Day 946: The Story of the Treasure Seekers

Cover for The Story of the Treasure SeekersA while back, I read E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children. Although I liked it well enough, I did not find it as delightful as the book I’m reviewing today, The Story of the Treasure Seekers. This first novel of Nesbit’s is about the Bastable children, Alice, Dicky, Dora, Horace Octavius (known as H. O.), and Oswald. The narrator keeps his identity secret, but we can tell fairly soon that it’s Oswald.

The Bastable’s mother died not long ago, and the children are vaguely aware that their father is having financial problems. He has removed them from school, and the house isn’t nicely kept up. So, the children have a council, and they each come up with a plan for finding treasure.

The novel is about what happens as the children try to raise money, their plans ranging from holding up people on the common to dowsing for gold. The novel is very funny, I think even more for adults than for children. Children will enjoy the kid’s adventures, but adults can understand an entire additional layer of information that the children in the book don’t, for example, that the Robber they find in their father’s study is probably not a Robber.

The naivety of the narration lends this novel a charm and humor that a straightforward third-person narrative would not. This is a lovely, funny book.

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Day 929: The Railway Children

Cover for The Railway ChildrenThe Railway Children is a classic British children’s story, written in 1906. At the beginning, Roberta (Bobbie), Peter, and Phyllis live a happy and comfortable life with their parents in a suburb of London. Then one evening two men come to see their father, and they hear angry voices. Their father goes away with the men, and shortly afterward they move with their mother to a cottage in the country.

Here things are a bit more primitive. They only have one servant, a housekeeper, and a pump in the yard for water. They have to help their mother more, and Peter can’t go to school. Their mother can’t play with them, because she is busy writing stories for money. They are poor and have to be careful how much coal they use and what they eat.

Near their house is the railway, and they find lots to entertain themselves watching the trains and getting to know the men at the station. They wave to an old gentleman on the morning train every day, and they have adventures related to the railway.

I can see why children would love this story. Although the children’s adventures are all realistic, they would be exciting reading for children. There is also the mystery about their father. Character development is not a strong suit of the novel, but the children and their mother are sympathetic and the children behave like actual children.

Perhaps the novel does not have as much to offer adults, especially those who didn’t read and love the book as children. Still, it’s easy to see why the book is still popular.

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Day 924: Ballet Shoes

Cover for Ballet ShoesNoel Streatfeild was a writer of popular children’s books in the 1930’s. Her first novel, Ballet Shoes, was so popular that the U.S. publishers renamed several of her subsequent books to include the word “shoes,” even though they were not series books.

Ballet Shoes is about three girls, all adopted by Great Uncle Matthew, called Gum. Gum is a fossil hunter, but when his house becomes too full of fossils, his great-niece Sylvia’s nanny makes him give them away to a museum. Gum goes off on another fossil-hunting trip but brings back a baby instead, the unidentified survivor of a shipwreck. Over the course of five years, he brings back two more. These are Pauline, Petrova, and Posy, and he gives them the last name of Fossil.

Gum goes off on another trip, leaving Sylvia and the cook and nanny in charge. Sylvia does her best to bring up the girls, although she is only ten years older than Pauline. But Gum doesn’t return, and the money begins to run out. Sylvia is forced to remove the girls from school and try to teach them herself. Finally, she must take in boarders.

Sylvia is lucky in her boarders, because soon they are all involved in the girls’ education. Two retired university professors undertake to teach the girls at no cost, and Theo, who teaches ballet, gets them enrollment in the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, which prepares children for a career in the arts.

At 11, Pauline shows promise as an actress, and none of them have any doubt that Posy will be a famous ballerina. Only Petrova does not feel any particular aptitude, except for her interests in motors and flying, and she is most happy on Sundays, when boarder Mr. Simpson lets her work in his garage.

The rest of the novel follows the girls’ careers as they struggle to make enough money to support themselves and study dancing and theatre.

Ballet Shoes is not a classic because of its writing style or literary attainment, at least in my opinion. The writing is workmanlike, and the narrative arc lacks the highs and lows of other classics. Instead, it is a classic because of Streatfeild’s knowledge of the arts and the details about classes and stage productions. I think this novel would be fascinating for any child interested in the arts, especially ballet. And the plot about the four orphans trying to make it in a difficult world should appeal to most other imaginative children.

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Day 907: Victorian Fairy Tales

Cover for Victorian Fairy TalesApparently, in Victorian times there was a fashion for fairy tales. Not only did some writers, especially of children’s books, concentrate on them, but many writers of other types of works wrote them as well. Although Victorian Fairy Tales is published as a scholarly work with notes and essays, the tales are well worth reading by anyone, and many of them are by well-known writers.

My favorite tale was “The Rose and the Ring,” by William Makepeace Thackeray. It is about a couple of usurping kings and the confusion that results when an enchanted ring and a rose that each make the wearer irresistible to the opposite sex are traded around among the characters. The story is very funny, with different types of humor to appeal to both adults and children, as well as silly names and repetition, which children love. The pictures by Thackeray from the original are wonderful.

“Prince Prigio” by Andrew Lang is another funny tale, about a prince who is so smart that he annoys everyone. Another outstanding tale is by E. Nesbit, “Melisande,” about a princess who is cursed by a wicked fairy to be bald. Her father gives her a wish, and as happens in fairy tales, she doesn’t wish wisely.

Other favorite stories are “The Queen Who Flew” by Ford Madox Ford and “The Reluctant Dragon” by Kenneth Grahame. “The Reluctant Dragon” and “The Selfish Giant” by Oscar Wilde are the only stories in the volume I have read before, although I vaguely remember there being a copy of “The Little Lame Prince” by Dinah Mulock Craik around our house.

There is much to enjoy in this book, both for children and adults. I thought a couple of the stories were a bit ethereal and symbolic to be enjoyed much by children (or by me), but most of them were fun to read.

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Day 874: Two Picture Books by William Joyce

I saw some more cute books by William Joyce too late to send them for the holidays, so I’m saving them for next year for my youngest nephew.

Cover for Santa CallsSanta Calls

Art Atchison Ainsworth and his little sister Esther live in Abilene. One day Santa sends them an order to report to the North Pole in a flying machine. (He sends the flying machine, too.) Art is not always nice to Esther and doesn’t want her to come along. But they go together, taking along Art’s friend Spaulding Littlefeets. What mission does Santa have for the three children?

Cover for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris LessmoreThe Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Mr. Morris Lessmore is leading an ordinary life when he sees a woman with flying books. He wishes he has one, too, and then he finds a room of flying books. Lessmore writes his own book as he explores the joys of books. (This one is bound to appeal to me.)

* * *

Both of these books feature beautiful illustrations in Joyce’s classic retro style. The text of Santa Calls is a little more difficult than that of the other book. The weakest part of Joyce’s books is the text, I think. It is all right, but I have seen more clever writing in other children’s books. But I love the illustrations, and I think that most children won’t notice the quality of the text.

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Day 869: Snow

Cover for SnowSnow is a charming picture book I got for my nephew for Christmas. It is a Caldecott Medal winner with beautiful pictures.

A boy sees a snowflake and says it is snowing, but the adults dismiss it. The radio says it isn’t supposed to snow.

But the weather has other ideas. Soon snow is everywhere. The boy and his dog frolic in the snow, and some Mother Goose figures come down from a sign and frolic with them.

Written for little children or early readers, this is a delightful book with lovely pictures.

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Day 847: Two Picture Books

Cover for Dinosaur BobI went book crazy a couple months ago. In addition to three board books, which I reviewed a few weeks ago, I bought my great-nephew two picture books. (He got them for his birthday.)

Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo by William Joyce

If you’ve been reading my reviews of children’s books, you’ll know I’m a fan of William Joyce, not so much for his famous franchise (Guardians of the Galaxy) but for his books for younger kids. But I haven’t read Dinosaur Bob. After the enthusiastic recommendation of my friend Caroline, I had to try him.

dinosaur-bobThis book is about an adventuresome family who meet Bob on their travels and bring him home. All is well until Bob runs afoul of the mayor’s wife, Mrs. DeGlumly.

The book is beautifully illustrated in a colorful 50’s style. The pictures are absolutely striking. The plot is simple but fun. I’m sure my nephew will love Dinosaur Bob.

Cover for The Full Moon at the Napping HouseThe Full Moon at the Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood

Well, I ask you? Who can resist buying a book named The Full Moon at the Napping House? This book is written like The House That Jack Built, starting with a short phrase and adding on to it and repeating. It’s about a boy, a grandmother, a cat, a dog, and none of them can go to sleep.

The pictures are lovely and funny. This is another beautiful picture book with its own distinct style of illustration.

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