Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Hidden Gems of my Home Library

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is hidden gems. As we have been reshelving our books since our move, I have been taking note of some of the lesser-known vintage children's titles we have in our home library, and this seemed like the perfect time to share!

  • No Boats on Bannermere by Geoffrey Trease (1949)
    This is a British children's novel from 1949 about a group of children who move to a new neighborhood only to learn that one of their neighbors, a wealthy man named Sir Alfred Askew, doesn't allow any boats on the nearby lake. As they set out to learn the reasons behind this rule, they uncover a shocking murder mystery. This is like Swallows and Amazons meets The Boxcar Children meets Minnow on the Say, and it's just great. The sequels are harder to find, but I have managed to read Black Banner Abroad and Under Black Banner, though there is sadly little hope I will ever own them. 
  • The Wonderful Farm by Marcel Ayme, illustrated by Maurice Sendak (1951)
    This book has the distinction of being the first children's book ever illustrated by Maurice Sendak! Translated from French, it is the story of two little girls, Delphine and Marinette, who live with their stern parents on a farm which is in every way normal except that the animals can talk. Each chapter follows the girls through a particular adventure involving animals either from the farm or the surrounding forest, and the episodes are funny, sad, suspenseful and everything in between. I read the book aloud to my older two girls this winter, and it was just a joy from beginning to end. 
  • The Cottage at Bantry Bay by Hilda van Stockum (1938)
    This is a novel about the O'Sullivan family of Glengarriff, County Cork, Ireland who introduce the reader to Irish culture through their everyday adventures. This book is often overshadowed by van Stockum's semi-autobiographical Mitchells series and by her Newbery honor book, A Day on Skates, but it's a gentle and engaging story in its own right, and I'm still hoping to read the sequels, Francie on the Run and Pegeen
  • The Secret Language by Ursula Nordstrom (1960)
    Ursula Nordstrom was the children's books editor for Harper & Row for over 30 years, and she mentored many beloved authors  including Maurice Sendak, E.B. White, Margaret Wise Brown, Louise Fitzhugh, and Russell Hoban. She only published this one book herself, but it embodies so much of the advice she gave to the authors she worked with (which I read about in another gem, her collection of letters called Dear Genius) and I was disappointed to learn that she wrote another book and subsequently burned it because she didn't think it was good! 
  • The Open Gate by Kate Seredy (1943)
    This wonderful novel is set right near where I grew up, so it has a special place in my heart. It also seems to be the most difficult Seredy novel to find, which is a shame because it's so good! It follows the Preston family as they move from the city to the country on the spur of the moment and try to learn to farm. Set in 1941, it also explores the reaction of average Americans to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and its ramifications.
  • Sticks Across the Chimney: A Story of Denmark by Nora Burglon (1938)
    Siri and Erik live with their widowed mother in Denmark, where they live near a Viking burial ground, as it is the only place they can afford. The community ostracizes them for living there and threatens them with ghost stories, but they do their best to remain true to themselves and loyal to their mother while they wait for their luck to change. There are some old-fashioned sensibilities to the story, but overall it's a great novel for building character. 
  • (George) by E.L. Konigsburg (1970)
    Konigsburg is a well-known author, but this odd book of hers flies a bit under the radar. It's about a middle school student, Ben, whose best friend is his "concentric twin" George who lives inside of him. The story is well-written and funny, but there is also an underlying A Beautiful Mind vibe that keeps you both questioning Ben and rooting for him through the entire book. I put off reading it for a long time because I thought it would freak me out too much, but now I'm actually glad to have it on my shelf.
  • The Far-Distant Oxus by Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock (1937)
    The Far-Distant Oxus was written by two teenage girls, Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock, as an homage to their favorite author, Arthur Ransome of Swallows and Amazons fame. Ransome enjoyed the book and helped to have it published. Though the writing is unpolished and many plot points are unresolved, this is an interesting read both because the authors are so young and because it's basically vintage fanfiction. 
  • Those Miller Girls! by Alberta Wilson Constant, illustrated by Joe and Beth Krush (1965)
    This is the first book in a Penderwicksian trilogy about two sisters, Maddy and Lou Emma Miller and their widower father, Professor Cyrus Miller, who have just moved to Gloriosa, Kansas, where they struggle to settle in among the locals. The story includes great dialogue and lots of fun detail about daily living around the turn of the 20th century. This book is hard to find, and the sequels are even harder. I have a signed copy of book three, Does Anybody Care About Lou Emma Miller?, that was a Christmas present from my husband last year, but I'll probably never even see book two, The Motoring Millers.
  • Ellen Grae by Vera and Bill Cleaver, illustrated by Ellen Raskin (1967)
    Vera and Bill Cleaver are better known for Where the Lilies Bloom, which was a 1970 National Book Award finalist, but Ellen Grae, published in 1967, shares a lot of the same vivid language and emotional dilemmas. Ellen has such a strong reputation for telling tall tales that when she is taken into the unlikely confidence of the town recluse she wonders whether she will be believed if she decides to report what she has learned to someone who can help. It's a really challenging novel, just right for the advanced middle schooler. Interestingly, this book is illustrated by Newbery medalist Ellen Raskin. 


  1. took a cue from you for today's top ten!! but so so love that your gems are truly vintage.. and they are all books I would love to read.. remind me of so many of the books I read growing up..

  2. What a great take on today's topic! I'd done this topic not long ago so did not post today.

  3. Ooh, cool old books. The covers remind me of the books that have been sitting around my parents’ house for so long that nobody remembers where they came from.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!