The Water Babies

By Charles Kingsley

Rating: 2 stars

This is a book that I tried to read many times as a child but could never get through the first chapter. Seeing it on the shelf while visiting my parents I was determined to give it another shot. Although I got through it, to be honest it really wasn’t worth it.

Tom is a young chimney sweep who, through a series of improbable events, becomes a water-baby and goes thorough all sorts of adventures, all of which have morals to teach, before becoming a creature of the land again, as a grown man. It is a Victorian moral fable and although it’s stated that it’s aimed at children, and has a fairly simplistic style, it is interspersed with philosophical tracts and concepts that would go right above the head of most children.

It also has a very dismissive attitude towards Americans, Jews and (particularly) the Irish (although seems keen on the Scots) which makes for some unpleasant reading.

I just couldn’t really engage with this book at all, and only its short length got me through it, although my edition does have some fantastic illustrations by Lindsey Sambourne. There’s enough other good Victorian literature for children that you don’t have to read this one.

Book details

ISBN: 9781853261480
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions
Year of publication: 1863

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

By Mark Twain

Rating: 4 stars

This is a book that I’ve never actually read before but I’m glad that I finally got around to it. It’s a gentle adventure story of the eponymous Tom and his friends and the pleasures and pains of childhood in the American South. Tom is well-drawn and easy to sympathise with with a freedom that children today can only dream about. Having read it now, I enjoyed it, but I think that if I’d read it when I was a child I’d probably have loved it.

It’s very obviously a product of its time in its treatment of black people, with Tom and his friends reflecting the opinions of the time — something that I’m not entirely sure how I would have dealt with if I had read it when I was younger. I believe that Twain addresses this later in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn which should really also be on my to-read list.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140350036
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year of publication: 1875

The Original “Oz” Series (Oz, #1-15)

By L. Frank Baum

Rating: 0 stars

I’ve read some these, but not all. I do like the series though.

Book details

ISBN: 9780954840136
Publisher: Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax
Year of publication: 1900

The World of Winnie-the-Pooh (Winnie-the-Pooh, #1-2)

By A.A. Milne

Rating: 5 stars

I’m not sure that there’s much to say about this book about everybody’s favourite Bear With Very Little Brain other than to say that it’s charming and fun, and I can imagine it would be lovely to read to an actual little person.

Book details

ISBN: 9780525444473
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Year of publication: 1926

The Jungle Book

By Rudyard Kipling

Rating: 3 stars

I’ve never read The Jungle Book before (although I used to love the Disney film) so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I knew about Kipling’s views on empire and so forth, but this was quite a charming book of fables, using the stories to provide morals. Less than half of it is taken up by Mowgli’s adventures with the rest being unrelated short stories, including the mongoose Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’s fight against the snakes and the white seal Kotick’s search for a safe haven for seals, where humans won’t hunt them.

Book details

ISBN: 9780812504699
Publisher: Tor Classics
Year of publication: 1893


By Andre Norton

Rating: 3 stars

Troy Horan is a Dippleman, a refugee living in a restricted area on a planet after his own world was “appropriated” as a military base during an interstellar war. He gets a short contract working with a luxury pet shop and finds himself slowly dragged into a murky web of plots and subterfuge in which imported Terran animals seem to play a central role.

I felt that this was quite sophisticated for a children’s book. The world building was quite good, with a lot of depth and the characters were all quite interesting. A large portion of the pleasure planet that the book happens on is a preserved wilderness, and the protagonist is from a similar area and the impression is that these are things that the author cares about and recur in Norton’s work a lot.

Book details

ISBN: 9780345318497
Publisher: Del Rey
Year of publication: 1961

The House at Pooh Corner (Winnie-the-Pooh, #2)

By A.A. Milne

Rating: 5 stars

I’m actually not sure if I’ve read this before. I have vague memories of bits here and there, but I don’t know if they were read to me, if they’re from the Disney film or if I actually did read it. Either way, this is a very lovely book about the Bear with Little Brain and his friends. A charming read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780525444442
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Year of publication: 1928

The Earthsea Trilogy

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Rating: 3 stars

A Wizard of Earthsea

The boy Sparrowhawk leaves his home of Gont and travels to the Island of the Wise to learn wizardry, but in his youth and arrogance he accidentally unleashes a great evil on the world which he must set right. I quite enjoyed this book, especially the use of magic of names, but felt that the language was somewhat forced. It felt sort of forced-Tolkien-ian and jarred a little bit for me.

The Tombs of Atuan

In this one, Sparrowhawk travels to the island of Atuan to try and retrieve the lost half of a great ring said to be able to bring peace to the whole of Earthsea. I liked this better than Wizard. The writing felt more assured and LeGuin seemed to have found her feet and was more assured. I also liked the character of the priestess Tenar and how her plight was handled.

The Farthest Shore

The final book of the Earthsea trilogy sees Sparrowhawk and the young prince Arren set out to find the cause of the malaise that is draining the will of the people and drawing magic out of the world. This one felt bleak from the start and it continued in that vein. It’s a great adventure story, spanning great chunks of the world of Earthsea and the final confrontation is appropriately apocalyptic and bittersweet.

In all, I’m glad I’ve read these books now and wish I had read them when I was younger and they may have made more of an impression on me. I think that the middle book was my favourite, having a less irritating Sparrowhawk than the first and less bleakness than the third, it was the Goldilocks book :).

Book details

ISBN: 9780140050936
Publisher: Penguin Books Limited
Year of publication: 1972

The Twits

By Roald Dahl

Rating: 5 stars

The horrible story of Mr and Mrs Twit and how they get what’s coming to them. A great fun story, complemented, as always, by Quentin Blake’s excellent drawings. I really enjoy Dahl’s wicked sense of humour and look forward to the villains getting their appropriate sticky end

Book details

ISBN: 9780140314069
Publisher: Puffin
Year of publication: 1980

The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury

By Bill Watterson

Rating: 5 stars

I love Calvin and Hobbes and this collection, which I won at an Io ceilidh raffle, was great fun to read. The idealised childhood and the ever-present uncertainty as to Hobbes’ status in life just add to the charm.

Book details

ISBN: 9780751507959
Publisher: Sphere
Year of publication: 1990

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