Friday, November 16, 2007

Forgotten Treasures

My friend Sartorias posted a link to this discussion of "Forgotten Treasures":

What I think of as the "Harry Potter Effect" - a renewed interest in YA or children's fantasy - has resulted in the welcome recent republication of authors who had been well-known in certain circles, like DWJ, or well-known from the past, like Edward Eager. It has also seen the reprinting of some rather more obscure but equally deserving works, like A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond or Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard. I've been thinking for a while of beginning a series of posts on old forgotten treasures from my own collection - not necessarily SF or fantasy, but books I loved that I wondered if anyone else had heard of, that I think deserve a bigger audience and potential reprinting.

I enjoyed reading all of the comments to this post. So many of the books mentioned were books that I checked out of the library time after time. Others are books I've never heard of but now intend to find. I'd been trying to make up my own list of Forgotten Treasures, but most of the ones I could think of had already been mentioned or were too well known to qualify as "forgotten" (such as Little Women or Alice in Wonderland).

But tonight the the springs of memory sudddenly started burbling and brought forth a surprising collection of titles.

Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink (also the author of the more well known Caddie Woodlawn).
As a Navy brat I got to know many school and public libraries. Baby Island was only to be found in one of them. It's the story of two sisters, Mary and Jean, who are traveling on an ocean liner to join their father in Australia. When the order comes to abandon ship, they find themselves in a lifeboat with four babies under the age of two. The lifeboat conveniently drifts to a desert island where the girls enjoy playing Robinson Crusoe with their boatload of babies until they are eventually rescued. (BTW, I just checked Amazon and this book is back in print. But the copy I read was published in 1937 and had the most beautiful color illustrations.)

Redskin Summer (?) I'm not sure about the title on this one. It was about some kids whose families always spent each summer vacationing by a lake. There was an island in the lake where the kids were allowed to camp and pretend to be Indians. But this summer there's a new Boy Scout camp across the lake and the "redskins" find themselves at war with the "palefaces." I particularly remember an exciting segment where one of the girls is captured and "scalped" by the Scouts, i.e. they cut off one of her braids.

I read Mysterious Island by Jules Verne over and over when I was a kid. It's a shipwreck story, but this time the castaways are dropped onto the desert island from a balloon having just made their escape from a prisoner of war camp during the Civil War. Unlike the characters in The Swiss Family Robinson, who had a whole shipload of goods to help them colonize their island, the plucky Americans in Mysterious Island had only the contents of their pockets and the magnificent brain of Cyrus Harding, an American engineer, to help them survive.

I was also very fond of My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craigshead George, though I guess it doesn't qualify as "Forgotten" since it's been popular and in print ever since I was a kid. The main character runs away from home to the wilderness where he lives off the land. He carves out a home in a hollow tree, makes his own deerskin clothing, grinds acorn flour and trains a wild falcon to hunt for him.

Are you noticing a theme here? It's a surprising one. I don't even like camping. I hate getting dirty. I'm scared of bugs. Why did I love all these shipwreck/camping out books? Maybe it's because I always had a fascination with doing things from scratch. Even if I never wanted to do those things in real life. Spinning wool, baking bread, skinning rabbits -- you name it, I read about it. I even remember devouring a children's novel about canning vegetables and fruit for a 4H competition. Yup. And I must have read it at least three times.

Of course, fantasy has always been my favorite genre though there wasn't as much of it available when I was young as there is now. However, all my childhood favorites have already been mentioned in the above linked post and its comments. Except, I think, for some books by Evelyn Sibley Lampman such as The Shy Stegasaurus of Cricket Creek and The City Under the Back Steps. The former is about two children who discover a live dinosaur in the Southwest and the latter is about a boy and girl who are shrunk down to the size of ants and taken prisoner in an ant colony. (My goodness! Someone else besides me must have liked that book. The cheapest copy listed on Amazon is $59.40! Nyah, nyah -- I still have my childhood copy. Update: I just checked the shelf. I only see Stegasaurus, not City. Arrrgh!)

And I don't think any of the posters mentioned Time at the Top by Edward Ormondroyd. It's about a little girl who travels back in time in her apartment building's elevator. Or Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. It's another time travel book, but the portal is a garden which can only be accessed at night when the clock strikes thirteen. And the garden isn't there in the daytime.

Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw got checked out repeatedly when I was in junior high. The main character is a slave girl in ancient Egypt who has a gift for languages. She is bought by the supporters of Hatshepsut to act as a spy against the pharoh's brother
Tutmose. But due to complicated circumstances, Mara is forced to become a double agent. It's an exciting, swashbuckling adventure which even includes a romance.

The Winged Watchman by Hilda Van Stockum used to be a Forgotten Favorite, but her books have now been republished by Bethlehem Books. The Winged Watchman is about a Dutch family during the Nazi occupation of Holland. I loved it because the characters were Catholic and there was actually some theological discussion that was absoutely germane to the story and very naturally presented.

The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss. Originally published in 1954, this memoir tells the story of a young white couple who adopted eleven children of various ethnic backgrounds at a time when trans-racial or trans-ethnic adoption was inconceivable both to professional social workers and to the general public. I still have the Scholastic Book Services paperback edition I bought in the 1960s which has my name carefully printed on the inside front cover in a large childish hand. It is very well read. I think I liked it because it was about a family that was even larger than ours. It was also my first glimpse of the fact that not everyone thought that a brown Mexican baby was much prettier than a pasty blond one.

The last book I'll mention is by Elizabeth Enright. Actually, I loved all of her books. But The Saturdays, published in 1941, was a special favorite because it struck me as being the most exotic. The four Melendy children decide to found the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club. (I.S.A.A.C for short.) Each week the children will pool their allowances (a whole $1.60!) and take turns using the entire sum to to fund a special, individual adventure. All but the youngest are old enough to travel into The City (New York) alone. So twelve year old Rush, a music fanatic, goes to the opera and hears Sigfried. Ten year old Miranda visits an art gallery . Thirteen year old Mona goes to a real beauty shop and has her long braids cut off. And on each of their adventures they meet seemingly ordinary people who turn out to have fascinating stories.

If you have Forgotten Treasures to share, please post them in the comments box.

6 comments:

intertext said...

Hi there! Thanks for the link :) I hope you don't mind if I come and play the "bounces up and down and exclaims 'I loved that book too!'" game here.
I like your choices, and remember most of them. I used to get My Side of the Mountain out of the library often. I loved the idea of that snug, cosy home inside a tree! Time at the Top was another old favourite. For some reason, I never really liked Tom's Midnight Garden as much as I thought I would have - my own favourite Phillipa Pearce was A Dog So Small.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Welcome!

I'd never heard of A Dog So Small but I just did an online search for the title and found an intriguing review. I'll have to search the online catalogs of all the neighboring public libraries to see if I can find a copy.

I suppose young people must take for granted the ease with which one can search for and even buy books online. When I was young, if a book wasn't in the public library, it might just as well not exist. (I don't think there were any book stores in our area. The only books I was able to buy were those offered through the classroom by Scholastic Book services. And the only books I ever got from my parents as gifts were titles carried in the Sears catalog.

I'm fond of the past, but the present definitely has its advantages.

Anonymous said...

Just to let you know the correct title of the one of the books you mentioned...

You were thinking of "The Paleface Redskins" by Jacqueline Jackson.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Thank you for the title correction! No wonder I couldn't track down a copy. And yikes! I see that used copies on Amazon start at $94.97!

Therese said...

Have you heard of Arthur Ransom? He's an English author whose books - "Swallows and Amazons," "The Picts the Martyrs" and so forth - center around camping trips and sailing expeditions on English lakes. Lots of playing pirates, outsmarting intimidating great aunts, and so forth. They're being reprinted now, I believe.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Oh, yes, yes! I've got the whole set sitting on a shelf in my children's book section. My husband used to read them aloud to our kids who just loved them. I'm glad to hear they're still in print. I must say that I always felt inadequate compared to the children's mother, "the best of all natives" who let her children do so many fun things that I would have felt aprehensive about.

I never happened to read these books as a child. If I had they would have been favorites and I would have loved Mother.