Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Lesser Known Childhood Favorites

I swear this morning in the car I had a blog title that was a play on Jude the Obscure to describe this topic, but now all I can think of is "Dude, the Obscure," which is not what I'm looking for.

I've already highlighted a few of these books in my gone-but-not-forgotten series of posts about childhood favorites.  There are others I want to toss out there, because a) I'm curious if anyone else in the world has ever read these, and the book blog community is probably where I'd find people who have and b) I like to dream that I can single-handedly revive interest in these forgotten titles.

It's completely possible that some of these books are more common that I realize.  It's just that I haven't met people who have read them, so I'm assuming they're super rare.  Well, in one case, I'm the only person to have rated it on Goodreads, so yeah, it probably isn't very well known!

1.  Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge
Totally a classic, but is it a classic anyone reads any more?  Has the younger generation even heard of it?  Heidi and Pollyanna still linger in pop culture references, Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows inspired (horrible) cartoons, but I suspect that of the 10,000 people who have rated it on Goodreads, 9,900 are my age or older.  It was published in 1865, and stars supernaturally good children named Hans and Gretel.  I had a hand-me-down hardback copy, with a bright blue cloth cover and black and white line drawings inside.  On the few occasions in life when I've skated outside, I've imagined myself sailing along the canals of Holland.

2.  Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer
Now we're getting obscure; only 336 people have rated this on Goodreads.  Woebegone little Sally  is dropped off to spend a summer with a cranky old maiden aunt.  The discovery of a charming china doll in the attic enlivens her stay--especially when the doll starts to allow time travel to visit another lonely little girl.  Today, that would be written as a super creepy story, but this 1966 story is sweet and nostalgic.

3. The Magic Pin by Ida B. Forbus
This is the one that only has my rating and review on Goodreads, so I guess I could say anything about it and you might never know the difference.  I'll play fair though--this 1956 story, which I found in an antique store in the early 1970s, is about a girl who inherits a silver pin.  Handed down from seventh granddaughter to seventh granddaughter, the pin endows the wearer with the ability to speak to the animals.  For some reason, I remember a scene in which the girl catches a cold but tries to blame her sneezing on the pepper she's put on her eggs.  I think I was young enough that I hadn't made the pepper--sneezing connection yet.  More critical to the plot (thank goodness), she is able to use her magic to work with the animals to save lives during a flood.

4.  Bargain Bride by Evelyn Sibley Lampman
Mrs. Lampman's daughter was an acquaintance of my father's--once I learned that, I begged to be allowed to meet her.  Oddly, I don't seem to have gotten her autograph on my much loved copy of this book.  In pioneer era Oregon, orphan girl Ginnie has been married off at ten to a bachelor settler so he can claim twice the land.  She's lived since then with her horrible cousins, but now that she's 15, her husband arrives to claim her.  He dies moments after bringing her to his homestead (avoiding any awkward wedding night scenes), and she's left alone and determined not to return to her cruel relatives.  Adventure, learning, and romance are to follow.  Lampman wrote about native Americans with a surprisingly sensitive touch for the times, but the truth remains that pioneer narratives are inherently problematic.  Still, Ginnie is an appealing character, realistically youthful in her understanding of life, but willing to work hard and question her own assumptions.

5.  Angus and the Cat by Marjorie Flack
We got a Scottie when I was five, and she was my loyal friend until her death nearly fifteen years later.  Angus was my first literary Scottie, and his particular personality was indeed very like my Maggie's.  The colors in this picture book were also very pleasing to my eye.

6.  The Children of Green Knowe by L. M. Boston
The first in a series starring a little boy and the ghosts that live at his house.  Or rather, at his great-grandmother's castle, which is his home.

7.  The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton
Another series-starter, this one is especially good for those of us already enamored of Louisa May Alcott.  At the time of its publication (1962), it was a contemporary novel, but the siblings who star in it have a cracked old uncle who speaks of the Alcotts, Thoreau, and Emerson.  It's a mystery,
fantasy, historical fiction with a healthy dollop of Transcendentalist philosophy thrown in.

8. Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Sickly, coddled Betsy has to be sent from the city where her maiden aunts take such good care of her to some wild-and-wooly country cousins in Vermont.  She is terrified, but over time develops courage, energy, and self confidence.  And gets to do that maple-syrup-in-the-snow thing they're always doing in New England books of yore.  Her encounters with the one-room schoolhouse might be an interesting read in today's standards-based world.  She is initially as astounded as any test developer would be to discover that one might be advanced in one area, yet still struggling with another, and that not all children develop at the same rate.

9.  The Rescuers series by Margery Sharp, and most especially Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines (#4)
Do I even need to say it?  Please don't judge these books by its movie.  Another reviewer pointed out the antiquated views regarding the fragility of women, but for all that Miss Bianca minces around like  a duchess, she's also brave, energetic, and resourceful.  She RESCUES people, for crying out loud, and she's a MOUSE.  As a kid I always figured you couldn't go wrong with a book illustrated by Garth Williams, and these certainly prove my point--you're all but guaranteed both sweetness and

10.  The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit
I could have chosen any of her stories, early 20th century fantasies involving modern children, like Narnia without the traveling.  Or moralizing.  Or talking animals.  So not that much like Narnia.  But I remember liking this one quite a bit, starting with the siblings meeting an enchanted princess, who is really just a servant's daughter playing a game, but then it turns out she does have access to magical treasure...Edward Eager's books, set half a century later and across the Atlantic, were directly inspired by Nesbit, so we have her to thank for those as well.


  1. Well, I don't know the first five -- we had Hans Brinker in the house growing up but somehow I never read it -- but 6-10 are favorites of mine too. I recently read The Diamond in the Window to my son, and I'm looking forward to when we can visit Concord together (since we now live only an hour away). I did visit the real "Green Knowe" house when I was in England and that was quite a thrill!

  2. Oooh, that would be such a thrill to visit Green Knowe! I didn't realize it's based on a real place. When I visited England in 1991, I visited the house that Brideshead Revisited is based on. My friend's step-grandparents were a generation removed from Waugh, and the house was in a limbo between being a family home and property of the state, so we had the run of the place one afternoon.

    1. Wasn't that Chatsworth? I was there too but didn't have your connections, that is really cool that you got to roam freely. And yes, Green Knowe is a real place called The Manor at Hemingford Grey. Lucy Boston's daughter Diana gave a tour and it was fascinating! There are also originals of some of the toys and artifacts from the books, like Toby's mouse and the rocking horse, and amazing patchworks that were very impressive to see. Definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.

  3. Most of these are new to me. I had Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, but I know I never read it. Not too long ago I listened to The Children of Green Knowe and enjoyed it. Listening to audio books has been a great way to fill in books I missed as a kid. I wonder if any of the lesser known titles are available as audio books?


Please share your thoughts. Comments are almost as sweet as chocolate!