A Child’s Delight

September 11, 2007 @ 7:17 am | Filed under: Books

Childsdelight_2I first heard about this delightful-indeed book from the Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room. A Child’s Delight, by Noel Perrin, is a collection of essays about children’s books that ought not to be missed. The DHM’s review suggested that Perrin’s book ought not to be missed, either, so naturally I took her advice. She is, as always, as good as her word.

I loved this little book. Perrin wrote a column on books—"neglected minor masterpieces" is how he described them—for The Washington Post. Not children’s books; that came later. His column, "Rediscoveries," recommended books Perrin thought everyone should read but which had seemed, for various reasons, to slip under the radar.

Eventually, Perrin shifted his attentions to children’s literature. The Deputy Headmistress elaborates:

Years later he was invited to
revisit the topic, only this time, to look at neglected children’s
books that deserved greater attention.

He and his editor had
some trouble coming up with a list they both agreed on. Perrin came up
with a list of 17 books, but the editor rejected eight of them as too
well known. The editor, a well read man, didn’t want books that were
too famous. The point was to recommend pieces that everybody didn’t
already know.

The story of just how Perrin came up with the final list of books, recounted in the introduction to A Child’s Delight and summarized in the DHM’s post, is fascinating reading in itself.

I had read about two thirds of the books Perrin discusses. Our taste seems to run on similar tracks, for many of his most enthusiastic reviews were of books I get pretty excited about myself. I’ve been tracking down and reading the other books on his list, and I owe him (and the DHM) a debt of thanks: these are indeed books not to be missed.

The DHM talks in detail about a little picture book called Johnny Crow’s Garden, by Leslie Brooke, reviewed with joyful rhapsody by Perrin. Their descriptions jogged my memory; I remember reading—and adoring—Johnny Crow when I was a tiny girl. I scored a used copy on Amazon marketplace (it is no longer in print, unbelievably, but you can view the whole book at Project Gutenberg) and had goosebumps when I turned its pages and saw those familiar old animals, the storks, the lion, the dapper Johnny Crow. Beanie quickly claimed the book for herself, and we have shared many a chuckle over it already in these few weeks.

Johnnycrow

Another Perrin pick is Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag, well known in homeschooling circles because of its inclusion in—hmm. I was going to say its inclusion in Before Five in a Row, but I just checked the booklist, and the other FIAR booklists, and it isn’t there. Another Wanda Gag book, The ABC Bunny, is in BFIAR, so that must be what I was thinking of. But you remember Millions of Cats, the Caldecott Honor Book about the little old man and the little old woman who are all alone, and they want a cat, and the husband goes off to find one and encounters

hundreds of cats,

thousands of cats,

millions and billions and trillions of cats—

who all follow him home, which is when things get grisly. But charmingly so.

Perrin gives a very interesting biographical sketch of Wanda Gag, whose personal story was new to me. I’m even more intrigued by her work now.

Watershipdown
Those two are picture books, but most of Perrin’s essays are about middle-grade novels. His taste runs toward fantasy, which suits me fine. Some of his choices surprised me because I wouldn’t have thought they were in fact under the radar. Watership Down is one such novel. You know I agree with Perrin that  everyone should read that book, but before that Google search hit popped up on my sitemeter, I might have thought such advice was redundant. Perrin wants to make sure no one misses it, so it lands a place in his book.

As do Noel Streatfeild’s "Shoes" books: Theater Shoes, Ballet Shoes, Dancing Shoes, and the others. I have probably blogged about those books before. They are enchanting. My girls are in the thick of them now, especially Beanie. I never encountered them as a child; my introduction to Streatfeild came during my first months on the job as an editorial assistant at Random House. My boss was involved in bringing three of the Shoes books back into print. All we had was hard copy, old out-of-print editions from the company archives. Someone needed to type the manuscripts into a Word document—and that someone, as it happens, was I. This was a freelance job, not part of my salaried employment, and I remember sitting up late at night in my little Queens apartment, typing away to earn extra money for the wedding I was planning. Talk about a cushy job. The only drawback was that my fingers couldn’t keep up with my devouring eyes—the books were so good that I kept finding myself drawn in, turning pages when I should have been typing.

Balletshoes
Perrin’s quite right; if Streatfeild has slipped under your radar, you should treat yourself to a delightful read. Ballet Shoes is my favorite, I think (though I’ve a fondness for Dancing Shoes, with that insufferable little twit Dulcie Wintle and her maddening "baby dance").  Ballet Shoes is the story of three unrelated orphan girls—Posy, Pauline, and Petrova—who are adopted, one after the other, by an eccentric English explorer who spends most of the book off exploring, leaving his charges in the care of a sweet great-niece. Exploring doesn’t bring in much income, so the niece fills the house with interesting boarders, one of whom just happens to teach ballet…

But I don’t want to reveal too much. One of the things I appreciate most about Perrin’s reviews is that he is careful not to give away plot surprises.

Even so, I didn’t read more than the first few paragraphs of the essays about books I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading. Perrin sent me running to the library website to see which titles I could track down. The girls and I are just getting into The Children of Green Knowe, which Perrin praises most enthusiastically, and others on my list include T. H. White’s Mistress Masham’s Repose (I’ve only read White’s The Once and Future King) and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. (I know, I know, I can’t believe I haven’t read it either!)

Perrin’s essays have an E. B. White quality about them: their calm, good-humored simplicity; their elegant prose. I do believe I enjoyed his essay on Diana Wynne Jones’s ripping good tale, Dogsbody, almost as much as I enjoyed the novel itself. Coincidentally, Jane was reading Dogsbody about the same time I was reading A Child’s Delight, and when she finished, she wanted to discuss it, as we are wont to do. It had been probably ten years since I read that book myself, so I had to re-read it for Jane. ("Had to" makes it sound like an obligation, but you know if it’s Wynne Jones, it’s a privilege.) When I finished I really wanted to sit down with Jane and Mr. Perrin over a cup of tea for a nice long confab about Sirius, the luminous being who was banished to earth—in a puppy’s body, no less—for a crime he didn’t commit, with only a dog’s short life span in which to clear his name.

Other gems on Perrin’s list include Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers (much better than the movie), Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, and my favorite Edith Nesbit novel, The Railway Children.


    Related Posts

  • "A generation ago, there was no general conspiracy among writers to protect children."
    “A generation ago, there was no general conspiracy among writers to protect children.”
  • Too Many Books
    Too Many Books
  • More Quick Book Notes
    More Quick Book Notes
  • Recently Read to Rilla
    Recently Read to Rilla
  • This Week in Ancient Greece
    This Week in Ancient Greece

Comments

9 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. Thanks, Lissa, for this wonderful post. Funny, I just started Streatfeild’s Magic Summer last night (Emily read it a month or so ago) and noticed his book list with the “Shoes” books. We’ll have to hunt down the ballet and dance ones now for sure! :)

  2. Ooooh, I want to hug you!! I had long known and loved Masham’s Repose and the Green knowe books, but I’d never read Dogsbody or I Capture the Castle.

    And I only read the Shoes books when they were reprinted- thank-you for being part of that!!!!

  3. Ooooh, I want to hug you!! I had long known and loved Masham’s Repose and the Green knowe books, but I’d never read Dogsbody or I Capture the Castle.

    And I only read the Shoes books when they were reprinted- thank-you for being part of that!!!!

  4. Thank you for pointing me to this book. Those shoe books sound fabulous and my second daughter who has loved shoes since toddlerhood will get a kick out of them. I’m placing these books on my wishlist!

  5. I have adored the shoe books forever and in fact went out and bought them for myself again this last winter, I just wish all of them were available. I also love Children of Green Knowe and Treasure of Green Knowe, the rest I couldn’t get into even as an adult. I read I Capture the Castle a few years ago right around the time that they released the movie. They actually kept the book ending for the movie, which I really appreciated, the book seriously has the best ending ever, although I wouldn’t consider it a middle grade novel, it’s more an teenager/adult novel in my mind.

  6. I’ll tell my daughter Emily about the Shoe books in the morning. She will be so excited to know that you helped reprint them. Two of her favorite authors…what synchronicity! Her teacher assigned any Shoe book for reading over the summer, along with many other classics (the children chose two.) I ended up buying a out of print copy of Movie Shoes because Emily already owns the other three and has read them many times. Just tonight she sat down at the computer and did a SuperSearch so other libraries would send other Shoe books here. I’ll also never forget the time she first read them. We found a website listing all of Streatfeild’s books and Emily wrote them all down. She was heartbroken when I said I couldn’t spend $75 on an out of print book…

  7. I agree that Noel Perrin and E.B. White are very kindred spirits, and I think — this is just some crazy housewife talking, of course lol — that their spare, elegant styles of writing were definitely informed by the fact that they were each a gentleman “sometime farmer” (Perrin’s phrase). Especially since they were farming the same rocky New England landscape.

    Perrin has an adult version, too, “A Reader’s Delight”. Lovely; I think I recall C.S. Lewis in there. But I have a soft spot for his “Rural” essays — “First Person Rural”, “Second”, and so on! (Oh, and for the kids, he has a couple of non-children’s books on maple sugaring that are delightful and incredibly informative. Much like Annie Proulx on cider-making for Storey.).

  8. It’s funny, but I read The Ballet Shoes back in elementary school. In fact, I think I may have checked it out a couple of times. I have a very visceral memory of the book, probably 30 years old, with a worn matte, yellowish hard cover.

    They’re filming a movie version of it now, starring the girl who plays Hermione in the Harry Potter movies, so folks should read it now before the film comes out.

  9. Hi Melissa, Thanks for contributing this post to the September Carnival of Children’s Literature, now up and running at my blog!

    Thanks so much for organizing it!

    Charlotte