I love Simon from Stuck in a Book‘s biannual (I think?) reading weeks, where he chooses a year and rounds up a whole host of posts on titles published that year. It’s a great way to find out about more books and blogs to read. This time around it’s 1968, which The Guardian suggests, in its gallery of key events, was a year that changed history. I’ve been keeping up with the new posts on Simon’s #1968Club home page and authors featured so far include Elizabeth Bowen, Quentin Bell, John Le Carre and Jean Rhys.
I thought I’d go for a slightly different angle.
The reason being that my daughter turned 2 last week and each birthday I track down a few classic children’s books that she needs in her library. Abebooks came up trumps as usual and I’d placed my order. Then I started hunting around for the right book for 1968 week and realised, to my surprise, just how many classic children’s books popped up that year. Including a couple that we already have, one on the wishlist and one I’d just ordered.
There’s no such thing as coincidences, right? So here I present – five classic children’s books published in 1968.
P D Eastman, The Best Nest – Mr and Mrs Bird go searching for a better nest, with unexpected consequences.
The ‘grass is always greener’ trope recurs a lot in children’s books: I spotted it most recently in Fran Preston Gannon’s Dave’s Cave, which is great. The Best Nest is a book I had as a child and hadn’t revisited in years. Looking at the pictures of the secondhand copy we tracked down, I had that lovely thrill of recognition you get when you see something familiar from childhood. Also contains the line ‘They got some man hair’ which is just brilliant.
Judith Kerr, The Tiger Who Came to Tea – does this even need a precis? Ok then, Sophie and her mummy have tea with a tiger who has a particularly large appetite.
Such a classic. My daughter loves this one and we’ve had our copy since she was born. Listening to her say ‘…and they had a LOVEly supper…’ just melts me. I particularly love the illustration of a 1960s street scene as they head off to a cafe after the tiger eats them out of house and home. Judith Kerr herself will likely be popping up again in these parts as I’ve just finished reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.
Jill Tomlinson, The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark – Plop the owl (I know! Squeee…) is afraid of the dark and refuses to go out hunting. But he eventually discovers it’s not as scary out there as he thought.
Some of the best children’s books leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy. The dark is pretty terrifying as a child, particularly if you’re blessed/cursed with an overactive imagination. I love this story about shifting your perspectives and overcoming fears. It’s firmly on the wishlist for an upcoming birthday or Christmas.
Richard Scarry, What Do People Do All Day? – A trip around Busytown to see what people are up to.
There are some angry reviews out there about this one (along the lines of how Scarry is pushing a misogynist agenda to inculcate conservative values in the next generation of children) but I adored this as a child. The detailed illustrations, the insight into a world that I was only just beginning to understand was much bigger than I originally thought. Yes, I’m glad we live in a world where there are a few more female doctors and lumberjacks, but I actually think books like this can be really lovely kicking off points for important conversations about equality. I want my daughter to know she can follow her heart into whatever career most excites her, but I also want her to know that she has freedoms and choices that many women didn’t, and in many cases, still don’t have.
Russell Hoban, A Birthday for Frances – If Gloria, Frances’ little sister, can’t throw, catch or play hide-and-seek, does she deserve her birthday present?
These books about Frances the badger are such a great example of classic children’s storytelling at its best. Warm, funny, witty and a great way to remind yourself what the world looked like through your pre-school eyes. And isn’t this line just the best:
“That is how it is, Alice,” said Frances. “Your birthday is always the one that is not now.”
Oh, the agony of childhood!
Have you read these classics? Did you have them as kids??
By the way, if you wanted a more adult read from 1968, I reviewed Georgette Heyer’s Cousin Kate back in 2014.