Tag Archives: Childhood Books

Shirley Hughes, Clara Vulliamy, and Childhood

Shirley Hughes’ illustrations were so all-pervasive in my childhood that I only noticed they were hers as an adult. As a child, the books just were. And they were wonderful. My favourite picture book forever is Dogger, which is very obviously Shirley Hughes, but it’s all the other favourites that I didn’t notice that probably had a deeper effect.

As part of the Oxford Children’s Book Group I got to visit a children’s book collector’s house earlier this year. Entire rooms filled floor to ceiling with books from the last hundred years. I could happily have spent weeks browsing the shelves, but we had only a couple of hours and in that time I caught sight of a few books from my childhood that I’d previously forgotten. One was a hardback with a very distinctive orange colour:
Flutes and Cymbals

A collection of poetry called Flutes and Cymbals. I loved the snippets of words, but the illustrations were the main attraction. “Illustrated by SHIRLEY HUGHES” the cover proclaims, in capitals no less. It’s now on my wish list of second-hand books to collect.

A series of books that I remembered from my childhood and re-bought were the “Stories for [X] Year Olds” collected by Sara & Stephen Corran. Again, it wasn’t until I looked for the books that I saw the illustrator: Shirley Hughes. I devoured these books when I was young. I think the ages on the covers appealed to me because I was reading “Stories for Nine-Year-Olds” aged six, having gone through the series from five-year-olds in sequence!

Stories for [..] Year Olds

Fast forward to adulthood and having my own children and I’m embarrassed to say that Shirley Hughes wasn’t on the top of my list of authors to buy. It’s only since browsing and re-remembering childhood favourites that I’ve realised how she was always there for me, in my comfort reads. I only discovered Alfie as an adult, and “Annie Rose Is My Little Sister” brought me to tears. Sniffles. She’s now always there for my daughters, and they are smitten.

Almost two years ago, I discovered a new-to-me author / illustrator via the wonder of Twitter. She was such a friendly lady, chatty and full of joy. Her blog was full of gorgeous illustrations, so I bought The Bear With Sticky Paws… And found not only a wonderful talent but books that my daughters asked to be read again, and again, and again. Books that I loved to read, stories that held interest and were a joy. I also found a truly lovely person.

And because I’m somewhat slow (and because it didn’t make a jot of difference to talent and lovliness), it was a little while before I realised that Clara Vulliamy also happened to have an extremely well-known mother! Mother and daughter’s books are now entwined for me as the perfect accompaniment to any childhood. Each new Clara Vulliamy book gets gasps of delight in this household, and my daughters may be unique in referring to Shirley Hughes’ books as “Clara’s mummy’s books” 🙂

This year, something wonderful happened in the world of children’s literature. Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy collaborated on a book. Not just one book, but the start of a series. Neither a picture book or a chapter book, but a wonderful highly-illustrated hybrid perfect for early readers to tackle as well as perfect for reading aloud. Enter Dixie O’Day, and the exciting childhood…

Dixie O'Day: In The Fast Lane: Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy (Bodley Head, 2013)

1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up, part 1

1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up

I discovered 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up via @homedad when Fiction Fridays started almost a year ago. I loved the look of it so much that I asked for a copy for my Christmas present. Since then, I’ve flicked through it but not really read it fully but this post from Honey Bee Books has inspired me to look through the book more and see how many I’ve read, and how many we have in the house!

The book is split into age ranges: 0-3; 3+; 5+; 8+; and 12+. Unsurprisingly most of the books we have are in the 3+ and 5+ sections. My only problem with the age ranges (despite wondering why some books are in particular sections) is that the first section is 0-3 instead of 0+, because a lot of the books in there can be enjoyed by age 3+children too. However, that’s semantics and doesn’t detract from the lovely collection of books.

Do I agree with them all? Of course not! My 1001 would be different, but this 1001 is varied and covers a wide range whereas I’d possibly be more narrow having a preference for fantasy 😉

Starting backwards, because we have the least books in the older sections, here are the books from 1001 children’s book that are currently under my roof…

There are 270 books in this section. I have read 15 of them. We currently have 12 in the house.

I was quite surprised how few books I’d read in the 12+ section considering I thought I liked YA, but it seems a lot of what I like comes in the 8+ section. I’m also surprised to see Mister Monday (Garth Nix) here because to me it is more of an 8+ book; also I would have put Sabriel in the 12+ section but that’s nowhere to be seen. I think Nix’s Old Kingdom series definitely deserved a place and am surprised that the Keys to the Kingdom was chosen instead, much as I also love them.

Many of the 12+ section are classic novels which I never really enjoyed (e.g. The Three Musketeers, Little Women, The Call of the Wild…) or more modern teenage reads that I am too old for (e.g. The Illustrated Mum, Noughts and Crosses, How I Live Now).

For the collected books in the picture above, included in the 1001 list were The Hound of the Baskervilles; The Fellowship of the Ring; and The Dark is Rising. We also have the full Northern Lights and Bartimaeus trilogies plus all seven Keys to the Kingdom books. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee) and Private Peaceful (Michael Morporgo) missed the photo call.

There are 362 books in this section. I have read 68 of them. We currently have 46 in the house.

This is the largest section which doesn’t surprise me as there is a huge difference between the average eight year old and the average eleven year old – the transition from primary to secondary school for a start. The range of books is therefore quite extensive.

I’m surprised to find The Wolves in the Walls (Neil Gaiman ) and Der Struwwelpeter (Heinrich Hoffman) in the 8+ section as I’d put them younger. Well, not so surprised by Der Struwwelpeter I suppose but The Wolves in the Walls is definitely a 5+ book (younger in this household!)

Missing for me are Jane Yolen’s Dragon’s Blood, a book series that stayed with me for so long that I searched it out to re-read in my twenties (and must read again now); The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye which in my opinion is the perfect fairy tale; personally I prefer Coraline to The Graveyard Book but I am in a minority; also there are no Diana Wynne-Jones which seems a huge oversight.

For the collected books above, included in the 1001 list were: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (we also have as illustrated book); Through the Looking Glass; The Borrowers; and Cirque du Freak. Others that we don’t quite have are The Thousand and One Arabian Nights (we have an adaptation illustrated by Jan Pienkowski); Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare (my mum has it ready for when the girls are older, we have Usborne Stories from Shakespeare plus a collection of adaptations as well as the Complete Shakespeare and two illustrated by Arthur Rackham!) and D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths (we have several other myth books). Comet in Moominland (Tove Jansson); Gargling with Jelly (Brian Patten) and The Demon Headmaster (Gillian Cross) missed the photo call.

Part two will take me longer to collate as we have so many! I may split 5+, 3+ & 0-3 into separate posts.