Puffin books have redesigned 20 classic books, covering 80 years of children’s fiction — bringing together fairy tales and fantasies, historical adventures and comic mis-adventures, in A Puffin Book list 20 classics.
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Latest collection of reviews in three words of Rosemary Sutcliff’s internationally-acclaimed historical novel for ‘children aged 8 to 88′ (her phrase), The Eagle of the Ninth (her ‘best beloved book’), set in Roman Britain. Interesting that very few words have been used more than once. (I’ve excluded names and places):
Ancient History, Bleak, Classic, Courageous, Dramatic, Engrossing, Enthralling, Evocative, Friendship, Gripping, Haunting, Heart-stirring, Honour, I-love-it, I-was-there, Imagery, Imagined, Inspirational, Inspires, Life-affirming, Makes-history-live, Nostalgic, Optimistic, Real History, Really-rather-good, Reborn, Resigned, Resolute, Restored, Spine-tingling, Tact, Thrilling, Understanding, Uplifting, Valiant, Vivid
Rosemary Sutcliff‘s 1954 children’s classic The Eagle of the Ninth (still in print more than 50 years on) is the first of a series of novels in which Sutcliff, who died in 1992, explored the cultural borderlands between the Roman and the British worlds – “a place where two worlds met without mingling” as she describes the British town to which Marcus, the novel’s central character, is posted.
Marcus is a typical Sutcliff hero, a dutiful Roman who is increasingly drawn to the British world of “other scents and sights and sounds; pale and changeful northern skies and the green plover calling”. This existential cultural conflict gets even stronger in later books like The Lantern Bearers and Dawn Wind, set after the fall of Rome, and has modern resonance. But Sutcliff was not just a one-trick writer.
The range of her novels spans from the Bronze Age and Norman England to the Napoleonic wars. Two of her best, The Rider of the White Horse and Simon, are set in the 17th century and are marked by Sutcliff’s unusually sympathetic (for English historical novelists of her era) treatment of Cromwell and the parliamentary cause. Sutcliff’s finest books find liberal-minded members of elites wrestling with uncomfortable epochal changes. From Marcus Aquila to Simon Carey, one senses, they might even have been Guardian readers.
Michael Rosen commented on this editorial:
Interesting that she was writing about the end of an empire at the end of…er…an empire. And does the search for the lost legion echo/refract Conrad’s Heart of Darkness?
Some of us drank in The Eagle of the Ninth two ways: once as a BBC Children’s Hour serial and second time as the book. I can remember hurrying to get home to hear it – moody, dangerous, mysterious – a quest for something real but long gone, a possible solution to an unsolved story…and somehow it had something to do with events that happened a long time ago just where you walked when we were on holiday: on moors, or on wet fields where we were camping. The book made a connection for me between a past and that particular present.
The Oxford University Press are the original publishers of Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novels for children. So it worries me greatly me to learn that in their most recent Junior English Dictionary they have removed a wealth of words about nature, many of which appear in those self-same books—and probably in other more recent children’s books which OUP are happy to profit from. They have removed:
adder, ass, beaver, boar, budgerigar, bullock, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox, oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren.
acorn, allotment, almond, apricot, ash, bacon, beech, beetroot, blackberry, blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran, bray, bridle, brook, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip, crocus, dandelion, diesel, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender, leek, liquorice, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy,porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow
It is also astonishing that they have thrown out such words as:
carol, cracker, holly, ivy, mistletoe
dwarf, elf, goblin
abbey, aisle, altar, bishop, chapel, christen, disciple, minister, monastery, monk, nun, nunnery, parish, pew, psalm, pulpit, saint, sin, devil, vicar
Apparently they have made room for such words as these instead:
blog, broadband, MP3 player, voicemail, attachment, database, export, chatroom, bullet point, cut and paste, analogue
celebrity, tolerant, vandalism, negotiate, interdependent, creep, citizenship, childhood, conflict, common sense, debate,
EU, drought, brainy, boisterous, cautionary tale, bilingual, bungee jumping, committee, compulsory, cope, democratic,
allergic, biodegradable, emotion, dyslexic, donate, endangered, Euro
apparatus, food chain, incisor, square number, trapezium, alliteration, colloquial, idiom, curriculum, classify,
chronological, block graph
Brian Alderson founded the Children’s Books History Society; he was once Children’s Books Editor for The Times newspaper. Writing in Books for Keeps in 2010, he recalled an anecdote once told to librarians by Rosemary Sutcliff in the 1950s: ‘That’s not a sand-castle,’ said the busy child on the beach, ‘I’m building a temple to Mithras.’
In all probability the temple-builder’s enthusiasm for the work came from hearing its famed serialisation on ‘Children’s Hour’ but (perhaps unlike television serials) the wireless version sent listeners straight back to the book to get the author’s full-dress narrative to go with the spoken one.
They were keen readers, those librarians – our first critics, long before the academic brigades were mustered – and for them, at that time, the landing of The Eagle of the Ninth had something of the force of a revelation. True, it did not come from an entirely unknown author. (more…)
Someone asks on Twitter:
“Suggestions please: great fiction for 10-year-old with very inquiring mind. She’s finished Potter, loves Morpurgo, didn’t like Hunger Games”.
Someone replies to suggest. Rosemary Sutcliff.
SO……Which in particular?