Many of the first books we had read to us, or read ourselves, were most likely by Enid Blyton. These included the stories of Noddy, The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, The Magic Faraway Tree, The Wishing Chair, The Naughtiest Girl, and Malory Towers. Much was made of the Golliwog stories, leading to some bizarre attacks upon a children's author who can hardly be condemned for merely writing within her own time and culture. Blyton had an astonishing ability to engage young readers. Many of the stories remain as good as they ever were, whilst some have been gently altered to cater for social and cultural changes whilst retaining their inherent sense of adventure and fantasy. This is perhaps the ultimate accolade, as much the same process is undergone by traditional folk tales, as they pass from generation to generation. Enid Blyton died in 1968 of Alzheimer's Disease.
Our youthful literary and educational adventures also gained much from the many series of Ladybird books. Colourful child-friendly hardbacks with excellent artwork, sold cheaply in places you wouldn't expect to find books (the VG Shop always had them in stock). The range included both fiction and non-fiction, how-to books that taught you how to build a crystal set, folk-tales, original stories, and primers to nudge you onwards to higher literary endeavours.
Visual delights from our childhood included Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and the works of Dr. Seuss, including: Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, and Dr. Seuss's ABC. Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991) was an American cartoonist, writer, and some-time student of Lincoln College, Oxford. He also wrote under the pen names Theo LeSieg and Rosetta Stone. America not doing knighthoods, they finally did the next best thing and Dr. Seuss appeared on a US postage stamp.
Having seen the NBC TV series which ran from 1974-1982, many of us reached for Little House on the Prairie (1935) by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957). This was one of a number of books in the 'Little House' series, which included Little House in the Big Woods (1932) and The Long Winter (1940).
Also to benefit from TV was Paddington Bear. Arriving on Paddington station with nothing but his big hat, small suitcase, and penchant for marmalade sandwiches, darkest Peru's finest export appeared on our TV screens in 1975 (and on a postage stamp, and DVD in 2006). Michael Bond's A Bear Called Paddington was published on 13 October 1958, and more than a dozen other titles followed. There is a shockingly indecent bronze statue of Paddington at the station that gave him his name (big hat, but no duffle coat). Its enough to make the twins exchange glances, but it may be accurate, as the pre-TV series book covers portray an un-duffled bear, resplendent in just his big hat. Surfers are urged not to go shopping for their marmalade wearing only a hat, however big.
Michael Bond was also the author of tales about a guinea pig called Olga da Polga. Olga told tall tales, as guinea pigs often do. The books were illustrated by Hans Helweg. Stories of Little Grey Rabbit, Fuzzypeg, and Hare were written by Alison Uttley.
Ursula Moray Williams wrote Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse (1938), perhaps the most famous of her many books for children. She also penned Gobbolino, the Witch's Cat (1942).
Alf Pr°ysen's tales of Mrs. Pepperpot, who never knew when she was going to suddenly shrink down to the size of a pepperpot, were translated by Marianne Helweg and popularised by the BBC's Jackanory. They included: Little Old Mrs. Pepperpot, Mrs. Pepperpot in the Magic Wood, Mrs. Pepperpot to the Rescue, and Mrs. Pepperpot Again. Alf Pr°ysen died in 1970.
Doctor Dolittle appeared in 14 books by Hugh Lofting (1886-1947). The Story of Doctor Dolittle began the series in 1920, with eleven more titles appearing before the posthumous publication of Doctor Dolittle and the Green Canary (1950) and Doctor Dolittle's Puddleby Adventures (1952), the last two being made up of short unpublished pieces. Whilst we could all talk to the animals, they only replied to the good doctor. His most famous companion was of course the Pushmi-Pullyu, a rare antelope with a head at each end. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (1922) won the Newbery Medal, and there have been many TV and film versions of the stories, kicking off with a silent German movie called Doktor Dolittle und seine Tiere in 1928. The most famous adaptation was the 1967 musical starring Rex Harrison in the title role, Richard Attenborough as Albert Blossom, and Cheeta (of Tarzan fame) as Chee-Chee, in his final screen role before retiring (to the Cheeta Primate Sanctuary, Palm Springs, California).
Bottersnikes and Gumbles (1967) was written by S. A. Wakefield, and illustrated by Desmond Digby. Bottersnikes have green wrinkly skin, cheese-grater noses and long, pointed ears that go red when they are angry, which is most of the time. Gumbles, on the other hand, are friendly and cheerful and can be squashed into any shape without being hurt. Astonishingly, this classic is now out of print. Gumbles on Guard was published in 1975, and Gumbles in Summer in 1979.
Norman Hunter (1899-1995) kept us up to speed on the activities of Professor Branestawm. Kicking off with The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm (1933) and Professor Branestawm's Treasure Hunt (1937), the early books were illustrated by Heath Robinson (who better?). Others followed, all documenting the absent-minded professor's inventions, and the mayhem that ensued from their creation. If you haven't remembered them already, the names of Colonel Dedshott and Mrs. Flittersnoop should be recognisable, either from the books or the Jackanory readings.
Despite what some folk might suggest nowadays, books don't have to be trendy and relevant to be great fun. Culturally, Anthony Buckeridge's books about Jennings and Darbishire, boarders at Linbury Court Preparatory School, may as well have been set on Mars, but did that bother us? Course not. After all, Jennings' family lived in Haywards Heath, and Linbury Court was just outside Brighton. There were 23 Jennings books to choose from when we were young, starting with Jennings Goes to School (1950) and ending with Jennings at Large which was published in 1977, so there was always a new one for the holidays. Two additional titles appeared in the 1990s.
Although not actually fiction in the strictly narrative sense of the word, special mention must be made of Geoffrey Willans' Down with Skool (1953), How to be Topp, Whizz for Atoms and Back in the Jug Agane often purchased, if you were lucky, all together as The Compleet Molesworth (1958). The books were wonderfully illustrated by Ronald Searle. Nigel Molesworth's guide to surviving St. Custards was less use than Grange Hill when it came to coping with 'bulies, snekes, grown-ups and other chizzes' in Thatcher's Britain, but if you haven't read it, you should.
Those of you of a more female disposition, may have felt a greater empathy for Lizzie Dripping (aka Penelope Arbuckle). As southerners we probably didn't realise that 'Lizzie Dripping' is a Nottingham term for 'a plucky girl who has difficulty in telling the difference between fact and fiction'. Lizzie's suffering was detailed by prolific Nottingham-born childrens' author Helen Cresswell (1934-2005). What with the Jackanory stories, the Jackanory Playhouse version (Lizzie Dripping and the Orphans, 1972), the 1973-1975 TV series (with future Blue Peter presenter Tina Heath in the title role), and the books, it is difficult to see how anyone could have avoided her, or the genuinely scary witch who appeared in the telly version. Well she was scary if you were five and were just waiting for The Magic Roundabout to start. Only Lizzie could see the witch, perhaps indicating a poor choice of semi-invisible friend.
Also made famous by Jackanory were the stories of Arabel and Mortimer (Mortimer being Arabel's raven), as read by Bernard Cribbins. They were written by Joan Aiken, who also wrote The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Most people remember Arabel as 'Arabella', but the book titles all have 'Arabel'. The illustrations were by Quentin Blake.
Edith Nesbit (1858-1924) wrote more than 40 books for children under the androgynous name 'E. Nesbit' including, most famously, The Railway Children (1906). The novel was adapted by the BBC as a series twice, in 1951 and 1957, and then as a TV movie in 1968 (with Jenny Agutter as Roberta Waterbury). The 1970 film version starred Agutter again alongside Bernard Cribbins, and was a global success. ITV remade the movie as a TV series in 1999 with Agutter playing the children's mother. Nesbit and her husband, bank clerk Hubert Bland, were amongst the founders of The Fabian Society, a precursor of the Labour Party. Their marriage was an open one, with Edith counting George Bernard Shaw amongst her lovers.
Girls rather than boys spent their pocket money on Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, and Susan M. Coolidge's What Katy Did, with its imaginatively named sequel, What Katy Did Next. Other books relate what Katy did after that. Also mainly for the girls were Heidi by Johanna Spyri (best known from the much repeated, badly dubbed 1978 TV series), Little Women and Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott, and Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter.
A wider audience may have curled up in a corner to read The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett, or Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking stories, made famous by Jackanory. Actually owing their initial publication to an appearance on Jackanory were John Grant's stories of Littlenose, the caveboy.
Roald Dahl was responsible for some classic childrens' books, including James and the Giant Peach (1961), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), and the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (1972), Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970), Danny the Champion of the World (1975), The Enormous Crocodile (1978), and The BFG (1982), not to mention his Revolting Rhymes (1982).
Did Watership Down (1972) by Richard Adams, make you cry? A box of tissues was also required for the 1978 animated movie version. The theme music, Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel, spent 6 weeks at the top of the charts in 1979.
Grange Hill was first and foremost, great telly, and a form of therapy that helped us cope with the scarier bits of Downlands. There were however Grange Hill books, with titles to 1984: Grange Hill Stories (1979, by Phil Redmond who devised the TV series), Grange Hill Goes Wild (1980, Robert Leeson), Grange Hill for Sale (1981, Robert Leeson), Tucker and Co. (1982, Phil Redmond), Grange Hill Home and Away (1982, Robert Leeson), and Great Days at Grange Hill (1984, Jan Needle). More followed, as well as plays, annuals, and diaries. The Grange Hill spin-off, Tucker's Luck also produced a couple of books: Forty days of Tucker J (1983, Robert Leeson) and Tucker's luck (1984, Jan Needle).
Most, if not all of us, read Stig of the Dump (1963) by Clive King in English at Downlands. The illustrations in our edition were by Edward Ardizzone. One day, 8 year old Barney falls into a disused chalk pit, and meets a new friend whom he calls Stig.
Another book many of us read in English at Downlands was I am David by Anne Holm. As the original was in Danish, we read the 1965 translation by L. W. Kingsland. The story tells of a young boy escaping from a Soviet labour camp, and his journey to Denmark.
Recently revived on the big screen, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis are often stated to have been written as a Christian allegory. Whilst this may be true, the books work perfectly well as children's stories for anyone. In order: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), Prince Caspian (1951), The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952), The Silver Chair (1953), The Horse and his Boy (1954), The Magician's Nephew (1955), and The Last Battle (1956). C. S. Lewis died in 1963.
C. S. Lewis was a friend of J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973). From Narnia to Middle-Earth is but a short step, The Hobbit (1937) getting you into the spirit of things, before you explore The Lord of the Rings trilogy: The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1954), and The Return of the King (1955). Everyone has heard of the epic movie version, but Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated rotoscoping version of about half of the trilogy is worth a look.
The Hymn book we used at Manor Field (the purple one had the music in as well as the words),
and the Gideons' New Testament we were all given a copy of at Downlands.
Our Downlands Biology textbook