Challenges and Projects ~ Blah!

pile of assorted title book lot selective focus photographt

From time to time I will be tempted either by a challenge or a project that someone else in the book blogging world has suggested or even one that I dream up for myself. And every time it turns out to be a mistake. Perhaps this is because I spent the best part of fifty years of my life having texts prescribed for me, sometimes because they were on the syllabus I was studying, more often, latterly, because they were on the syllabus I was teaching. Whatever the reason, the moment I feel obliged to read a book it becomes the last one in the world that I want to pick up. Not that I have anything against the idea of people devising, taking part in and completing challenges. I love the idea of the 20 Books of Summer, for example, but every time I draw up my list, books that I thought I really did want to read suddenly become toxic. Then there was my own self imposed challenge, The Years of My Life, whereby I set out to read three books from each of the years in which I had lived: one intended for children, a crime novel and a piece of literary fiction. I got as far as 1951 (and I was born in 1949!) before falling at what I suppose you would call the third hurdle when I discovered that they really weren’t any books published that year that I wanted to read; certainly not that I wanted to have to read.

So, why did I find myself, over last weekend, drawing up another list?

I think I have a number of reasons. Firstly, I’ve had a real hankering lately to go back and explore again the world of children’s literature: a world in which I spent much of my professional career but which I’ve neglected over the last dozen or so years. As a result of said hankering, a couple of weekends ago I re-read Arthur Ransome’s Pigeon Post and loved every word of it. So many happy memories were evoked and, perhaps because of the times we are living through, that was the sort of read I felt I needed at that moment. The act of re-reading was another spur. I know that readers vary widely in their reaction to the idea of re-reading. Some see it is a total waste of time, time that could be given to books that they haven’t already encountered. Others, and I would number myself among them, see it as a chance to revisit old friends, friends in whose company we already know we are comfortable. Then, there are those twelve missing years. What’s been published in the time that I have let elapse? Which directions has children’s literature taken? Are the current crop of writers as good as, even better than, the ones I remember? And mark my words, many writers of children’s literature produced works every bit as good as those aimed at an adult audience. Some of them, of course, are one and the same. Jane Gardam and Helen Dunmore have both written extensively for children and young adults. And did you know that Jane Casey, one of our leading crime writers, has also written three excellent books for teenagers?

So, as I say, last weekend saw me drawing up yet another list. This time a list of children and young adult authors whose works I would like to revisit. But, and I can’t emphasise this enough, this is not a challenge, neither is it a project, it is simply an aide memoir, so that when I feel the need I can check back, remember a particular past pleasure, and seek out a copy of the work in question.

I’m sure that if you take the time to look over the list, you will think that I’ve missed some obvious people out. There is no Roald Dahl, for example. But, with the possible exception of Danny, the Champion of the World, I really didn’t enjoy Dahl’s work and I certainly wouldn’t want to go back and re-read any of it. That would make the whole thing a chore. It would become ‘a project’. It would become ‘a challenge’. Nevertheless, if you have any suggestions to make, or if the list simply brings back memories you would like to share of your own past reading, then I would be more than happy to hear from you. How many of these authors I will get round to exploring for a second time, I have no idea. A lot, of course, will depend on just how accessible some of the books turn out to be. Children’s literature doesn’t stay in print for all that long and even some of the best received novels can prove difficult to find. Not everything has the shelf life of a Harry Potter or a Dark Materials.  However, I’ve already managed to track down two or three old favourites which should be arriving over the course of the next couple of weeks. One I think some of you will remember, but the other two I’m not so sure about. One of the joys of having been so involved in the world at a professional level was getting to know authors that were not household names.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to suddenly flood the pages of this blog with reviews of children’s books. It will probably be no more than one a month.  But, on days when I just feel like indulging myself I’m going to allow a saunter down memory lane and hope that while doing so I can remind some of you of the books that may well have encouraged you to become lifelong readers yourselves.

38 thoughts on “Challenges and Projects ~ Blah!

  1. smithereens May 20, 2020 / 7:29 am

    I am usually like you for reading challenges, I have avoided them for years. The only project I am doing is one to read from one’s own shelves, and the monthly prompts are vague enough that I can actually interpret them as I wish. As for children’s lit, I am looking forward to reading your posts! I might be wrong, but this is a genre where national authors are favored, I don’t think there are as many translations as for contemporary novels. I stumbled upon Noel Streatfeild last year and people said her children’s book Ballet shoes was a children’s classics, but I had never even heard of it.


    • Café Society May 20, 2020 / 1:54 pm

      You’re right about the question of translation. Without going back and checking I think the only author on my list in translation is Cornelia Funke. And so much depends on the translator and how good or otherwise they are. In Funke’s case it was Anthea Bell and the translations are just superb. It’s an interesting question as to why children’s literature doesn’t translate. Some years ago now I was at a couple of conferences run by IBBY, the international children’s literature association, on this very subject and one of the things that came out extremely clearly was that countries have a very different expectation of what constitutes appropriate children’s literature. The second conference didn’t actually end in fisticuffs, but it came pretty close at one point.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings May 20, 2020 / 7:49 am

    I’m the same as you – I enthusiastically draw up a list and then fail almost straight away because I want to go straight off and reading something else… Contrary or what. This sounds like a great idea and good luck with it!


    • Café Society May 20, 2020 / 1:55 pm

      Thank you, Karen. With the old novelists a lot is going to depend on what I am actually able to get hold of; children’s books go out of print so quickly.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jules_Writes May 20, 2020 / 8:28 am

    Great idea! And I love making a list too – I don’t always stick to them and I did a terrible job at last years 20 books for summer challenge.

    I’ve been revisiting a lot of my childhood books recently as my daughter has been enjoying them. We’ve listened to the audiobook of The wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and Matilda – which have been a few of our favourites recently. We have also just started The enchanted Tree by Enid Blyton.

    I will look out for your blog posts 😀


    • Café Society May 20, 2020 / 1:57 pm

      Thank you Jules. Audiobooks are a lovely way of getting children into literature I think. A couple of my friends have been using them during the lockdown as a way of introducing their children to some of their favourite authors. Of course, a lot depends on how well they are read, but it seems to me that this is an area that the industry is paying a lot more attention to these days and there is some very good stuff out there.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Liz May 20, 2020 / 8:33 am

    I am totally with you on the concept of commitments. Remember how enthusiastic I was about your summer school last year? I read the first two and have not quite been able to get around to the third – darn it!! Anyway, why shouldn’t you muse about possible thoughts about potential reads, especially on your own blog. Picking back up on your love of children’s literature sounds perfect at the moment. Go for it!


    • Café Society May 20, 2020 / 1:59 pm

      Thank you, Liz. I know what you mean about the summer school. The moment the choice has been made, even though I put all the lists together in the first place, I immediately wish different group had been picked. I have been trying to find a way of putting the summer school online this year but so far without success. And, to be honest, I’m not sure how well it would work. A lot of the people who normally come tell me that they are having difficulty with any sort of concentrated reading at the moment. I think we’ll just have to hope that we’re able to get back together next year.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Liz May 23, 2020 / 4:57 am

        Yes, I can completely see the problem. One thing that I have enjoyed doing is having ‘Zoom coffee catch ups’ with my friends – perhaps something similar, where you chat about whatever you all have (or haven’t) been reading might be a nice compromise this year?


  5. Alyson Woodhouse May 20, 2020 / 10:35 am

    I’m a bit like you in that I enjoy making reading lists, but don’t often stick to them, as it seems to make things feel very official, and remind’s me too much of prescribed reading lists at university. I look forward to your thoughts on Children’s Literature though, As I read a fair few of the authors on your list myself when I was a child.


    • Café Society May 20, 2020 / 2:01 pm

      Thank you, Alyson. I shall have to be careful not to flood the blog with them, because they won’t be to everyone’s taste.


  6. A Life in Books May 20, 2020 / 11:54 am

    Good luck with your project, Ann. Like you, I tend to be a serial avoider of these and I suspect it’s for a similar reason. I had to read so many books for work that I balk at the prospect of a list, self-chosen or otherwise.


    • Café Society May 20, 2020 / 2:02 pm

      Ah, but the whole point is Susan that it is not a project; it is a list of authors. No pressure whatever!


  7. Annabel (AnnaBookBel) May 20, 2020 / 12:39 pm

    I nearly always fail at challenges, but I like the idea of joining in. I’ve come up with a cheat for 20 Books of Summer this year that might just take the toxicity of a set pile of books away… more next week.

    I looked at your list and saw so many of my own childhood faves, not least Streatfeild and my new fave Sedgwick, but I was slightly surprised that EE Nesbit and Roger Lancelyn Green weren’t on it, but then I’m biased. 🙂


    • Café Society May 20, 2020 / 2:04 pm

      Somehow I never got on very well with Lancelyn Green, Annabel, but Nesbitt was definitely an oversight. I shall amend the list accordingly, thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Elle May 20, 2020 / 12:40 pm

    Ah, this sounds brilliant. I’ve been casually trying to make my way through a list of the 21st-century’s top 100 children’s books (so far), as voted for by readers of the blog Tygertale on Twitter, and I’m really enjoying it, but rereads are wonderful too. And a casual but increased interest always feels much more tenable than a challenge, doesn’t it?


    • Café Society May 20, 2020 / 2:05 pm

      Yes, it’s the casual aspect of this that appeals, Elle. I have been wondering how you’ve been getting on acquainting yourself with children’s literature. Are you taking on more of that work as you thought you might be?


  9. Rohan Maitzen May 20, 2020 / 2:51 pm

    I have a lot of ‘required’ reading in my life already, for work and for reviewing, so like you I usually avoid signing up for challenges, however fun they look – and I do often enjoy following other people who manage to stick to them! I like the idea of simply gathering ideas for things to read along a certain thread, but with no pressure. That might make all the difference!


    • Café Society May 20, 2020 / 6:13 pm

      That’s what I’m hoping Rohan. Actually, I’m fighting an urge to do some serious studying in the children’s literature area. With time on my hands now it seems like a good idea but if things do improve then I know it would become too much with my other commitments. I’m hoping this will do something to satisfy that urge.


  10. heavenali May 20, 2020 / 4:42 pm

    Not all reading challenges work for me, I just can’t manage 20 books of summer, it’s reading from a pile I put together previously that I find strangely difficult. I love to re-read though seldom get chance. I hope you enjoy delving into your favourite children’s books.


    • Café Society May 20, 2020 / 6:15 pm

      Yes, once that pile is amassed it suddenly takes on ogre like qualities, doesn’t it, Ali. I have to say that I re-read a lot, especially when I need a comfort read. Doing a lot of that at the moment.


  11. BookerTalk May 20, 2020 / 8:03 pm

    I could easily have written this myself “the moment I feel obliged to read a book it becomes the last one in the world that I want to pick up.” I love the idea of a project or a challenge, it’s the actual doing of them that is the issue. It takes the joy out of going to the bookshelves and just choosing something that catches your eye and suits your mood at the time.

    I did embark on an OU module on children’s literature a few years ago but had to abandon it because of all my chemo treatment. It was interesting to consider what we actually mean by the term and how it has changed over the decades.

    As for your list, I don’t know a large number of those authors. My own childhood reading was clearly very limited in scope 🙂


    • Café Society May 21, 2020 / 8:40 am

      A lot of these authors wouldn’t have been around when either you or I were children, Karen. They are people that I “met“ during my time working in the field. Some of them are well worth exploring, so maybe I’ll introduce you to one or two over the next few months that you might want to pick up for yourself now.


      • BookerTalk May 23, 2020 / 4:27 pm

        I overlooked the fact that some of these authors were from a different generation..


  12. Laura May 21, 2020 / 10:16 am

    It’s really interesting to read your list. So many great writers over a long time span! John Christopher’s The Lotus Caves captivated me as a child and is still a book I return to. Similarly, Berlie Doherty’s The Sailing Ship Tree, even though I know it’s not her best-known work! I still re-read Garth Nix’s Sabriel books very frequently and delightful to see Ruth Elwin Harris whom nobody else I know has ever heard of.


    • Café Society May 21, 2020 / 10:59 am

      When I first started teaching, Laura, back in 1971, I was TOLD that I was in charge of the library. Even though I’d read vociferously from the time I was five there were still a lot of authors in there that I hadn’t come across so I decided to systematically read my way through it. That started my absolute passion for children’s literature and I’ve been reading In the field vociferously ever since, or at least until I finished lecturing in 2007. That accounts for the extended time span, I think. For me it was John Christopher’s The Guardians that really hit home and Berlie Doherty’s early novel, White Peak Farm. I was going out with somebody at the time who lived in that area and the attitude towards women was precisely as she described it and pretty much 100 years out of date. It’s only about 18 months since I re-read the Sabriel novels and as for Ruth Elwin Harris, I’m as delighted as you to find someone else who has heard of her. I’ve just sent for a copy of the first one and I’m praying that I won’t be disappointed by a re-read.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laura May 21, 2020 / 11:08 am

        Fingers crossed! I remember especially loving The Silent Shore and The Beckoning Hills. One of our dogs chewed a library copy of The Silent Shore when she was a puppy and the library told me I could keep it. I was delighted!

        I haven’t read Doherty’s White Peak Farm – I’ll have to look it up. Ditto Christopher’s The Guardians. I think my reading as a child was very much shaped by what books by certain authors the library happened to have…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Café Society May 21, 2020 / 11:11 am

        The beauty of my job, both when I was a primary teacher and a university lecturer, was that I got to choose what books the library bought as no one else had any knowledge of the field. A privilege, that I now very much miss!

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Julia's books May 22, 2020 / 3:42 pm

    Good luck with your project. I adore children’s books and one of the best I have read recently is ‘The Disappearances’ by Emily Bain Murphy.


    • Café Society May 22, 2020 / 4:52 pm

      Not a writer I know; I’ll keep an eye open for her work, thank you.


  14. Laila@BigReadingLife May 24, 2020 / 10:00 pm

    What a fun idea! (Most definitely not a project!)
    I have trouble sticking to a reading list even if I make it, so when I try to participate in 20 Books of Summer I will make it perfectly clear that I can substitute books at will! 🙂


    • Café Society May 25, 2020 / 7:42 am

      Perhaps you should just commit to reading 20 books during that period, Laila and then you will have complete freedom 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Jeanne May 25, 2020 / 2:31 am

    I love children’s books and will look forward to hearing about what you read!


    • Café Society May 25, 2020 / 7:43 am

      I hope I’ll be able to introduce you to some authors you haven’t read before, Jeanne. And, of course, whose books you can get hold of! The problem with so much children’s literature is that it simply doesn’t stay in print.


      • Jeanne May 25, 2020 / 12:53 pm

        I have noticed that. Even books we loved when our children were young (my oldest is 26) are out of print already. I tried to find The Leaf Men by William Joyce to give someone having a baby and had trouble finding a copy.


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