A book for all seasons: Watership Down

Richard Adams, Watership Down (1972)

Lately I’ve been disappointed that my son’s interest in reading seems to have flagged. He happily reads Tintin comics and my old Cricket magazines for hours, but the sustained attention required by a novel has been elusive.

Until I started reading him Watership Down, that is. I thought this 400-page chunkster would take us weeks to read at bedtime, but we’re almost done — because he seized it from me after the first couple of days and tore through a hundred pages at a stretch. And I had to seize it back from him to catch up; I didn’t want to miss a thing.

What is so compelling about this book, that it could enchant equally a twelve-year-old boy and his harried mom? I loved it as a child, but now I have to admire even more Richard Adams’s achievement. He has managed to write a story that is truly for all ages, and that still holds up decades after it became a surprise publishing sensation.

An adventure story about a group of rabbits trying to find a new home might seem a notion whose appeal is confined to the nursery, but there is nothing cute or sentimental about Adams’s writing. There’s a lot that could be considered absurd from a purely naturalistic point of view — rabbits do not have a spoken vocabulary, or tell stories, or have military-police type organizations — and yet Adams somehow manages to convince us utterly of the reality of his world while he is describing it. And the shift in perspective that invites us to consider the world from a small animal’s point of view is enriching and thought-provoking.

It’s not surprising that Watership Down was categorized on publication as a children’s book; one could hardly publish a book about talking rabbits in any other way. Yet there’s no reason why it can’t be read with pleasure by adults, and there are many sophisticated elements which may be appreciated more by experienced readers. The frequent shifts in tone, for example, which could have been incredibly awkward, are deftly handled to bring out the tension between the rabbit and human worlds while simultaneously integrating them into a coherent narrative.

The epigrams to each chapter, chosen from such un-child-like authors as Euripides and Auden, still ring in my memory after many years, while the themes of courage, leadership, brotherly love, and the primacy of freedom made a deep impression. And the brilliant pseudo-folktales told by the rabbits at various points of their journey are as memorable as any handed down by a real human culture. Not just random interpolations, they reflect and interact with the main narrative in significant ways, showing how central storytelling is to our experience of the world, to our very survival.

The landscape and natural phenomena of this very particular corner of England are lovingly, carefully described, but in a way that enhances rather than detracting from the exciting plot. We can’t understand the rabbits at all in disconnection from their context, and this may be the most important message Adams has to teach us. We humans have distanced and disconnected ourselves from the natural world, with tragic results; but through our imagination we have the power to connect again, and that is a source of hope even in the darkest circumstances.

I’m so glad my son has discovered the joys of this marvelously exciting and transformational journey, and that I get to travel along with him. Have you also been to Watership Down? What did you discover?


Dover Newbery Library

These books were received from the publisher for review consideration. No other compensation was received, and all opinions expressed are my own.

A while ago, I posted about some of the wonderful reprints available from Dover Publications. I’ve had several more sitting on my shelf for some time, and now I’ve finally gotten around to reading them. (Thank you for your patience, Dover!) These are all older Newbery Award or Newbery Honor books that are not so well known today, but worth a look.

The Windy Hill, a Newbery honor book by Cornelia Meigs (better known as the author of Invincible Louisa) is a brief but enjoyable tale of Medford Valley, a New England farming community that’s come under threat due to a family feud. The mystery is slight, the villain’s redemption too sudden and unfounded, but the teenage protagonists are engaging and the setting attractive. Readers must have patience for the interpolated historical tales that interrupt the main narrative, but their relevance does eventually becomes clear, and they provide much of the atmosphere and depth in the story.

Next I read It’s Like This, Cat, the Newbery winner for 1964. Oh, for the New York of yesteryear! A fourteen-year-old boy, alienated from his lawyer father, roams the city along with his alter ego, Cat. It was great fun to follow him from Coney Island to the New York Public Library to the Fulton Fish Market, while watching him grow up and find his own voice. Nostalgia was obviously not the main attraction when this was first published, but it’s a big part of the appeal now — although young readers may be perplexed by many of the outdated cultural references. Still, let them read the terrific opening line and see if it grabs them:

My father is always talking about how a dog can be very educational for a boy. This is one reason I got a cat.

I then leaped into sixteenth-century Portugal with Spice and the Devil’s Cave by Agnes Danforth Hewes, one of her four Newbery honor books. This is a historical adventure story based around the search for a sea route to the Indes, set in the Lisbon of Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama, and other famous explorers. Hewes’s leisurely, florid style hearkens back to a bygone age of historical fiction, but the tale is lively and colorful overall, and allows readers to enter into a fascinating, highly volatile era. Clashing cultures were a key feature of the age of exploration, and there are some interesting perspectives on that story here, though some groups are treated more sympathetically than others. When seen as individuals and not as racial types, the characters have so much energy and passion for their quest that it pulls us along as well.

Finally, the gorgeous Newbery honor book The Heavenly Tenants brought together the mundane and the transcendent, in a simple but lyrical story of how some visitors from the heavens come to take care of a Wisconsin farm while its family is away. This is a lovely introduction to the constellations of the zodiac for children, and readers of all ages will be enthralled by the evocative scratchboard illustrations. The Dover production is a high-quality hardcover on heavy, slightly glossy paper, a beautiful book to treasure for many years.

Once more, thanks to Dover Publications for bringing these gems from the past to my attention. I’ll be looking for others in their “Newbery library” to enjoy in the future.

Classics Club: The Ghost of Thomas Kempe

Penelope Lively, The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1973)

When I read Penelope Lively’s Booker Prize-winning Moon Tiger, I was underwhelmed. Unfortunately, I can’t remember quite why. I think it was because I could not connect emotionally with the main character, and found the novel ultimately empty and dull in spite of the literary skill of the author. This happens to me a lot with acclaimed novels of the last century or so.

However, given that Lively is an anointed Great Writer, I wanted to give her another chance. So I decided to try a very different book, The Ghost of Thomas Kempe. And this time, I could see Lively’s greatness, not so self-consciously occupied with War and Betrayal and other Deep Adult Subjects, but put at the service that most fundamental, most formative of literary forms: the tale for children.

Thomas Kempe is the ghost of a seventeenth-century apothecary whose resting place has been disturbed by renovations when a new family moves into his home. His violent manifestations and messages become a serious problem for ten-year-old James, who inevitably gets blamed for everything by the annoyingly modern-minded people around him. With the help of a local builder who takes a more sensible view of the issue, and a diary from the boy previously visited by this supernatural nuisance, he must find a way to put Kempe to rest once more.

It’s a simple narrative trajectory, but it’s the way Lively treats it with such lovingly crafted detail that makes this a special book. James perfectly captures the essence of Preadolescent Boy, and has the perfect sidekick in Tim, a Disreputable Dog (the only character in the book, Lively explains in a preface, directly taken from life). The intrusion of a spirit from the distant past, causing havoc and upsetting the usual order of things, allows her to explore the mind of a child on the threshold of adulthood, and the way our past selves both pass away and remain forever in some eternal bubble of time.

Funny, finely observed, and written with an unfailing sense of the music of language, The Ghost of Thomas Kempe demonstrates the power of story as embodied idea. Rather than making some dry, intellectual statement about the nature of time and memory, Lively has crafted her thoughts into living pictures that leave the reader free to draw deeper meaning from them … or simply enjoy an entertaining tale. To me, this is the best kind of fiction, lacking the preachiness and snobbery unfortunately often found in so-called “adult” literature (including, I’m afraid, Lively’s own).

The one weak point in the story, I felt, was Thomas Kempe himself, who didn’t fully come to life for me — and not just because he was a ghost. An abrupt turnabout in his character at the climax of the story lacked sufficient motive, and added to the sense of his being a mere narrative device rather than an actual person. A bit more attention to this aspect would have made an excellent novel even better; I couldn’t help thinking that Diana Wynne Jones would have made a better job of it.

In the preface to the Folio Society edition, Lively appears a bit baffled by the success of her early book, and admits that “writing for children left me long ago.” This seems sad to me, and makes me wonder if some spark of vitality had vanished by the time she got around to Moon Tiger. I’m interested to read more of her fiction, and see if I can again be inspired by the creative energy that impressed me here.

Have you read any of Lively’s other novels? What can you recommend?

Classics Club List #18



New Reprint Review: The Winged Girl of Knossos

Erick Berry, The Winged Girl of Knossos (1934)

Ever since Betsy Bird put this long-lost Newbery honor book from 1934 at the top of her list of underrated middle grade books I’ve been dying to read it. And lo and behold, sometimes dreams do come true! Three years later, it’s back in print thanks to the fantastic folks at Paul Dry Books, with an afterword by Betsy herself.

Set in ancient Crete, The Winged Girl of Knossos starts out with a thrilling scene in which our heroine, Inas, goes deep sea diving for sponges — just for the fun of it, not because she needs the work — and the action doesn’t let up from there. She also takes a dramatic turn in the bull ring, helps out her friend Princess Ariadne who has inexplicably fallen for one of the boorish Greek captives, and comes to the rescue of her father Daedalus who is causing a stir with his outlandish inventions (including hang-glider-style wings that permit humans to soar with the birds). Danger abounds, but so do moments of beauty, artistry, and lyricism.

Having just done a reread of Mary Renault’s Theseus books it was interesting to revisit the mythical Crete and Knossos from another point of view. The discoveries at Knossos were quite new when the book was written, and Berry clearly enjoyed coming up with ways to put the fragments together into a cohesive and compelling narrative. She crams in more incidents, characters, and details than would probably fit in a soberly factual story, but her storytelling verve might well inspire young students to learn more about the truth behind the tale. And in the wonderfully energetic Inas, she’s created a heroine for the ages, one of the first and most memorable self-determining girls in the Newbery canon.

As an adult reader, I found myself sometimes missing a more introspective side to Inas’s adventures, and more character development than action, but at the target age range of around 9 to 12 I probably would not have sensed anything lacking. I think I would have been enchanted with this vision of a magical time and place, and would have simply loved flying, diving, sailing, adventuring, and intriguing with Inas.

Erick Berry was a pseudonym of Allena Champlin Best, who trained as an artist and illustrated most of her own books as well as those by her husband, Herbert Best. For this book, as well as several dramatic full-page illustrations, she created charming decorations drawn from Minoan artwork, all of which greatly enhance the text. The Paul Dry edition preserves these, while re-setting the text in an elegant and appropriate style. Overall, this is a rediscovery that no fan of children’s historical fiction, myth-inspired adventure stories, or Newbery-award books should miss.


New Release Review: Bronze and Sunflower

Cao Wenxuan, Bronze and Sunflower (Candlewick, 2017)

A Chinese children’s classic finally comes to the English-speaking world with this gently absorbing tale of sorrow, friendship, and growth. Set in rural China during the Cultural Revolution, it centers on the relationship between Sunflower, a city girl who has come to the country with her artist father, and Bronze, a mute boy from the village whose family takes Sunflower in when tragedy strikes. Their immediate bond only grows stronger as it is tested by poverty, unsympathetic neighbors, and natural disasters.

With its depiction of rural life, from detailed descriptions of making shoes out of reeds to the terrible depredations of a plague of grasshoppers and the resulting famine, Bronze and Sunflower strongly reminded me of the Little House on the Prairie books, and should appeal to the same audience. Tradition and family loyalty are extremely important, foundational as they are in Chinese culture, but the love between Bronze and Sunflower goes beyond that. The mute boy and the orphaned girl show how the flower of true humanity can blossom in the unlikeliest of places, and though separation threatens at the end, what they have gained from one another cannot be destroyed.

The Communist regime is only obliquely referred to — Sunflower’s father was part of the “Cadre School” program of re-education that sent city folk to do hard manual labor in the countryside. The political significance of this is not dwelt upon, nor do the characters occupy themselves much with what is happening elsewhere in China, concerned as they are with merely surviving another winter. The themes and incidents are both specific to a certain time and place, and strongly archetypal, linked to eternal natural cycles of growth, harvest, and decay. For this reason, the book could be a good starting point for a broader study of China with older children, or can be experienced on its own with no special knowledge or background necessary.

Here is an interesting interview with the translator, Helen Wang, who won a major prize for her work on this book (which was only her second translation). Wang has done an excellent job of preserving some of the special character of Wenxuan’s leisurely prose while making it accessible for an English audience. I hope there will be more to come from both author and translator.


New Release Review: The Evil Wizard Smallbone

Delia Sherman, The Evil Wizard Smallbone (2016)

evilwizlgWhen a book gets compared to the work of Diana Wynne Jones, I’m not sure whether to read it or not. On the one hand, there’s the hope that the reading experience will evoke the brilliant qualities of my all-time favorite fantasy author. On the other, there’s the dread that the latter-day work will be derivative, uninspired, or otherwise lackluster, and that the disappointment will simply increase the pain of what I’m missing.

Fortunately, although The Evil Wizard Smallbone does have some scenes and motifs that could have been lifted from a DWJ novel, Sherman works with them in a way that feels fresh and original. When Nick Reynaud, a runaway from an abusive home, stumbles across the “Evil Wizard Bookshop” in the picture-perfect Maine town of Smallbone Cove, he at first wants to stay just one night and move on. But he soon finds out that “evil wizard” is not just a cute name, the bookshop is truly magical, and the animals and humans of the town are not all they seem. He also finds that he himself might have some abilities and potential that his relatives and teachers have overlooked, and that might help to save Smallbone Cove itself.

Though not as mind-stretching or inventive as the best of Diana Wynne Jones, this was an entertaining story with warmth and heart, memorable characters, a fantastic setting (who wouldn’t want to live in a magical bookshop?) and a satisfying conclusion. Nick’s inner and outer journey, in which magic is a counterpart to emotional growth, is sensitively portrayed without being heavily didactic. Unlike lesser fantasy works that just throw magic around like firecrackers, leaving nothing behind, there’s real substance here, for readers both young and old.

Much as I enjoyed Smallbone, there was something about its construction and pacing that bothered me. I think it has to do with the fact that although the bulk of the story belongs to Nick, it kept getting interrupted with other points of view — especially at the beginning, which had me quite confused for a while. Even though these parts were well done in themselves, they somehow felt like a distraction; they were not given enough weight to become a true second/third/fourth story thread, but pulled us away from Nick’s narrative just as I wanted it to be filled out more.

However, this was in the end a minor drawback for me, and it might not bother you at all. If middle grade fantasy is your cup of tea, do read The Evil Wizard Smallbone, and be sure to let me know what you thought. (It’s a perfect choice for both Witch Week and the Reading New England challenge, too!)


Reading New England: Children’s and YA

Reading New England


As a child, I always welcomed summer because I could finally enjoy lots of uninterrupted reading time — so August seemed to be the perfect month to celebrate books for children and young adults in the Reading New England challenge.

Poster from a 1910 stage production

And there are plenty of books to celebrate. New England has long been a favored setting for children’s literature, often in a pastoral or farm-based mode: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Charlotte’s Web, and Understood Betsy spring to mind. The American Revolution is a perpetually popular subject, from classics like Johnny Tremain to the brilliantly revisionist The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, but there are many other aspects of history to explore: the Lowell mills in Lyddie, for example, or maritime pursuits in Carry On, Mister Bowditch.

For those looking for books with a more fantastical flavor, how about The Diamond in the Window, Nick of Time, Magic or Not, or Centaur Rising? On the other hand, more contemporary and realistic stories can be found in books like Homecoming, Anastasia Krupnik, and Maybe a Fox.

So there’s absolutely no excuse not to grab one or more of these terrific books, find a couch or a hammock or a tree house to curl up in, and lose yourself in the wonder of reading.

Besides the ones I’ve already mentioned, I’d really like to sample the following (all of which can be found on the New England Book List):


  • New Hampshire: Absolutely Truly
  • Maine: Small as an Elephant
  • Vermont: Faraway Summer
  • Massachusetts: The Penderwicks
  • Rhode Island: The Art of Keeping Cool
  • Connecticut: Strawberry Hill


Have you read any of these, or do you have any other childhood favorites to recommend? Do please share them with us.

In order to get plenty of reading done, I’m taking a break from blogging for a couple of weeks. I’ll be back around August 16. Enjoy the rest of your summer!


Elizabeth Goudge Day Wrap-up

EGButton2016_edited-1Thank you to all who joined me in celebrating Elizabeth Goudge’s birthday last Sunday, April 24. Whether you read a book in her honor, posted your own review, or just enjoyed the contributions of others, I’m so glad we got to take this day to celebrate an author who has fallen out of fashion, but still has much to offer. On that topic, I’d like to point you toward an excellent article, Elizabeth Goudge: Glimpsing the Liminal by Kari Sperring, which appeared in Strange Horizons back in February. It does a fine job of describing what makes Goudge’s novels so special for many of us. (Thank you to Terri Windling for pointing me to it — and to Helen and Lark for pointing me to Terri’s blog post about Elizabeth Goudge, which was another lovely discovery this week.)

Here are the links I’ve gathered; if I’m missing anything, please let me know. And mark your calendars for next year!

I wrote about The Rosemary Tree:

Old wrongs are brought to light and their pain dispelled, relationships are created and strengthened, and new resolutions for reconciliation and healing are made. Some might find such a tale lacking in bite and conflict, and the solutions Goudge offers too simplistic — but they have hidden depths.

Jane of Beyond Eden Rock also chose The Rosemary Tree:

‘The Rosemary Tree’ is a quiet, slow book, but it speaks profoundly. The spirituality threaded through it may feel old-fashioned or odd to some, but  I think that Elizabeth Goudge is simply addressing the same concerns that might today be addressed in the language of psychology or social concern in a very different language.

GreenDolphinJean of Howling Frog Books ventured into the land of Green Dolphin Street:

Goudge was really quite a genius at taking a hackneyed old plot like “two sisters in love with the same man” and turning it into something unexpected, fresh, and redemptive.

And so did Kelsey of Kelsey’s Notebook, preferring the original title of Green Dolphin Country:

Most books are add-ons to life: you read them and they capture your surface attention, but you’re always conscious of your real life. Green Dolphin Street: not so for me. It became a part of my life while I was reading it, and now that I’m finished, I miss it. I feel like I do when I return home from a great trip.

Helen of She Reads Novels enjoyed The White Witch:

What I loved most about this book were the details of daily village life in the seventeenth century, the beautiful descriptions of the English countryside, and the undercurrents of magic, mystery and mythology which run throughout the story.

Lark of The Bookwyrm’s Hoard loved revisiting The Blue Hills (aka Henrietta’s House), and is still working on her review. I’ll link it here when it’s finished!

ValleySong2Helen of A Gallimaufry felt lucky to find The Valley of Song:

The Valley of Song is just so wonderfully beautiful and so perfectly described, with a sensitivity to inner as well as outer beauty. I would like to quote chunks of it at you all day.

And thanks to a comment from Helen I learned that Terri Windling had written about Elizabeth Goudge: A Sense of Otherness a few days earlier from her Dartmoor studio. She includes beautiful pictures of the area along with quotes from Goudge’s autobiography, The Joy of the Snow, and from Sperring’s essay. I hope you’ll stop by her lovely blog.

Finally, congratulations to the winner of the giveaway, Valentine! She chose to receive Green Dolphin Street from Hendrickson Books, our generous sponsor. They’ve just added Island Magic to their list of Goudge reprints, bringing the total to ten. Whether you take advantage of these, or find them and more at the public library, or hunt down copies in used bookstores or online, I hope you will read something by Elizabeth Goudge over the coming year and join us again on April 24, 2017.

March Magics: Two with witches

Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters (1988)
Diana Wynne Jones, Witch’s Business (1974)

WyrdSistersThis month, I’ve been happy to join in the fun of March Magics, reading and rereading several books by two of my favorite fantasy authors. Both of them excel at playing with tropes from tradition and folklore, in very different but equally inventive and thought-provoking ways. Here, for example, are two books featuring witches and witchcraft that put some spin on those old-fashioned pointy hats and broomsticks.

In Wyrd Sisters Granny Weatherwax, the formidable elder witch we first met in Equal Rites, is joined by the boisterously fecund matriarch Nanny Ogg and young witch-in-training Magrat Garlick. Maiden, mother and crone form a tiny coven in the kingdom of Lancre — the kind of coven where the question “When shall we three meet again?” is answered by “Well, I’m babysitting on Tuesday, but I could manage Friday,” and Magrat is in charge of bringing the snacks (bat-shaped scones with currant eyes). It soon becomes clear that this trio, while humorously riffing on Halloween-costume stereotypes with their messy hair, black clothing, and cauldrons, are “wise women” rather than evil practitioners of the dark arts. Though they like to keep their moral options flexible — “We’re bound to be truthful,” says Granny, “But there’s no call to be honest” — and are not averse to keeping the general populace wary of their powers, they’re on the side of good, of helping rather than hurting. That’s unless there’s someone who truly deserves to be hurt, of course.

The real evil in Lancre, it soon becomes evident, lies in the hearts of the usurping Duke and Duchess, who loudly insist that they had nothing to do with the former king falling downstairs and landing on his own knife. The witches happen to be on the scene when the heir to the throne is being spirited away, and do some spiriting of their own. The wicked nobles become suspicious of the weird sisters and try to frame them through the medium of some traveling players…while the Duke slowly goes mad…and a storm is brewing in the mountains…

If this sounds like a fractured version of several Shakespeare plays, it is, and there’s some clever use of both pseudo- and real Shakespearean dialogue that will amuse anyone with some degree of familiarity therefrom. (Prithee.) There are also multitudinous puns and wordplay, slapstick comedy, twisted twin-based plots, and a Fool who is not as foolish as he seems. In short, it’s a worthy homage to the Bard, but with a sublime silliness of its own. If you haven’t yet experienced Pratchett’s Discworld, this is not a bad place to start; even though it’s not the first one chronologically, I think it provides a fine introduction to many elements of the Disc, and is one of my personal favorites of the series so far.

WitchsBusWitch’s Business, meanwhile, starts in our own world rather than an alternate reality, and at first seems to have nothing to do with magic at all. The opening situation is a familiar one: two children short of pocket money attempt to start a “business” to earn some change. But their field of choice (OWN BACK LTD) soon brings them into conflict with Biddy Iremonger, who turns out to be something more than the slightly mad old lady they’ve always considered her.

Indeed, Biddy is not outwardly-sinister-yet-inwardly-benign like Pratchett’s witches. She injects a rather chilling touch of evil into the otherwise mundane plot of children making new friends, hunting for treasure, and getting into trouble. In this, her first published children’s novel, Jones is already a master at mixing fantastical and realistic elements, making it believable that malevolent forces can lurk just on the other side of what we’re willing to perceive. But what I really appreciate about her is that she also makes it clear without the least bit of preachiness that these forces are not just an outer threat, but live within each one of us. The battle to overcome them is one that we all must fight, and stories are the primary way we’ve always been instructed in how to do that. Both Pratchett and Jones give us new stories that address age-old human concerns and conflicts, in such a light and entertaining way that we may never realize we’re learning something. That’s why their books are so marvelous for any age.

Compared to some of Jones’s later books, this is a comparatively slight, uncomplicated story, but there is much going on beneath the surface. I’ll point you to Chris’s fascinating review to learn about some of the nuances, and appreciate just how brilliant Diana Wynne Jones really is. Thanks again to Kristen for this month of celebration; it’s always a pleasure to share my enthusiasm for these authors with others.



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In Brief: Three from the Theatre

As I was in search of light reading over the holidays, I grabbed a few random books off my shelf that turned out to share a common theatrical theme. I’m always fascinated by backstage stories, and for a few days it was a pleasure to get to vicariously share in the thrill of putting on a show. Though uneven in their quality, each of these books has something to offer for those of us who are enticed by “the swish of the curtain.”


The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith
None of Smith’s other adult novels quite measure up to I Capture the Castle, but they offer certain pleasures of their own. In this one, narrator Mouse (we never learn her real name) is prompted by a reunion with old friends to reminisce about how she met them. Her brashly naive attempts to break into the London theatre of the twenties — undeterred by a total lack of talent — give us a priceless glimpse into that bygone era, of which Smith had ample knowledge through her career as an unsuccessful actress and successful playwright. It’s when the plot veers from theatre to romance that things go awry, and Mouse’s naivete begins to pall; I wished she would mature through her experiences, but it became evident that even forty years later she never had. With a different ending this could have been a gem, but even with its flaws it’s worth a look.
• Corsair, 2012 (originally 1965)


The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown
This book about seven theatre-mad English children who start their own company and put on elaborate shows sounded like more fun than it was to actually read. Somehow it had escaped me that the author — who went on to write several sequels and other books — was only a teenager when this was first written, and it definitely shows in the flat style and cardboard characters. There’s very little plot structure, conflict, or tension; the children effortlessly and somewhat incredibly produce everything from original musical comedies to contemporary drama to Shakespeare, fiercely opposed by their cartoon-ogre parents but triumphing (of course) in the end. Noel Streatfeild did this sort of thing much better, so I’m not sure how much effort I’ll make to seek out Brown’s other writings. An interesting if immature curiosity.
• Hodder, 1998 (Originally 1941, revised 1971)

UnderfootShowUnderfoot in Show Business by Helene Hanff
Now for one that didn’t disappoint: After recently rereading 84, Charing Cross Road I was curious to look again at Helene Hanff’s earlier memoir and see if it was as good as I remembered. It certainly was, and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who is interested in a humorous take on Broadway history, the New York literary scene, summer stock, artists’ colonies, or even early television; Hanff gives us her sideline impressions of all of them, from the time when she was trying to make it as a playwright but having to earn a living in multiple other ways. You’ll cheer for her even as you know her efforts are doomed to failure; she’s so funny and unpretentious you can’t help but adore her.
• Harper and Row, 1962