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« Attack of the killer tom- , er, authorship problem | Main | This Week's Acquisitions »

October 08, 2011



How awesome! I'm not sure if I should be embarrassed that I'm quite familiar with Waterbabies and Westward Ho! In fact, I still have the Pasteboard "Junior Deluxe Edition" of several of these classics handed down from my mother. They must have still been popular in the 40s and 50s. (Though LLF was incredibly dull. But did make the Booth Tarkington Penrod sendups that much funnier.)

I had not heard of Tom Brown's Schooldays... Too bad it isn't free on kindle ($1.50). I may have to try it from the library. I do have a soft spot for many of the books about boarding schools that it must have inspired.

I loved Ivanhoe-- read it in one fell swoop one day when I was sick and home from school. (The next day it made an appearance in an academic quiz bowl question which I nailed for my team-- name 5 characters from the book whose names started with the letter R.)

How about George McDonald? I enjoyed the Princess books (also read when sick home from school-- my mom kept classics next to my bed for just such occasions), but my mother says what she loved best about reading E. Nesbitt to me was a scene in one of the books in which the children react with disgust to a theatrical version of At the back of the night wind.


At the Back of the North Wind is indeed on the list.


When I was young - so say late 60s early 70s - I had Enid Blyton's "Land of Far Beyond" which was her retelling of Pilgrim's Progress.

(I expect I got it because I was on the Enid Blyton kick common at that age. I don't have any of the Blytons as I grew out of them, but I still have Biggles!)

I never read Wind in the Willows until I was in my 20s, but I did read Ivanhoe. Little Women is definitely an American thing, I never came across it in Australia.

I don't think there's an Australian book that has the same place, the iconic ones are for younger kids, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, and The Magic Pudding.


So much depends on access to these books, then and now. I read Pilgrim's Progress as a child because it was shelved in juvenile fiction for ages 10-12. As a teenager, I would never have grabbed it from either the teen or adult shelves. And David Copperfield is a very tempting read for kids whose school uses the Accelerated Reader program; it's worth 66 points.

Kelly R.

I wonder to what extent this list might be different if turn-of-the-century children had been polled instead of adults (I'm assuming Daily Mail readers were mostly grownups.)


One datapoint for LLF: I'd read it before I turned 18, but that was because my brother specifically tracked it down. Secret Garden and A Little Princess were much more available. I'd read everything else on the list at that point except Tom Brown's Schooldays; Grimm and Arabian Nights in abridged versions, of course. But then, I was an admitted bibliophile.

Mr Punch

I've read the top 10, and had read all but the Bunyan before I was 13 - but I'm 64. (Hated Ivanhoe!) Yes, my impression is that The Secret Garden is widely read, not LLF. Tom Brown has faded out, of course, but a lot of kids appear to be reading newer books about an English boy's schooldays. I wonder if there's a literary influence ....


J.L. Borges said during a Joyce conference that all great works of literature eventually wind up in nursery (viz. Robinson Crusoe, Don Quixote) and he predicted the same end for "Ulysses" as well. I guess we'll have to wait for that.

@Kelly R. In 1888 Edward Salmon published "Juvenile Literature as It Is", which begins with an opinion poll with the results for boys' and girls' favourites given separately. Both boys and girls named Dickens as their favourite author, the top book on the boys' hit list was "Robinson Crusoe" and the girls', surprisingly enough, "Westward Ho!". You can check it out here:


I read only three of the top ten before I was 16: Little Women, Arabian Knights, and Little Lord Fauntleroy. I also read David Copperfield and Ivanhoe.

Before I went to college, I read most of the Bible (for religious, rather than literary reasons), Paradise Lost, and most of Shakespeare's plays. My English teacher did not require us to read Pilgrim's Progress, but did suggest it. (For reference, I'm 26).


"I think it's safe to say that nobody recommends Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome for children's reading nowadays...nor, indeed, for adult reading."

Not so safe as all that! My father used to recite "Horatius" (well, except the parts he couldn't remember) to me as a child on long car rides and such. I begged for it all the time, and now have "Lays of Ancient Rome" on my bookshelf. Macaulay is second only to the D'Aulaires in responsibility for my eventually becoming a classicist. So there's at least one of us.


Oh, and I'm 30, if that matters.

Ang Gilham

I can't compete with Mr Punch, as every time I've tried Bunyan I've ended up screaming in frustration, but I did all the others before I was 16 (I'm 47 and British to boot, which may have something to do with that ;-). Although Little Lord Fauntleroy evinced in me a great desire to thump the smug little git.

I also adored Ivanhoe. As for the Marryat, although Peter Simple was OK, I much preferred The Children of the New Forest.

Ray Girvan

I'm a great fan of the Water Babies, but it isn't remotely a children's book, and probably only got to be so via abridged versions that leave out all the Darwinian satire.


I had read and enjoyed every book on the top ten by the time I was eleven, although a couple (Robinson Crusoe and Arabian Nights) were definitely abridged versions.

Water Babies was one of my absolute favourites. I have to disagree with Ray Girvan: it's a brilliant read for a child - as long as it is left unabridged. You read it once and there's a strange and funny story which looks like entertaining nonsense, and then you read it twice and start seeing the shapes of meaning underneath the nonsense.


Nicole: you can get 'Tom Brown's Schooldays' for free to read on your kindle, if you get it from Project Gutenberg. Try


I never read fiction when I was a kid, but my mom was an English teacher, so she kept trying. I managed to get down Julius Caesar, Water Babies and Bambi, but the rest was stuff like Geography for Grownups, Gods, Graves and Scholars and scads of essays, sometimes a bit outdated by Shapley, Haldane, as well as more modern writers.

In my 20s I started reading fiction, breaking out with Camus, of all authors, in translation. I've been binging since. I loved Ivanhoe. It was a hoot. Rebecca, the best character, was based on Rebecca Gratz in Philadelphia. I was rather amazed by Swiss Family Robinson. It was like the World Wildlife Fund in reverse. I'm not surprised it has fallen out of favor.

We've been tutoring a number of high school students trying to improve their SAT scores. They are smart kids, but lack world knowledge and vocabulary. Basically, they didn't read enough. The solution was at I don't think it really matters what they read as much that they do.

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