Top 10 Children’s Classics; Guest Post by Anna James
19 September, 2018
Top 10 Children’s Classics; Guest Post by Anna James
Today is my stop on the Tilly and the Book Wanderers blog tour and I’m here today with a guest post by the author: Anna James
About the Book
Eleven year old Tilly has lived above her grandparents’ bookshop ever since her mother disappeared shortly after she was born. Like the rest of her family, Tilly loves nothing more than to escape into the pages of her favourite stories.
One day Tilly realises that classic children’s characters are appearing in the shop through the magic of ‘book wandering’ – crossing over from the page into real life. With the help of Anne of Green Gables and Alice in Wonderland. Tilly is determined to solve the mystery of what happened to her mother all those years ago, so she bravely steps into the unknown, unsure of what adventure lies ahead and what dangers she may face.
Pages & Co is about a girl called Tilly who lives in her grandparents bookshop. When characters from some of her favourite stories start cropping up in the shop she realises there is magic afoot, and she then discovers she can travel inside the books herself. I had a lot of fun rereading a lot of my favourite children’s classics and deciding on which characters and stories to have Tilly visit. I didn’t use all the books listed below (several are still in copyright!) but these are my ten favourites (for want of a criteria, I’ve only chosen books that are more than fifty years old) and I’d recommend all of them if you fancy discovering some new old books! I’ve included a favourite quote from all of them to give you a taste…
Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery (1908)
“There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.”
Not only my favourite children’s classic but one of my all time favourite. The book is the story of a young orphan who is accidentally sent to the home of an older brother and sister who were hoping for a boy, but she ends up winning them over through her escapades. Anne Shirley was a formative character for me, and is for Tilly as well. Her optimism, kindness and love of learning and words makes her a timeless, brilliantly proto-feminist character.
Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne (1926)
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
These stories, and AA Milne’s poetry, were a key part of my childhood because they are some of my Dad’s favourites. The audio books of Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner were on constant repeat in the car growing up, and I love the idea of families listening to the audio book of Pages & Co (read my Aysha Kala) on their family holidays. Milne’s sense of rhythm and language is second to none, and the stories are funny, satisfying adventures, but also incredibly moving, profound, and hopeful.
The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton (1943)
“I don’t believe in things like that – fairies or brownies or magic or anything. It’s old-fashioned.’ ‘Well, we must be jolly old-fashioned then,’ said Bessie. ‘Because we not only believe in the Faraway Tree and love our funny friends there, but we go to see them too.”
Okay so maybe we don’t read Enid Blyton for the lyrical writing or a particularly profound turn of phrase but her sense of adventure is limitless. I read and reread the Faraway tree books endlessly, and I think that’s where the idea of being able to travel to endless new worlds from one magical place lodged in my brain, and mixed with a life of books is how Pages & Co emerged, a bookshop where you can travel into any story you like. While some elements of Blyton have dated badly, the fundamental idea of climbing up a tree to a new world is timeless.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (1945)
“I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that.”
I think reading Pippi Longstocking might have been my first slice of feminism. Super strong and very independent, Pippi is an irrepressible, mischievous, big-hearted girl who lives by herself, causing no end of havoc for the adults around her while providing the local children with adventure, confidence and creativity. With her red pigtails and strong sense of self, she’s a bit like an anarchic Swedish Anne Shirley.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)
“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”
The Secret Garden was a book that I nearly used in Pages & Co, but decided I only needed one Frances Hodgson Burnett book, and A Little Princess was the right one for Tilly’s story (more on that below), but my heart lies with The Secret Garden. A story of magic, nature and opening your heart, it also has the rare honour of having an excellent screen adaption, in the 1993 film starring Maggie Smith. I’m still hopeful I might find the right place for stubborn Mary Lennox and the green-fingered Dickon in a future Pages & Co book…
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (1961)
“But just because you can never reach it, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth looking for.”
This is the only book on the list that I first read as an adult, but it’s managed to find just as equal a place in my heart and my brain. The Phantom Tollbooth follows bored Milo as he is transported to the Kingdom of Wisdom where he meets watchdog, Tock, and sets off to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason. Full of word play, eccentricity and wonder, this is a sheer delight for anyone who loves language, and Juster’s way of making idioms comes to life was a big inspiration for the bookwandering world.
Five Children and It by E. Nesbit (1902)
“Trying not to believe things when in your heart you are almost sure they are true, is as bad for the temper as anything I know.”
E. Nesbit’s most famous book is arguably The Railway Children, which I do like very much, but my favourite of hers is the slightly darker, more sarcastic The Five Children and It, which is where we meet the Psammead, a very grumpy, rather ugly sand fairy who begrudgingly grants wishes for five siblings. These wishes invariably go awry because the Psammead does not really like doing it and chooses to take the wishes very literally. Sharp and clever, but still full of heart and adventure, it’s got a bit more bite to it than The Railway Children.
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Alice in Wonderland is the very first book that Tilly bookwanders inside. Many of the books on this list are very famous, but this is probably the most well known of them all. I wanted to use a story that most readers would be familiar with in some way to establish the rules of bookwandering, so I didn’t have to do too much scene setting and could jump right in to the action. The Mad Hatter’s tea party is such an iconic scene and it was both useful from a plot perspective but also irresistible to play with as a writer.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)
“All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.”
Another book full of quiet wisdom, the Wind in the Willows is an incredibly charming, warm-hearted read that celebrates simple pleasures, and the power of friendship and forgiveness. My first draft of Pages & Co had a scene where Tilly and Oskar have a picnic on the river with Ratty and Mole but my editor, quite rightly, pointed out that nothing much happened, plot-wise. I had to fight the urge constantly to not just choose scenes that were essentially wish fulfilment on my part, and the scenes I would most like to bookwander into, and instead engage my writer brain and think about what had the right combination of magic and plot.
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1905)
“Never did she find anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book. People who are fond of books know the feeling of irritation which sweeps over them at such a moment. The temptation to be unreasonable and snappish is one not easy to manage.”
Sara is a heroine for book lovers, she survives her incredibly difficult situation by reading and her own imagination, something she has in common with Anne Shirley, and Tilly. Tilly’s mum, Bea, disappeared when she was little and Tilly uses A Little Princess, Bea’s favourite book, to feel close to her. I don’t want to divulge spoilers for A Little Princess, or for Pages & Co, but one thing I would say is that the ending of the film version is different from Burnett’s book so watch out…
About the Author
Anna James is a writer and journalist living in London who was Book News Editor at The Bookseller magazine and was Literary Editor of Elle UK. Anna has also written for The Pool, The LA Times, The Financial Times and The Independent, as well as making bookish YouTube videos as A Case For Books. She hosts literary events and panels and is the co-founder and host of the YA Salon in London. Anna was shortlisted for the Kim Scott Walwyn Award for Women in Publishing in 2015, and the London Book Fair Trailblazers Award in 2016.