Tis the Season

to be…not jolly, certainly, given that I am Scroogier than Scrooge when it comes to this time of year and the madness associated with …you-know-what. No, this time of year makes me feel nostalgic and one of the holidayish things I like to do as the light fades and the curtains are drawn is curl up on the sofa with the sort of book I loved as a child.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett springs to mind and I can envisage the picture of the robin perched on a fork, but looking for a copy, I discover I haven’t got it! Catastrophe! But I can remember the characters very well – Mary, disagreeable at first, invalid Colin and lovely Dickon, with his sympathy for animals – and the garden itself, which may have been responsible for my delight in walled gardens.

I did find these on my shelves and they have exactly the right winter afternoon quality:

dragon sculpture

To be honest only The Borrowers Afield belongs to my childhood – this is the very book I was given as a prize for winning the school poetry competition. (See About Me) Mary Norton brilliantly imagine how ordinary things and we ‘human beans’ are experienced by these tiny people, who are actually just like us. I love the illustrations by Diana Stanley in my copy (published in 1960). This, to me, is what Arriety and Pod and Homily look like – no other version will do

I was introduced to The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’ Shea later in life, and though I’m not a great one for fantasy and this one has all the typical ingredients – the quest, the battle between good and evil – it is also funny and real and Pidge, the hero, and his sister Brigit are wonderfully human and believable.

And Journey to the River Sea by the late, great Eve Ibbotson is a much more recent publication( 2001) but has all the hallmarks of a children’s classic. Orphan Maia and her governess Miss Minton have to leave England for Brazil to live with the unpleasant Carter family. There adventures ensue, involving a travelling theatre troupe, and swapped identities and danger and excitement.

My final choice, The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, goes back to childhood again. I have an old and battered copy:

Little White Horse

It contains the original illustrations by C.Walter Hodges. Here right at the beginning of the story are orphaned Maria Merryweather, her governess Miss Heliotrope and Wiggins the King Charles spaniel:

Maria and Miss Heliotrope

They are on their way to Moonacre Manor to live with Maria’s cousin. There Maria finds herself drawn into an ancient feud…

Dusk is falling as I write this. Time to head for the sofa and start reading…

What children’s books would you choose as your winter favourites?

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