blaming her of course because as far as I was concerned she was an updated version of Andersen’s Snow Queen or the C.S. Lewis version, the White Witch in Narnia.

Well I can’t blame Thatcher this time (but we do have a Tory dominated Government.) Maybe it’s The Selfish Giant from Oscar Wilde’s story who is causing the never ending winter, in the shape of bankers and politicians. As it’s Good Friday today I thought it would be appropriate to do a post on it.

I bought this book when my boys were wee, but really it was as much for me as for them because I love the P.J. Lynch illustrations. You can see a lot of Lynch illustrations on Pinterest here. Sadly I can’t see any of The Selfish Giant and I can’t find my own copy of the book, it must be packed away somewhere. If you don’t know the story and want to read it you should be able to find it in The Happy Prince at Project Gutenberg.

If you have a spare half hour you might like to watch an animated version from the 1970s.

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!