Aunt Book Recommends...   

Here is a list of books that Aunt Book believes worthy of your attention, Dear Nieces and Nephews.  If you wish to share your comments about any of these books, do, please, Tell Aunt Book. (Alas, Aunt Book does not have time to post the recommendations of others, and suggests that they may wish to start their own web sites).  The books are, at the moment, listed in no particular order.  Aunt Book would be very interested in learning whether you find this charmingly informal, or so disorganized as to drive you to screaming distraction.   


BONNIE DUNDEE, by Rosemary Sutcliff.  Bodley Head, c1983; American edition Dutton, 1984.
   A fictionalized view of the life of John Grahame of Claverhouse, first Viscount Dundee, known variously as "Bonnie Dundee" and "Bloody Claverhouse" (that latter by nitwits who know no better).  If you don't pitch headlong into love with the man, Aunt Book will be considerably surprised.

A TRAVELLER IN TIME, by Allison Uttley.  Faber & Faber, c1948.
     When Penelope goes to stay with relatives in an old, old farmhouse in Derbyshire, she sees people who are no longer there and walks through doors that no longer exist into the past at the time of the captivity of Mary, Queen of Scots.  A lovely, dreamlike book.  If you would like to see the real house that is called Thackers in this book, there are some pictures here.

MOVEABLE MABELINE, by KarenAckerman.  Philomel Books, 1990.
     If you are a collector of dolls, as Aunt Book is, you will enjoy this story of "the doll that got away," but not forever.

The Green Knowe books by L. M. Boston.  These include THE CHILDREN OF GREEN KNOWE, A STRANGER AT GREEN KNOWE, THE TREASURE OF GREEN KNOWE (also known as THE CHIMNEYS OF GREEN KNOWE), THE RIVER AT GREEN KNOWE, and THE STONES OF GREEN KNOWE.  Mrs. Boston based these stories on the ancient house she bought and restored, and they are magical.  You might also enjoy MEMORY IN A HOUSE, in which she tells of buying and restoring the house at Hemingford Grey.  You can find out more information about the real house here.

THE WONDERFUL YEAR, by Nancy Barnes.  Messner, 1946.  Ellen and her family leave their city home in Kansas and go to Colorado to live in the country for her father's health.  Her new life turns out to be wonderful (hence the title, of course!), as she makes friends with the British boy on the next ranch and explores her new home.   You'll wish that you could join them!   

MAGIC ELIZABETH, by Norma Kassirer.  Sally, with great reluctance, goes to stay with her Great-Aunt Sarah in a scary, old-fashioned house.  Through an old diary and through her dreams, Sally learns about Elizabeth, a doll who belonged to another Sally years ago and who disappeared and was never found.  The illustrations are by Joe Krush, half of Aunt Book's favorite illustrating team.

SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS, by Arthur Ransome.  A family of children, spending a vacation in England's Lake District, given permission to sail in the Swallow to camp on an island (their father's reply from overseas: "Better drowned than duffers.  If not duffers, won't drown") meet up with the Amazon, crewed by two sisters.  They befriend and compete with each other.  Aunt Book chortles gleefully over the fact that Captain Nancy of the pirate ship Amazon is actually named Ruth, but as everyone knows that pirates are ruthless...  This is the first in a series of books, all of which Aunt Book heartily recommends.

ELISABETH, by Claire A. Nivola.  Elisabeth the doll and her owner, Ruth, live in Germany.  Ruth and her family have to flee (from the pictures, though not the text, we can see that it is because of the Nazis) and Ruth is forced to leave Elisabeth behind.  Years later, they are reunited.  The magical thing about this story is that it is true.  The illustrations are lovely, bright yet soft, and childlike.  Aunt Book is very fond of doll books, and this is an excellent one.

THE COLOR KITTENS, by Margaret Wise Brown, illus. by Alice and Martin Provensen.  Bounce and Pounce, the Color Kittens, discover how colors combine to make other colors.  The soft, bright colors of the illustrations are a large part of the charm of this book, and one of them, where all the different colors make a lovely, swirly pattern in spilled paint, is Aunt Book's very favorite children's book illustration.

THE LIBRARY, by Sarah Stewart.  Aunt Book finds Elizabeth Brown, the protagonist of this book, to be a kindred spirit, and knows quite well the  joys and fears of having a house that is filled to overflowing with books.    

THE NICKEL-PLATED BEAUTY, by Patricia Beatty.  The Kimballs' stove is falling apart, and the children hear of a miraculous thing called "C.O.D.," used for ordering things when one has no money.  It is only after the lovely Nickel-Plated Beauty arrives that they realize that they must, in fact, pay for it, and set about earning the money, secretly, to surprise their mother.  Set in 1886 in Washington State, it is one of a number of excellent historical fiction books by Patricia Beatty, either alone or with her husband, John.  Mrs. Beatty's deal largely with the western U.S., and include such titles as THE QUEEN'S OWN GROVE, THE LADY FROM BLACK ROCK and O THE RED ROSE TREE, among many others.

CAMPION TOWERS, by John and Patricia Beatty.  One of history's more exciting episodes is the escape of Charles II after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.  With Parliamentarians hunting for him, he was concealed by loyal supporters and eventually made his way to safety in France.  Mr. and Mrs. Beatty create a fictional character, Penitence Hervey, a Puritan from the American colonies, to accompany King Charles for part of his journey.  The King's story is only a part of this novel, however, which concentrates more on Pen's interactions with her Royalist, non-Puritan English relatives.  Another interesting book covering the flight of the King is Georgette Heyer's ROYAL ESCAPE, not a children's book but a superbly-researched novel.  Like every other person with two X chromosomes, Aunt Book cherishes a soft spot in her heart for Charles II.  

THE BORROWED HOUSE, by Hilda Van Stockum.  Janna's parents are actors, and so popular with the German government and army that they are given a house in occupied Amsterdam in which to live, and can finally send for their daughter to stay with them.  Janna, who has accepted unquestioningly the Nazi theories of German superiority, begins meeting people and experiencing events that shake the foundations of her world.  Hilda Van Stockum also wrote a series set in Ireland (starting with THE COTTAGE AT BANTRY BAY) and one about wartime in the United States (starting with THE MITCHELLS:  FIVE FOR VICTORY), but this book is Aunt Book's favorite of the lot.

THOSE MILLER GIRLS, THE MOTORING MILLERS, DOES ANYBODY CARE ABOUT LOU EMMA MILLER, by Alberta Wilson Constant  In the first book of this trilogy, sisters Lou Emma and Maddy Miller move from Ohio to Gloriosa, Kansas, with their college-professor father.  On the way, they buy that newfangled gadget, an auto, which becomes almost another character in the book.  The girls adjust to their new life without a housekeeper and make friends with their new neighbors and fellow Gloriosans, including the independent, beautiful milliner, Miss Kate.   The characters are lifelike, the story is delightful, and the illustrations are by Beth and Joe Krush, two of Aunt Book's favorites.   The sequels are also excellent.

MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH, by Robert C. O'Brien.  A widowed mouse with several children, one of whom is quite sickly, finds out that her cinderblock home is in danger, and goes for help to the nearby colony of extraordinarily intelligent rats.  Aunt Book remembers her fifth-grade teacher's reading this aloud to the class, and it was one of the first hardcover books she bought (or, rather, persuaded her parents to buy).

THE CHANGELING, THE VELVET ROOM, THE EGYPT GAME, and BLACK AND BLUE MAGIC by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.  These three books are not a series, though the author has written several of those.  THE CHANGELING was the other hardcover book that Aunt Book first bought (as described under MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH).  It covers many years in the story of the friendship between quiet, shy Martha Abbott and Ivy Carson, wildly original and imaginative child from a family from the wrong side of the tracks.  In THE VELVET ROOM, Robin's family, migrant workers during the Depression, find work at a ranch which holds an old, deserted house, and Robin's attachment to the house leads to her having to make a decision about the importance of her family.   In THE EGYPT GAME, a group of children recreate Ancient Egypt in an abandoned lot.  BLACK AND BLUE MAGIC, the author tells us, was written when her son told her he was tired of sad stories about girls and wished that she would write a funny story for boys, instead.  Harry is given the ability to grow wings, and, of course, misadventures result!

GONE-AWAY LAKE and RETURN TO GONE-AWAY, by Elizabeth Enright, illus. by Beth and Joe Krush.  Portia and her cousin, Julian, discover an elderly brother and sister living in the remains of what was once a colony of summer homes near Lake Tarrigo, until the lake vanished.  Elizabeth Enright's writing has understated humor and vivid descriptions, and both books are a joy to read.  The detailed, almost cluttered line drawings match the atmosphere of the story beautifully.

THE SATURDAYS, THE FOUR-STORY MISTAKE, THEN THERE WERE FIVE, and SPIDERWEB FOR TWO, by Elizabeth Enright.  Another series by the author of the two GONE-AWAY LAKE books.  The Melendy family, first in New York and then in a new, old house in the country have realistic yet absorbing and unusual adventures.  The author illustrated these books hereself, with simple but expressive line-drawings.

RABBIT HILL and THE TOUGH WINTER, by Robert Lawson.  Little Georgie the rabbit and his family, Mother, Father (with fond memories of Kentucky Bluegrass), and cantankerous Uncle Analdas, as well as their many animal friends, are wary when new Folks move into the Big House in the first book of this twosome.  In the second, the Folks depart on vacation just before the hardest winter in living memory challenges the animals' survival.

JANE-EMILY, by Patricia Clapp.  Aunt Book, in her youth, made the mistake of reading this terrifying ghost story while home alone on a stormy night.  She recommends it for anyone who wants to feel cold shivers down the spine.  Louisa and her niece, Jane, go to stay with Jane's grandmother, only to find that the grandmother's willful daughter, Emily, who had died years before, is still there, still willful, and quite malevolent.

THE LION IN THE BOX, by Marguerite de Angeli.  A poor family, living in a tenement, receives a giant box packed full of surprises for Christmas.  Marguerite de Angeli has written a number of excellent books, but this is Aunt Book's favorite; she simply adores stories involving Christmas surprise boxes.

THE GUINEA PIG ABC and GUINEA PIGS FAR AND NEAR, by Kate Duke.  Lively guinea pigs, packed with personality, teach children the alphabet and opposites.   The drawings are cartoonlike, bright, and cheerful.

THE ARK and ROWAN FARM, by Margot Benary-Isbert.  These were originally written in German and tell the story of a family, displaced from what became East Germany in the immediate aftermath of World War II, trying to find a new home and settle into it.  Funny, sad, happy; full of memorable, well-drawn characters; what more could anyone ask?

THE LITTLE WHITE HORSE, by Elizabeth Goudge.  An enchanting,fairy-tale-like story.  Young Maria Merryweather, newly orphaned, goes to stay at her family's home of Moonacre Manor near the village of Silverydew.  She tries to find out about the mysterious sadness in her family's past, and the cause of the trouble between the people of Silverydew and the nearby fisher folk, with the help of the boy Robin, whom she had met long ago in her dreams. 

HENRY REED, INC., HENRY REED'S JOURNEY, HENRY REED'S BABY-SITTING SERVICE, HENRY REED'S BIG SHOW, and HENRY REED'S THINK TANK, by Keith Robertson, illus by Robert McCloskey.  Henry Reed, who has always lived overseas because of his father's job in the diplomatic corps, starts spending his summers in New Jersey with his aunt and uncle.  He and Midge Glass, a neighbor, try different schemes to raise money.  The books are written in the form of Henry's journals, and the straight-faced way in which he describes the most outrageously hilarious occurrences make these especially enjoyable.

THE KING WHO RAINED, A CHOCOLATE MOOSE FOR DINNER, THE SIXTEEN-HAND HORSE, and A LITTLE PIGEON TOAD, by Fred Gwynne.  Have fun with homophones (which were called homonyms when Aunt Book was a mere slip of a thing in elementary school) as Fred Gwynne illustrates what a child thinks of when she hears, for example, about the Foot Prince in the snow.

WHILE MRS. COVERLET WAS AWAY, MRS. COVERLET'S MAGICIANS, and MRS. COVERLET'S DETECTIVES, by Mary Nash, illus by Garrett Price.  The adventures of the three Persever children:  sensible Molly; Malcolm, cursed with a complicated conscience; and the six-year-old Toad.  Aunt Book chortles madly whenever she thinks of the Toad singing one of his favorite Christmas songs, "Good King Wence's Car Backed Out On a Piece of Stephen."

SNOW TREASURE, by Marie McSwigan, illus by Mary Reardon.   This book is based on a true story.  During World War II, with Norway occupied by the Nazis, a group of children work together to smuggle a cache of gold to a ship where it can be taken to safety.  Aunt Book once bought an old newspaper in an antique shop, and was startled to discover that in that newspaper was the original news story telling about this event!

THE CLOWN OF GOD, by Tomie de Paola.  Aunt Book was first introduced to this book in one of her college classes on children's literature (or Kiddie Lit, as we called it with wild whimsy).  The professor mentioned that she read the book aloud to a class and then promptly burst into tears, startling the children.  Aunt Book quite understands; she cannot even describe the book to others without being moved to tears.  It is a retelling of the lovely medieval story of a juggler and his gift to Our Lady and the baby Jesus.

THE CARROT SEED, by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Crockett Johnson.  This story of a little boy who has faith that the carrot seed he planted will grow, in the face of doubts from his family, is quite delightful.  Aunt Book first heard it on a record when she was a child.  The recorded version had musical accompaniment, and to this day Aunt Book will occasionally sing (mercifully, to herself), "I watered it, I pulled the weeds.  Carrots grow from carrot seeds!"  

MOLLY'S PILGRIM, by Barbara Cohen.  Molly is an immigrant to America, and the children at school tease her.  When the teacher has them make dolls of pilgrims for a Thanksgiving display, Molly's mother, when it is explained to her that "a pilgrim is someone who came from the other side to find freedom," creates a doll that teaches a lesson.  This is another of the books that make Aunt Book sniffle delicately and dab at her eyes.

MARTHA SPEAKS, by Susan Meddaugh.  Martha the dog discovers that, after eating alphabet soup, she is suddenly able to speak.  And speak.  And speak!  Enough to fill this and several other books, MARTHA CALLING, MARTHA BLAH BLAH, and MARTHA WALKS THE DOG.

ROXABOXEN, by Alice McLerran, illustrated by Barbara Cooney.  Marian and her sisters and friends build the town of Roxaboxen of stone and boxes and pieces of pottery and glass, on the lovely desert terrain near their homes.  The author's mother was the real Marian, and Aunt Book has just discovered that the real Roxaboxen has now been declared a natural desert park by the city of Yuma.  She thinks you might want to visit the author's website to find out more:  Alice McLerran's website  

SHEEP IN A JEEP, by Nancy Shaw, illustrated by Margot Apple.  Aunt Book could easily (though not legally, of course!) type the entire text of this book here, but it is the combination of the simple text and the gleefully expressive pictures that make this book such a delight.  The sheep have other adventures in SHEEP ON A SHIP, SHEEP IN A SHOP, SHEEP OUT TO EAT, SHEEP TRICK OR TREAT, and SHEEP TAKE A HIKE.

LITTLE WOMEN, by Louisa May Alcott.  There is a reason that this book has been popular for well over a century.  Aunt Book first read a sixty-page illustrated version, then the Scholastic paperback abridged version, and finally the complete edition.  The characters are like old friends, though Aunt Book is firmly of the opinion that Jo should have married Laurie, and nothing anyone says will change her mind.

HEROES, by Ken Mochizuki, illus. by Dom Lee.  A Japanese-American boy is always forced to play "the enemy" in the soldier games his schoolmates play, until his father and uncle, both decorated war heroes, quietly teach them a lesson.

THE HOUSE ON PARCHMENT STREET, by Patricia A. McKillip, illus. by Charles Robinson.  An American girl visiting her cousin in England finds him very uncongenial until they have to figure out why there is a ghost walking through the wall in the cellar.

THE CABIN FACED WEST, by Jean Fritz, illus. Feodor Rojankovsky.  Ann, used to elegant Gettysburg, despises her family's new life on the frontier of western Pennsylvania in 1787.  Aunt Book suggests that you find an older copy of this, because the printing of the illustrations in a more recent edition was quite abominable.

The DANNY DUNN books by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin.  These science fiction books have been rather overtaken by events - the primitive computer described in DANNY DUNN AND THE HOMEWORK MACHINE, for example - but the stories are entertaining and the poems written by Joe are always worth reading.

THE DUCHESS BAKES A CAKE, by Virginia Kahl.  When the Duchess sets out to bake a lovely, light, luscious, delectable cake, she uses too much yeast and finds herself with a huge problem. Aunt Book loves the rollicking rhymes and alliteration in this book.  Other books about the Duchess and her family include PLUM PUDDING FOR CHRISTMAS, THE HABITS OF RABBITS, GUNHILDE AND THE HALLOWEEN SPELL, THE BARON'S BOOTY, GUNHILDE'S CHRISTMAS BOOK, and HOW MANY DRAGONS ARE BEHIND THE DOOR.

"I CAN'T," SAID THE ANT, by Polly Cameron.  Tragedy in the kitchen, and the inhabitants have to work together to help.  This story in rhyme has a pictograph as well as the word for it in many of the lines.  If you read this book Aunt Book is reasonably sure that you will find yourself mentally reciting, "'I can't,' said the ant; 'You must,' said the crust; 'Please try,' said the pie..."

LETTING SWIFT RIVER GO, by Jane Yolen, illus. by Barbara Cooney.  A little girl's memories of the town where she lived and how it and many others like it were drowned by the damming of Swift River to make a reservoir for Boston.  The illustrations mesh beautifully with the story, and Aunt Book finds the thought of the drowned towns quite haunting.

SUMMER, by Alice Low, and SNOW, by Roy McKie.  These two charming books are about two children and their dog and the adventures they have in summer and in winter. They are Beginner Books by Random House, easy to read, and written in catchy rhymes.  Even more fun than the rhymes are the pictures.  Aunt Book is especially fond of the dog with his little whiskery nose.

THE KING WITH SIX FRIENDS, by Jay Williams.  A tribute to the quality of leadership, often overlooked.  The six friends in question each have an amazing ability, and together they are able to reach their goal.  Someone then asks what the king, who has no apparent extraordinary ability, did, that he should be given any credit; and the friends reply, simply, "He led us."

AUNT CLAIRE'S YELLOW BEEHIVE HAIR, by Deborah Blumenthal.  The joys of gathering family information and memorabilia by way of making a scrapbook are told in this delightful story.

STEADY, FREDDIE! by Scott Corbett.  Donna is plunged into a great deal of frog-related trouble simply because, on a trip to the zoo with her Girl Scout troop, she happens to be carrying her Girl Scout purse.

ADOPTED JANE, by Helen F. Daringer.  Jane Douglas lives in an orphanage in the late 1800's or early 1900's.  One summer she receives invitations to visit not one but two different homes:  a warm, friendly farm family, and a rather remote, controlled woman living in a town.  The story is rich with description and detail, and is a lovely, cozy thing to read.

THE THIEF, THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA, and THE KING OF ATTOLIA, by Megan Whalen Turner.  The first of these books was a Newbery Honor Book, and it is a crime against humanity that the other two did not win the Newbery Medal itself.  They are set in an imaginary place that shares features of Ancient Greece and later Byzantium.  The first is an adventure in quest of an ancient talisman, told in the first person by a protagonist who gives readers the distinct feeling that he is hiding something from them.  The second book involves conflict between the kingdoms of Eddis, Attolia, and Sounis; especially the first two, each ruled by a queen.  The third is a tale of political intrigue within the kingdom of Attolia.  This bare description barely hints at the magnificent complexity of the books and the characters, but Aunt Book does not want to give anything away.  She will say that she herself read The King of Attolia first, which had the disadvantage of ruining some of the surprises in the first two books when she did read them (as soon as she could get her little claws on them, that was).  On the other hand, it had the advantage of making some things in The King of Attolia surprising, which they would not have been to someone who had already read the first two.  In whichever order you prefer, Aunt Book urges you to run straight out and find copies of these masterpieces and read them immediately.


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