WordPress tells me I’m five this week! Not a message I expected to see when I wrote my tentative Welcome in 2016. Right now I’m very preoccupied by what’s best described as a Demanding Family Event so will keep this post brief (at last! you sigh). It’s a quick rundown of the posts you and I liked best every year. Thank you for travelling with me; do please revisit and return, and I’ll do my best still to be writing for you (and me) in 2026.
2017: Most popular post: The Best Independent Bookshop in London. Could be subtitled How to Bring up a Bookworm. If you are more or less raised in a good bookshop, your welcome to the world of words is assured. Runners up in my own mind are diversions into UK travelogue: an exploration of “my” corner of East London called The World in Four Short Blocks and Marsh Frogs Sing Loudly in the Ditches which came from a trip to the ancient Sussex town of Rye. I also wrote a little about cultural appropriation as I worried my way into The Magic Carpet. I wouldn’t dare start writing that book now, but it has its merits and I hope Getting It Right expresses the sensitive dilemma so many authors face.
2018: Most popular post: I was surprised but pleased for my German translator to find this was Sought and Found in Translation, after the publication of Der Infinity-Pool. But I also enjoyed exploring an unusual POV In a Nutshell, and was humbled and proud (if you can be both at once) to be asked to start a fortnightly books column for Smorgasbord, one of which is here. I kept that up for a year or so before asking to contribute more occasionally so that I could get on with my own writing. But I was so pleased to be asked and Sally and her crowd of co-bloggers have become good and supportive friends. Finally, although sometimes along with many of you I feel as though I Can’t be Bloggered, I did have a bit of fun giving a backward glance to Prologues.
2019: Most popular post: The Magic Carpet – Standby for Landing. This is one flight that hasn’t been cancelled so if you haven’t bought it yet… I also had the interesting experience of a blog tour in 2019, and there are a couple of posts about that. Not sure what I was doing otherwise, there seems to be a six month gap in blog posts.
2021: …when as I say an ongoing family event has taken most of my time and attention, and my most popular post so far is from people revisiting my Easter Eggheads quiz of a previous year. My post on a workshop with Sophie Hannah did well though, and if you look back through there are others on writing courses each year. I’ve learned a lot in five years. Please stay with me, even if we’re both erratic, for the next five.
Many people said my Christmas Children’s Book Quiz was too hard – sorry! I was just about to provide more clues, when a friend who is a bit of a Hermione emailed me with a 98% score! (If you haven’t tried the quiz yet, it’s here.)
Whether you raced home like Hermione or are sulking in a snowdrift, I hope I conjured childhood memories and showed you books you haven’t heard of. Children’s literature deserves every bit as much attention as writing for adults, so I’ve added links to explore further (or enjoy reminiscing). One thing I’ve learnt from setting this quiz is that my knowledge needs updating, something for the next lockdown perhaps.
Round 1: Did you, like me, read these as a child?
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling was a product of his time and class, with much of his writing jingoistic. But these animal stories remain delightful.
Peter Pan by J M Barrie. Strange notions of childcare here! But as stipulated in Barrie’s will, Peter Pan royalties go to Great Ormond Street Children’s hospital in London.
Just Williamby Richmal Crompton. She preferred her numerous novels for adults, but William – who never ages – is universally recognisable.
Thomas The Tank Engine by the Rev W Awdry. Despite brilliant illustrations the original text is somewhat dense, but the characters have adapted for each generation.
Island Of The Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. This is a stirring story of an indigenous teenage girl’s survival after cruelty leaves her alone on a a remote island. See some of the Goodreads reviews for more in depth thoughts. I loved this as a teenager.
The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. The first in a long, wonderful series. Aiken is up there with Pullman and Rowling for creating imaginary worlds and intelligent female leads.
The Mousehole Catby Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley. I still can’t read this without welling up – try it for yourself or just admire the fabulous pictures.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. This 1962 US classic was possibly the first published picture book to feature a black child without stereotyping. It was still popular with the children I taught up to 2016.
So Muchby Trish Cooke and Helen Oxenbury. At this family party, seen through the eyes of a toddler, you’ll have SO MUCH fun!
Round 3: Classics Old and Newish
Anne Of Green Gables by L M Montgomery. The later books disappoint (me), but Anne Shirley as introduced here is great fun, overcoming a rotten start in life to win everyone’s hearts.
What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. The message about learning good behaviour through disability is cloying now, but this story fascinated me as a child. Again, the sequels are less successful (I think).
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Still good enough to make a great recent film. Amy was always my favourite, but you’re supposed to like Jo best. The sequels? Nah…
Noughts And Crosses by Malorie Blackman. A simple but clever premise, and an excellent recent TV series. Some reviewers miss the point!
Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone by J K Rowling. Not sure where you’ve been if you’ve missed this one. An imaginary world that’s given pleasure to millions, despite some of the author’s recently expressed opinions running into opposition. The sequels work brilliantly, if at too much length.
The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe by C S Lewis. A wonderful series for any child (or adult) who’s ever played about with a fictional universe. It’s a shame about the girls’ roles and the blond, noble Narnians against the dark skinned evil Calormenes, but the imaginary world created and the love of nature and animals remain outstanding.
Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Having loved this as a child, I was surprised how wordy I found it when reading it to my own children. But a roll call of illustrious illustrators have had enormous fun with the invention and characters over the years.
Winnie The Pooh by A A Milne. Now the subject of many Facebook memes, Pooh remains as lovable and silly as ever.
Northern Lights (published in the US as The Golden Compass) by Philip Pullman. My use of the UK title of the first in this fantastic series may have thrown some of you. But hey – it’s meant to be a mystery. The recent BBC adaptation does it far more justice than the film.
Mary Poppins by P L Travers. Quite dry to read, compared to the film, but worth persevering.
Round 4: These characters are (part of) the family – but in which book(s)?
Mary, Laura, Carrie and Grace Ingalls are the daughters in the Little House… series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Controversial now for the way some (not all) characters view American Indians, but beautifully written and fascinating social history as long as it’s clear it’s from the point of view of white “pioneers”.
Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis are The Railway Children (E. Nesbit) For an Edwardian woman, Nesbit had an extraordinary life.
Pod, Homily and Arriety are The Borrowers (Mary Norton). See above.
William, Charles, Percy, Fred, George, Ronald and Ginevra are the Weasley children’s full names (Harry Potter). See above.
Kurt, Marcie and Minal Cricket are the siblings of Clarice Bean, in the series by Lauren Child. A popular contemporary series.
Pongo and Missus are the parent dogs in The 101 Dalmations(Dodie Smith). This link is to the edition I had as a child, as I prefer the cover to one with film stills.
Sally and I (her narrator brother) are visited by The Cat in the Hat(Dr Seuss). When he comes back things get even crazier!
Lily Rose, Kate, Jim, John, Jo, Peggy and baby William were The Family From One End Street by Eve Garnett. The language may seem patronising, but when published in the 1930s it was ground-breaking as the first British children’s series to feature a poor working class family in a realistic way.
Naledi, Tiro and Dineo were siblings in Journey to Jo’burg by Beverley Naidoo. It’s an easy to read story of children living in apartheid era South Africa. For my mixed ability classes of 12 year olds it packed a powerful emotional and educational punch.
Ahmet is the schoolboy refugee separated from his family in Onjali Rauf’s prizewinning 2018 debut,The Boy at the Back of the Class, illustrated by Pippa Curnick. There’s also a US book with the same title by Tahlie Purvis, which I hadn’t heard of when I set this quiz. Take a point (or two) if you’ve answered with that one (or both)!
Round 5: Animals
Paddingtonby Michael Bond. Pooh may like his honey, but for Paddington only marmalade will do.
Wilbur is described as SOME PIG in letters spun into Charlotte’s Webby E B White.
InThe Story ofFerdinandby Munro Leaf, Ferdinand is a bull who would rather smell the flowers than fight in the bullring.
Mog is Meg the witch’s cat in Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski’s Meg and Mog picture books. Mog is also the Thomas family’s cat in Judith Kerr’s Mog the Forgetful Cat series. There may be more!
One owl service is a set of dinner plates featuring owls with magical properties in Alan Garner’s The Owl Service.
The second is the postal service provided by owls in the wizarding world of Harry Potter. See above.
The two benevolently despotic elephants I thought of were Babarby Jean de Brunhoff, and Uncle, by J P Martin. Hermione also suggests Colonel Hathi from The Jungle Book.
InThe Magician’s Nephew by C S Lewis, Diggory’s Uncle Andrew was planted (and watered) by an elephant who mistook him for a tree. Google “images from The Magician’s Nephew” to see this incident as depicted by the wonderful Pauline Baynes. (Must blog about children’s illustrators some time.)
The Elephant’s Child (Rudyard Kipling) was spanked by his aunts and uncles for his insatiable curiosity. See Just So Stories, above.
Round 6: Identify the author and/or the book(s) they are talking about.
“It is the book I’m proudest of because it had something to do with the death of the Dick and Jane primers.” Theodore Geisel (Dr Seuss) said this of The Cat in the Hat (see above). The UK Dick and Jane were Janet and John. Janet helped Mummy in the kitchen. John helped Dad wash the car. They were boring.
“… my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders.” Christopher Robin Milne, in his autobiography The Enchanted Places, showed resentment of the Winnie the Pooh books by A A Milne.
Richmal Crompton complained here that William Brown “takes possession of every story I try to write, even though they are not about him.”
“I knew it would make people feel uncomfortable.” Malorie Blackman writing here about Noughts and Crosses.
“If you read my novels, you know, they’re not black novels – they’ve just got characters in them…” Benjamin Zephaniah quoted in The Guardian 14/10/14
Round 7:Snippets of random information
Tolkien and C S Lewis drank together in The Unicorn pub, Great Malvern, Worcestershire, whose gas lamps feature in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (see above).
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and once married to Prince Andrew signed a seven book “nurturing” children’s book deal in Australia and New Zealand in early 2020. I think authors should get contracts on merit, not because they are linked to the UK royal family. So I am not giving a link to her books. 10,000 bonus points if you agree.
The UK children’s author and illustrator who said “I get on with (children) perfectly well but spend time with them? No, no, no…” was Quentin Blake.
Round 8: And lastly, in honour of a Europe I’m so sorry and angry to leave, have a go at these questions:
Strewwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann. This link is to the German edition because I loved the picture which was on my English copy as a child. Horrifying stories of awful punishments for children who misbehave.
The Diary of Anne Frankby Anne Frank (Holland). Apologies if I muddled you – I always thought this had the title I’ve given but now see recent translations call it The Diary of a Young Girl.
This Christmas will be quieter than usual so here’s a quiz to print off and mull over. See how much you can do without Google! Pleasedo post comments and scores, but not answers – they’ll be on the blog after Christmas. You may have to think back to your childhood, maybe even your parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods as I’ve realised many of my choices are old fashioned. If any 21st century children and grandchildren would like to contribute up to date and more diverse examples of well known books for a future quiz that would be great and you can email them to me via the blog.
There are a whopping 75 questions (I worked HARD on this, or you could just call it self-indulgence). Score 1 point for every correct fact you get– eg a point for authors and for picture books illustrators’ names. A point for the title or series, extra for the countries the books come from in Round 8 and any other answer to a specific question. I make the maximum score 150 but it could be more. Let me know what you get – and note, some books and authors may appear in more than one question.
Here’s an example, for two marks: TMG by PP would be Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce.
Round 1: Did you, like me, read these as a child?
TJSS by RK
TCOGK by LMB
PP by JMB
JW by RC
TTTE by RWA
IOTBD by SOD
TWOWC by JA
TLWH by EG
BS by NS
TB by MN
Round 2: A Picture Tells a Thousand Words
LATD by SH
TVHC by EC
PAL by JM
M by LB
F by J & AA
TS by RB
HS by EB
TMC by AB and NB
TSD by EJK
SM by TC
Round 3: Classics Old and Newish
AOGG by LMM
WKD by SC
LW by LMA
NAC by MB
HPATPS by JKR
TLTWATW by CSL
AAIW by LC
WTP by AAM
NL aka TGC by PP
MP by PLT
Round 4: These characters are (part of) the family – but what is the book or series?
Mary, Laura, Carrie and Grace
Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis
Pod, Homily and Arriety
William, Charles, Percy, Fred, George, Ronald and Ginevra
Kurt, Marcie and Minal Cricket
Pongo and Missus
Sally and I
Lily Rose, Kate, Jim, John, Jo, Peggy and baby William
Naledi, Tiro and Dineo
Ahmet – and why is he on his own?
Round 5: Animals
Who liked marmalade?
Who WAS marmalade?
Who was SOME PIG?
Which animal hero of a 1936 children’s book banned by General Franco and burnt by Hitler was, according to Life magazine, accused of being “everything from a fascist to a pacifist to a burlesque sit-down striker”?
Who had a cat called Mog? (At least two possible answers.)
Describe an owl service…
Two benevolent despots in children’s literature happen to be elephants. Can you name them?
In which book did someone’s uncle get planted by another elephant who thought he must be a tree?
And whose aunts and uncles spanked him for his insatiable curiosity?
Who is made of patchwork?
.…and who of velveteen?
Where in the world does a spider play tricks and tell tales, and what is his name?
Which canine babysitter lost sight of her three charges?
Who got fed up with spring cleaning?
Round 6: Identify the author and/or the book(s) they are talking about.
“It is the book I’m proudest of because it had something to do with the death of the Dick and Jane primers”
“It was a brilliant title but the publishers didn’t like at first. Even reviewers at the time said things like: “in spite of the strange title, it’s a very good book”
“It seemed to me almost that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders.”
“He takes possession of every story I try to write, even though they are not about him.”
“I knew it would make people feel uncomfortable.”
“If you read my novels, you know, they’re not black novels – they’ve just got characters in them; it’s about who they are, you know, the story and it represents the communities that I’ve lived in, which are very mixed communities. I don’t sit down and go “right, I’ve got to write black literature for black people” or anything like that. I just write stories.”
Round 7: Snippets of random information
Which two UK authors used to enjoy a drink together in this pub, in a town whose gas lamps inspired a famous scene in a book by one of them?
Which humorous US cartoonist and writer for adults and children was part blind after being shot in the eye by his brother in a childhood game of William Tell?
Which Brit signed a seven book children’s “nurturing” book deal in Australia and New Zealand in early 2020? (10,000 bonus points if you can guess my thoughts about this.)
Which UK children’s author and illustrator said about children: “I get on with them perfectly well but spend time with them? No, no, no. There’s no need, you see. I just make it all up.”
Round 8: Lastly, in honour of a Europe I’m sorry and angry to be forced to leave:
(Picture book) WTWTA by MS
(Picture book) M by LB (oh! I already had this in Round 2. 2 free points then.)
(Picture book) M by DB
(Poems) S by HH
(Autobiography) TDOAF by AF
(Classic) F by A
(20th century Classic) PL by AL
Where might you find Pom, Flora, Alexander and their cousin Arthur?
Why might reading fairy tales not be an entirely happy experience?
How have cartoonists recently compared Boris Johnson to an Italian classic character?