Fog Island by Tomi Ungerer
There’s something almost gothic about this slightly spooky tale, published in 2013 and penned by the 87-year-old French-born, Irish-based author and illustrator. The story tells of a brother and sister shipwrecked off the west coast of Ireland. Don’t worry; there is a happy ending, but also enough depth for the work to be chosen as one of The New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2013. The author Ungerer served in the Foreign Legion, and produced anti-Vietnam war posters in the 1960s while living in New York. His books retain a worldly quality that young readers may pick up on and appreciate as they grow older.
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
A well-written children’s book is so much easier to read aloud than a poorly crafted one, not to mention being a pleasure for both adult and child. Milne was a well-established poet and playwright, and had even written a few film scripts, prior to completing this, his first volume of Winnie-the-Pooh stories in 1926. You can tell. The language is wonderfully playful, and the characters – a series of soft toys, horsing about in an English wood – so beautifully daft that it’s hard not to be charmed by the stories, whatever your age.
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
The most popular and best-known book of the seven in Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia is, of course, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Yet Prince Caspian, the second to be published by Lewis – though it’s the fourth in Narnia’s internal chronology of events – enjoys a slightly more ordered structure, as well as a more satisfying story for some. It follows the classic fantasy trope of a wronged heir regaining his throne. Lewis was good friends with J.R.R Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings author – and shared some of Tolkien’s interest in creating a mythology for Britain. In this book, he certainly succeeded.
Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
The earliest version of this children’s classic appeared not in a children’s publication, but in The New Yorker in early 1959, as Dahl was also a semi-regular contributor of adult short fiction. When he wasn’t being fighter pilot, an oil man, a fine-art collector or a script writer, Dahl would vacillate between writing for grown-ups and children. This story, about a good, but slightly wayward car mechanic-turned-poacher and his son, works well for adult and child audiences, with the saltier passages tempered by a great, Hollywood-style ending.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
While many children’s books have sentient animals in their lead roles, very few feature an intelligent, communicative spider. US journalist and editor E.B. White’s second book of children’s literature, however, did centre on just such a creature, with Charlotte, the canny arachnid, setting out to save Wilbur, a young pig, from the slaughterhouse. Though White was very much part of the East Coast literary high table – his book, The Elements of Style, co-authored with William Strunk Jr., remains a popular guide for good, clear writing in English – this novel’s earthy sense of place and simple goodness should appeal to city slickers and country folk of all ages.
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