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Posts Tagged ‘children’s books’

Historical novelist and children’s writer Rosemary Sutcliff‘s obituary in The Independent newspaper.

Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novels opened the eyes of a generation of children to the past. They also set a new standard for children’s historical fiction because of their insight, passion and commitment.

Sutcliff was a demanding writer who expected a lot from her readers which is why her books are also wholly satisfying for adults. She evokes time and place with an incredibly sure touch and – once she had found her true voice with The Eagle of the Ninth in 1954 – a sharp ear for the dialogue of the past. (more…)

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From a now discontinued blog by a Canadian, Robin Rowland:

The main theme of many of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books is the life of the soldier. Her father was a naval officer and she grew up in a military atmosphere. Although she was physically handicapped and spent part of her life in wheel chair, she captures the uncertain life of the intelligent human being who must become a fighter whether a member of a regular armed force or a warrior band or an individual trying to survive.

Sutlcliff had a unique viewpoint on the military, the insider who is also a somewhat removed observer, a combination of the kid sister although she had no siblings, the know-it-all cousin or neighbor, and the chronicler somewhat like Princess Irulan in Dune. Marcus Aquila Flavius thought he would be a career soldier, then finds the wound in his leg has changed his life….a fact of life facing many soldiers today. His descendent, Aquila, deserts his army to defend his home, becomes a slave and suffers throughout his life with what would, a millenia and half later, be called post traumatic stress disorder. Her soldiers are rounded human beings, with conflicting loyalties mixed with personal and family problems, always facing uncertainty in campaigns.

An academic might say that all this was reflection of the decline of the British Empire. Sutlcliff had liked Kipling as a kid and it could be said that her books are the Kipling stories of that declining empire. But as our society has become more uncertain in the years since she wrote, the books are more relevant than ever.

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A Crown of Wild Olive was the new title given to the Rosemary Sutcliff story The Truce of the Games (1971) when it was re-published ,in 1972 in the USA, in an omnibus collection of stories Heather, Oak and Olive. That collection also included two other stories: The Chief”s Daughter and  A Circlet of Oak Leaves.

Omnibus book of Rosemary Sutcliff

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When the BBC adapted and broadcast Rosemary Sutcliff‘s historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth in 1977, the BBC Radio Times wrote about her approach to children, writing, the Romans and her hero Marcus—’part of me was in love with him’.

Her passion for the Romans stemmed from her childhood. Her mother read aloud to her from books like Rudyard Kipling‘s Puck Of Pook’s Hill.  His three Roman tales entranced her.

I didn’t read myself till the last possible minute, about nine. I was brought up on Arthur Weigall’s Wanderings In Roman Britain and Wanderings In Anglo-Saxon Britain. He mentions this eagle dug up at Silchester and I’ve been fascinated by it since I was five.

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I have tracked down a long-out-of-print, brief story by Rosemary Sutcliff which is new to me. In a 1967 Bodley Head collection The House of the Nightmare and Other Eerie Tales, chosen by Kathleen Lines, The Man Who Died at Sea is a story about Rosemary Sutcliff’s mother (my great-aunt) and her Second Sight.  I am going to re-produce it here on the blog over several posts. It starts:

My mother was not quite like most people’s mothers. She came, as far as anybody knew, of good hard-headed North Country Saxon on both sides, but should by rights have been Irish or Highland Scots. She had what people called the ‘Celtic temperament’, up one instant and down the next, and making sure that my father and I were up and down with her. When she was down, it was as though a brown fog hung over the whole house, and when she started going up again, it was as though the sun had come out and the birds started singing. Living with her had never a dull moment, but it could be rather unnerving, for she had, unquestionably, a touch of the Second Sight, another thing one expects of a Celt more than a Saxon.

She saw our beloved old dog lying in his accustomed lace before the hall fire, six or so weeks after he died; and she heard things—the same old dog padding around  the house, even years later; footsteps and voices that weren’t there for other people; and occasionally she knew that certain things were going to happen, but they happened often enough for my father and I not to like it very much when she predicted something bad. (It generally seems to be future trouble and not rejoicings, that shows itself to the person with Second Sight.)

To be continued…..

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Ursula Le Guin book cover(Adapted from first post: April 25, 2012)

On Twitter … Nick Cook quotes fantasy and science fiction author Ursula Le Guin on writing for children: “Sure, it’s simple, writing for kids. Just as simple as bringing them up!”  I was minded to find the context for the comment. It was was new to me, and Rosemary did not have children, just her appallingly untrained dogs, but I imagined she would have agreed.

Mind you, Rosemary Sutcliff did firmly resist using the word ‘kids’ for children; a kid, she used to say to me, is a young goat.

Anyway, the context is this: Le Guin wrote in an essay first published in 1979.  (more…)

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Rosemary Sutcliff, author of The Eagle of the Ninth, drew on a ‘large lump of unlived childhood’ as she tried to show in her children’s books that good beats evil, and satisfaction can come from doing ‘right.  Because of  Still’s Disease she missed much usual childhood activity with long bouts of illness and many lengthy hospital stays.

I was trained at art school, but then the desire to scribble came over me. I got my interest in history from my mother who had a sort of minstrel’s, rather than historian’s knowedge. Inaccurate, but full of colourful legend. I disliked history at school.

They do say that to be a successful children’s writer one has to have a large lump of unlived childhood in one. I certainly think I have that.

You have to show children that good does overcome evil, but that does not necessarily mean that the old lady you helped then paid for your ballet lessons. The satisfaction should just be coming from the fact that you have done right.

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Veronica Horwell wrote about the life and writing of historical novelist and writer for children and young adults Rosemary Sutcliff with affectionate insight in The Guardian newspaper shortly after her death in 1992.

Rosemary Sutcliff did not spare the child, the raven and the wolf gorging on the battlefield dead. No softening, or cheapening, of violence. When you opened her books, you went easily with her into the days she described so immediately: she noticed the rhythms of rain on glass as children do, felt the same warm amazement at snow. You might not know what was this cake called a barley bannock they seemed always to eat in her books, but you recognised the domestic concentration at dinner-cooking time.

And then you would gulp her titles—“Please Miss, have you got any more by ‘er?”—past bedtime, in the last of the summer afterglow. You were caught: and she did not let you off the actual shape of life and death. The fear, the physical pain, the disappointments, the ageing, the dying. (There was an afternoon, I remember, when the brutal end of the Norseman warrior Ari Knudson of The Shield Ring bleached out the heat of a holiday sun, and another, bleaker, when nothing seemed real but the Roman legionary, turned renegade, speaking his very last Latin words and saluting The Eagle of the Ninth before fading into another misty life.)

She did not assume you were ever too young to know the powerful, if frightening, truth—that nothing iswholly new, even the brief freshness of a new generation; that continual change, but also repetition, are history. We do not tell children these things so much now: we do not recount the generations. But reading her, you waited excitedly for that Roman ring with a dolphin cut in its emerald which runs in a thread of lineal descent from book to book, from life to life.So history was lives? It was always different, always the same, and the pattern only visible after? Those who read Sutcliff don’t recall formally learning about the gods Adonis, Mithras, Lugh of the Shining Spear and the Christos: we seem always to have known them. Years of art history never made as clear as she did, in two pages, the difference in the souls of cultures between the rigid ornament of Rome and the Celtic patterns that flow and whorl like life itself. You had access through her, as never since through the heritage industry, into time past when it was time present. When the archaeologist Catherine Hills once noted that the battered Roman eagle found at Silchester was probably awaiting the contempt of the scrap furnace, she did sadly, almost apologetically. For her, as for the rest of us, he seemed a talisman of the knowledge of that departed civilisation, restored to his story by Sutcliff. And the Sutcliff story was, as legends are, almost closer to a truth.

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Rosemary Sutcliff’s books are popular in Japan, (although I am not always accurate in judging which cover is which book—on Twitter today I have been told that what I, via Google, thought was The Mark of the Horse Lord was actually The Lantern Bearers …).

I am reminded that I was surprised to discover a few years ago that  Her Imperial Majesty The Empress Michiko of Japan linked Rosemary Sutcliff,  J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, and Philippa Pearce in the same breath in her keynote speech to the 26th (2001) Congress of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).

Keep linking children and books…Books are children’s valuable friends and are a help to them. So that children have firm roots within themselves; so that children have strong wings of joy and of imagination; so that children know love, accepting that at times love calls for pain; so that children see and face the challenge of life’s complexities, fully taking on the life given to each, and finally, upon this earth which is our common home, become, one day, true instruments of peace.

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Julia Eccleshare, expert on children’s and young adult’s fiction and literature (and Book Doctor at The Guardian), recently wrote a piece for theguardian.com with recommendations for historical fiction for children and teenagers which is not about the world wars. Of Rosemary Sutcliff she said:

In her many novels, Rosemary Sutcliff charted the making of Britain from the simple living of the upland shepherds of the Bronze Age in Warrior Scarlet to Elizabethan England in The Queen Elizabeth Story. She concentrated particularly on Roman Britain reflecting the many attitudes and experiences around the coming together of different cultures as the Romans and the indigenous population learned to live together and to blend their two very different ways of life.

In a loose series of titles which includes The Eagle of the Ninth and Dawn Wind Rosemary Sutcliff writes of Romano-British occupation and skirmish but she also details the home life of both sides describing the cooking, weaving and celebrations of the British tribes and the more advanced home comforts of the Roman invaders such as the installation of central heating in their villas.

Other authors she recommended were: Geoffrey TreaseLeon Garfield, Jill Paton Walsh, Berlie Doherty, Sally Nicholls, Adele Geras, John Rowe Townsend, and Melvin Burgess .

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