Children's literature

Beyond the Booker

I’m taking a short break away from reading the Man Booker prize winners, partly so I can explore some of the book recommendations I’ve had from fellow bloggers. But I also need to catch up with reading for my children’s literature course with the Open University which starts in September.

The two non-Booker books I’m currently reading, could not be more different.

 Elizabeth Taylor: A Wreath of Roses

I had never heard of Elizabeth Taylor until recently but there seems to be a growing swell of people who rate her very highly. And so I bought, at random, A Wreath of Roses which turns out to rated as one of her best.  

The early chapters didn’t sparkle very much for me but I sense a change and the emergence of  a psychologically darker tone. It’s a story about three women who were very close for several years and spent many idyllic summers together in the country. But as the novel begins and they meet once again for their holiday, each of them is conscious of how much their lives have changed.

The once young and carefree Liz is struggling with her new role as a mother and vicar’s wife.  Frances, the eldest of the trio,  having swapped her life as teacher and governess to become a successful painter in later life, now finds her new work taking on a darker, more disturbing tone. Such changes leave the central character Camilla feeling estranged and disenchanted with the direction her own life has taken. The handsome man she meets by accident at the train station suggests an escape ..but Richard Elton seems to have an all too different agenda.

That was the point at which I decided it was worth reading further. I’d enjoyed some of the descriptive passages thanks to Taylor’s very painterly but the characters hadn’t really come to life so I didn’t particularly care what they thought or felt. It wasn’t until the narrative switched to Richard’s point of view and glimpses of his disturbed personality, were revealed that the book took on a new dimension. Let’s hope it keeps going in that direction.

R L Stevenson: Treasure Island

I first read this more than 40 years ago and yet I can still remember that feeling of excitement as the story of adventure unfolded. Long John Silver is one of those unforgettable characters from fiction of course but I remember too some of the turning point episodes – of Jim crouched in the apple barrel overhearing Silver plotting the mutiny. Reading it now, it doesn’t seem to have lost any of its freshness -the story still feels like it zips along at a cracking pace and even though I know the ending, the child in me can’t help but hold my breath just in case Jim gets caught in the barrel or he loses the fight up on the mast and plunges to his death. I hope that as the children’s literature course progresses that I don’t get so bogged down in the analysis that the magic fades……


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

6 thoughts on “Beyond the Booker

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  • I’m very curious about the Children’s Literature course’s reading list. Is it available on the ou website? I’d love to have you write some posts about that too. 🙂

  • ELizabeth Taylor is one of those authors I’ve had on my must read lists for years, but still haven’t got round to. Checking I find have ‘Blaming’ on my bookshelf which I suspect was bought as part of a job lot somewhere. Friends all tell me that ‘Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont’ is the one to start with but obviously neither of us listened to them. I was interested in your mention of the Children’s Literature course. I hadn’t realised the OU ran one. I went and explored it and was gratified to see that their reading list is almost exactly the same as the one I used to give my students. If you can get hold of a copy of the earlier Anthony Browne book ‘A Walk in the Park’ it makes an interesting comparison with the later ‘Voices in the Park’. I hope you post somewhere about the course, I’ll be really interested to know how it goes and happy as someone who taught Children’s Literature at both UG and PG levels to discuss the books and ideas with you.

    • Thanks for the comments Alex though you do realise you’ve now given me yet another set of books that I have to add to the reading list. (LOL). The OU course will be a bit of a leap in the dark since I’m not sure how much of it is literature and how much social sciences/childhood studies. Still, the reading list is a lot easier to manage than the last course i did which was on the nineteenth century novel and involved reading such huge doorsteps as Middlemarch and Dombey and Son. But it was a fabulous course nevertheless. Thank you for your kind offer of help – I will be sure to keep in touch because I suspect there will be a few moments of panic along the way….

      • Good. I really will be very glad to help. I love talking about children’s books.


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