Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Reading Harry Potter on the train

An article in the LA Times a couple of days ago considered the increasing interest in YA literature:
Many of today's young adult authors were born and raised in the 1960s and 1970s, when YA began to move beyond the staid, emotionless tales of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys in favor of more adventurous work from Judy Blume, Madeleine L'Engle and Robert Cormier. Now, they're turning out their own modern masterpieces.
That struck a chord with me, but it does something of a disservice to many authors of what would then be termed "children's books" who were anything but staid and emotionless. What about Alison Uttley's A Traveller in Time (1939), Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse (1946), E.B. White's Charlotte's Web (1952) - I wept buckets at the end, even when I was reading it to my little brother - Rosemary Sutcliff's Eagle of the Ninth ... I could go on for ages. Of my own list of 101 unmissable children's books published before 1975, most date from before 1960. And I only picked one book by each author.

I don't mean to imply that there isn't some tremendous YA literature out there: I think it's a wonderfully fertile area in writing, and I'm delighted if people are beginning to take it as seriously as it deserves. But many of the adults who are enjoying Garth Nix or J.K. Rowling might also enjoy Edward Eager or Geoffrey Trease.

There's more to come on Geranium Cat's Bookshelf on the subject of vintage books - watch this space!


  1. Oh I loved, absolutely LOVED "The Eagle of the Ninth"! What a superb book! It was one of those that keep you so immersed in the story that you forget reality around you (at least that is what it did to me). I think I want to re-read it.

  2. I've been meaning to read Rosemary Sutcliff. I completely agree about YA lit having always been a rich field, and it bothers me too when people act like this is a recent phenomenon, good YA fiction. I <3 Edward Eager. :P (Though I suppose he's more children's.)

  3. You are spot on about earlier writing, and within that Rosemary Sutcliff. She used to say that she wrote for children aged 8 to 88. The remarks you quote from the newspaper would have made her cross - I grew up knowing her well as a relative.

    Some of her books were marketed as adult historical fiction (Sword at Sunset which was a bestseller in the UK; The Rider of the White Horse; Flower of Adonis)

    (You and your commenters might be interested in

  4. Having grown up in the 60's and 70's as a voracious reader (nothing much has changed in that respect) I agree that there were some wonderful books out there.
    I read every one of Rosemary Sutcliffe's books in our local library and one or two of Geoffrey Treese's and I really enjoyed a series of books by Madeleine Polland which told stories from Irish mythology - and not just the usual Cuchulain and Finn McCool.
    To your list of classics I would add Lucy M Boston's The Children of Green Knowe which I adored and both my daughters loved too.

  5. I'm delighted to see such acclaim for Rosemary Sutcliff, who will be the subject of my next post.

  6. LizF, I nearly included Children of Green Knowe here, because I love it too!

  7. Oh! Thank you so much for reminding me of the Green Knowe series! Those are wonderful books, I really must re-read them!

  8. I'll be so interested in what you have to say about Rosemary Sutcliff. She's the reason I went in for history.
    Geoffrey Trease is one of my blind spots; can't stand him.

  9. I know what you mean about Geoffrey Treese which was why I only read a couple of them. Far too boys' own for my tastes - I wanted to know more about the people and Rosemary Sutcliffe was much better at characterisation. She could write from a male perspective (like Mary Renault) but I doubt very much if Geoffrey Treese could have used a femaile perspective.

  10. Since you have turned to talking Trease (who Rosemary Sutcliff corresponded with), you might be interested in an article on him in The Morning Star a coupe of weeks back, which you can trace via

    Also were you aware that Rosemary Sutcliff's The Shining Company was announced y'day as the 2010 Phoenix Award winner see . How big a deal is this to 'voracious readers', I am wondering as I try to enthuse Brits here about it!