I am, as you can see, working through some of the books of my childhood at the moment, revisiting them and seeing if they live up to fresh scrutiny in the light of modern advances in the children’s literature genre. Some things date very badly, others surprisingly well. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott always seems so modern to me, no matter when I read it. Other books fade in comparison.
I loved Joan Aiken’s books as a child. Her series about Arabel and Mortimer the dementedly naughty raven, are firm favourites in this house and I have read them to all my children who love them as much as I do. They are dated in their language, but the humour never fails to make me, or my readers howl. Another favourite of mine is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, although I’ve never been able to get any of my lot to read it.
Aiken’s range was wide and varied, and I particularly liked her short stories, which is unusual for me, because I am not generally a fan of the short story genre. I had a copy of her books The Necklace of Raindrops and The Kingdom Under The Sea and read them until the covers fell off. Tale of a One Way Street is less familiar, although I must have read it at one point. Like A Necklace of Raindrops and Kingdom Under the Sea it has accompanying, and frankly brilliant illustrations by Jan Pienkowski, which are almost as wonderful as the stories themselves, and having re-read it yesterday I can’t imagine why I didn’t read it as much as the other volumes. It really stands the test of time, and the stories are a treasure trove.
Tale of a One Way Street is a slim volume of eight stories. Each is whimsical and strange, and all are sufficiently different to make each one like dipping into a box of chocolates. I enjoyed them all, although I felt that the ending of The Lions was rather unsatisfactory and I wanted it to continue where instead it left you dangling rather. it wasn’t that it was bad, in fact, had it ended differently it may well have ended up as my favourite story. In the end though, my favourites are the title story and The Alarm Cock. I also rather loved Clean Sheets, although its ending was rather prosaic. Of them all, The Goodbye Song is the most traditional in form, and reminded me very much of the story of the old woman who wants to get her pig to jump over the stile and has to enlist the help of all the creatures to do it. The Queen of the Moon is a wistful little creation and has an element of melancholy that stays with you after reading. Bridget’s Hat is pure magic in both tone and content, and has brilliant twitches of humour that render it beautifully ridiculous, and The Tractor, The Duck and The Drum is a rollickingly funny read to end what is a tight collection of quality stories.
The stories are beautifully crafted, the characters are interesting and engaging and there is a good blend of humour and magic that make for beguiling reading.
I recommend this for older readers aged 8-12, both boys and girls. The language is reasonably complex but the stories are short enough that you can guide a child through them in a teaching session, so I would also recommend this as a transitional or chapter book.