One of my favorite all-time children’s books is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (aka Elaine L. Konigsburg.) Originally published in 1967, the story of Claudia Kincaid, a girl who has decided to run away from home, and who chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as her new “home away from home,” always captured my imagination. I mean what child hasn’t thought of running away from home at some point and doing it in style? This book has all that and more.
To make sure the book felt authentic, Konisburg scouted the museum herself in 1966, using her own children posed at various places and observing the routines of the security guards. (The Met is notorious for its carefully guarded secrecy so all her research had to be done without attracting too much attention.) With the museum’s permission, Ms. Konigsburg was allowed to publish in the book a guide to the museum map based on the visitor’s guides available to all.
The book was so well received that E. L. Konigsburg is the only author to date to have won two Newbery awards in the same year: From The Mixed-Up Files won the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children’s lit in 1968, and her first published book, also published in 1967 (Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth) won a Newbery Honor that same year. She also holds the distinction of being the only author to have won a 2nd Newbery Medal 29 years after her first (for her book The View From Saturday) – the longest span of time between awards to date.
Konigsburg is also one of those rare authors who also illustrated her own books, including doing the original artwork for Mixed-Up Files. When you’re looking for a great book for you or your child to read, this one should definitely make your list.
During the First World War, Hugh Lofting‘s children at home in England asked him to illustrate the letters he sent them. His experiences with wounded horses at the Casualty Clearing Station in France led him to visualize a fictional doctor who would learn to speak the animals’ languages…from these beginnings came the ever-popular Doctor Dolittle series. Lofting’s nine books about the friendly doctor who “talked to the animals” have been favorites ever since, and by 1934 had themselves been translated into twelve languages.
Pamela (P. L.) Travers was born in Australia in 1906. While living in Sussex, England, she first began to write while recovering from an illness. Mary Poppins was the result, and the magical governess who “blew in on an east wind” was an instant success. Mary Shepard did the charming illustrations for this and the later books. Travers would go on to write three sequels to the first book, and Walt Disney’s film version starring Oscar-winning Julie Andrews increased Poppins’ worldwide popularity. In a 1934 interview, Ms. Travers said, “If you are looking for autobiographical facts, Mary Poppins is the story of my life.”
Boston-born artist/illustrator Tasha Tudor is famed for her delightful illustrations for many children’s books including a few of her own. Married to Thomas McCready, Jr., the couple moved to New Hampshire with their three children in the 1930s and enjoyed the old-fashioned farm ways and holidays that give an added charm to the artist’s work.
Tasha Tudor Fairy Tales
Tags: Add new tag, Doctor Dolittle, Hugh Lofting, Mary Poppins, Mary Shepard, P. L. Travers, Tasha Tudor
Stephen W. Meader
The author of a series of boys’ historical adventure books, Stephen W. Meader was born in Providence, RI, in 1892. His first book, The Black Buccaneer, was based on a manuscript about the Carolina coastal pirates. Lumberjack and Red Horse Hill grew out of the author’s boyhood experiences in New England. All his books are filled with fast-moving action and have accurate historical backgrounds; they have enjoyed widespread popularity and are very collectable.
Red Horse Hill
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in the Little House in the Big Woods of Wisconsin on February 7, 1867. Her family traveled in a prairie schooner across Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas, where they lived in the Little House on the Prairie. Wilder’s childhood was relived in her “Little House” series of books for young people and have delighted two generations so far, with no end to their popularity in sight. Garth Williams’ charming black and white illustrations capture the early pioneer days in this autobiographical series.
Little House on the Prairie
Tags: Add new tag, boys' books, Garth Williams, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie, Stephen W. Meader
Marguerite Henry’s first horse story was Justin Morgan Had a Horse; her 1949 best-seller, King of the Wind, won the Newbery Medal.
All of her horse stories are fact-based fiction; one of the most popular series began with Misty of Chincoteague, a real pony. Gifted artist Wesley Dennis created the beautiful illustrations for Henry’s books.
Five O'Clock Charlie
Justin Morgan Had a Horse
C. W. Anderson
C. W. Anderson wrote and illustrated more than a dozen books for children, mostly dealing with horses. Billy and Blaze was the first title in a series about a young boy and his horse; the author’s beautiful pencil and charcoal illustrations make all his works especially collectable. A friend of the author’s gave him a fine thoroughbred horse named Bobcat that served him as a model for many years.
One of the best animal artists was Paul Brown, whose easily-recognizable strong black-and-white line made his work highly desirable when it came to illustrating horse and dog stories. An author also, Brown wrote several children’s books including Merry Legs; Piper’s Pony; Pony Farm, etc.
Will James was born in Montana in 1892 and virtually grew up on the range. Orphaned at an early age, James was adopted by a French Canadian trapper who taught him to read and write; he never received any formal schooling. However, the boy had a natural gift for drawing and eventually sold some of his work to magazines. His real fame came after the publication of his semi-autobiographical book, Smoky, the Cow-Horse in 1926. He went on to write several other books based on his experiences, and his vivid illustrations capture all the flavor of the old West.
Tags: Add new tag, C. W. Anderson, Horses, Justin Morgan, King of the Wind, Lone Cowboy, Marguerite Henry, Misty, Paul Brown, Smoky the Cow Horse, Wesley Dennis, Will James
Thornton W. Burgess
In 1910, writer/naturalist Thornton W. Burgess wrote his first book, Old Mother West Wind. It contained sixteen stories about animals including Reddy Fox, Peter Rabbit, Johnny Chuck, Jerry Muskrat, Bobby Coon, Little Joe Otter, Buster Bear and many other characters who would go on with their adventures in the dozens of sequels that followed. Burgess in 1934 said that he had written over 11,000 stories since OMWW’s publication. Harrison Cady‘s charming illustrations also contributed greatly to the overwhelming popularity of the series.
Mother West Wind
Adventures of Buster Bear
Tags: Buster Bear, Harrison Cady, Old Mother West Wind, Reddy Fox, Thornton W. Burgess
Walter R. Brooks
Freddy the Pig,
Freddy the Pig,
He’s not very little,
He’s not very big.
But his talents are stunning
As sleuth and as poet;
He’s a pig of great cunning–
And all his friends know it!
When Walter R. Brooks published his first Freddy the Pig book in 1927, To and Again aka Freddy Goes to Florida, he said that it was written “for my own amusement.” Freddy would subsequently appear in a series of adventures over the years, perfectly illustrated by Kurt Wiese, and gaining hosts of equally amused fans. One of the books’ trademarks was Freddy’s high-spirited flights of doggerel–actually, piggerel–because among his many roles was Editor of the Bean Home News. Of course he also doubled as detective, football player, astronaut, et al, because Freddy was definitely a Pig of Many Parts. Another of Walter Brooks’ famous characters was Mr. Ed, the Talking Horse, who had a lengthy career on the TV series of the same name.
To And Again
Freddy and the Perilous Adventure
Tags: Children's Series Books, Freddy the Pig, Mr. Ed, the Talking Horse, Walter R. Brooks
…when I was eleven years old, I first discovered Elizabeth Enright‘s wonderful books. Beginning with The Saturdays through Spiderweb for Two, the Melendy family’s adventures riveted my attention. Each of Enright’s fictional children, Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver stepped right off the pages–as real and three-dimensional as any of my school friends. And they seemed to be having even more fun. The author’s beautiful line drawings add to the charm of her writings.
Enright wrote other good books including her Newbery Award-winning Thimble Summer, but the Melendy books are my favorites.
For the best–and most popular of all–horse stories, Walter Farley‘s excellent Black Stallion series is unbeatable. After publication of his first book, The Black Stallion, in 1941, Farley’s career path was assured; children clamored for more and more stories of Alec Ramsay and his big black horse. The Island Stallion series followed, along with a semi-fictional biography of Big Red, Man o’ War, and other great books.
Among vintage series books of the World War II era, I’ve always liked Le Grand‘s Augustus books. A bright and adventurous 11-year-old Southern boy with the spirit of Huckleberry Finn, Augustus and his sister Glorianna and little brother Jupiter assisted the war effort in Augustus Helps the Navy, ditto the Army and the Marines, not to mention Augustus Flies and Augustus Drives a Jeep. All are out of print and hard to find nowadays. Le Grand (Le Grand Henderson) also illustrated his own books.
Lois Lenski’s books are largely stand-alones, and she too illustrated her own work: such books as Strawberry Girl; Blue Ridge Billy and Bayou Suzette are stories of children living in various regions of the United States. All are very collectable today. Lenski also illustrated the books of other authors, such as the very popular Betsy-Tacy girls’ series titles written by Maud Hart Lovelace.
Maud Hart Lovelace
Tags: Augustus, Black Stallion, Children's Authors, Children's Illustrators, Elizabeth Enright, Island Stallion, Le Grand, Lois Lenski, Maud Hart Lovelace, Melendy Family, Walter Farley