The enduring appeal of classic children’s stories

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children's stories, Enid Blyton, children's story books, children's stories
I have learned that modern children’s classics such as The Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton are simply awesome.

Over the past few months I have come to appreciate the value of a really good children’s story book. When I say good, I mean classic children’s stories written by authors such as Enid Blyton.

Helen is inching towards her seventh birthday and her taste in bedtime reading is becoming increasingly varied and complex. She’s no longer satisfied with a short Julia Donaldson story or a picture book of ten-ish pages with a couple of paragraphs written on each one.

These days we need a proper storyline, plots and characters. Interestingly, picture books have fallen totally by the wayside. When reading to her, I can see on her face that she’s drifting off to her own place using the descriptions in the book.

The leap from picture book to classic story took place shortly after her last birthday. A school friend gave her three books from the Faraway Tree series; The Enchanted Wood, The Magic Faraway Tree and The Folk of the Faraway Tree.

When we started reading the series, there was no stopping. We went straight through the whole lot from beginning to end. She absolutely loved the stories about Jo, Bessie and Fanny plus their bizarre friends, Saucepan, Moon Face and Silky. I confess that I, too, was rather taken by the tales!

An unfortunate trip to the library a couple of months ago rammed home the true value of Blyton and other classic authors such as Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl. Helen chose several books including two that I am simply not going to name because I don’t want to inflict them upon you.

They were part of a series and involved two characters who had ridiculous adventures that were very hard to follow. The chapters were generally two pages long and had surreal titles. There were illustrations, but they were very poor. I’d never come across such dreadful children’s books.

Having read some of the first book to Helen, I did the worst possible thing. I made clear to her my feelings about the title. Did she really want me to continue reading this when we could get her something much better?

Hearing of her father’s disapproval, she was determined to carry on! For a short while I had to tolerate this awful bedtime story but managed to return its sister title to the library before Helen noticed. The fact she hasn’t even mentioned it speaks volumes.

Normality resumed just before Christmas. There was a brief break from Enid Blyton as we moved on to read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. We’ve now returned to Enid Blyton and are making our way through the Naughtiest Girl series.

children's stories, children's story books, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, another title my daughter has enjoyed. Pic credit below.

This is a different kind of story altogether. Far from being set in a magical world like The Faraway Tree or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, these stories involve a school girl of a similar age to Helen in a setting she can relate to. I can talk to my daughter about Elizabeth, then main character, and Helen will give me her thoughts and opinions as it so real to her.

It’s a real pleasure to read a good quality book to my children at bedtime. I enjoy it. I know I should let Helen choose her won titles, but I just can’t abide trash. In fairness, it’s the only such experience we’ve had as a family. I hope Helen continues to select good quality titles.

What do you think about children’s classics? Do you read them to your children? Do you stick to books written by people of the same caliber as Blyton? Have you had an unfortunate library experience like the one I outlined? Please leave a comment, I’d love to know what your experiences are and I’m always looking for good title suggestions.

Pic credit; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland book cover; Toronto Public Library. Reproduced under Creative Commons agreement. 

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14 thoughts on “The enduring appeal of classic children’s stories”

  1. It annoys me how poor some of the books that get published for Kids are now, my cousin is at the age of reading proper story books too but didn’t enjoy reading at all. I donated my old Enid Blyton books and her mum can’t believe the difference in her enjoyment. Sometimes (most of the time!) the classics have staying power for a reason

    1. Oh yes, I quite relate to this. It’s not like all modern books are bad but the books Helen took out from the library really were awful. Total trash that made me feel very uncomfortable! Enid Blyton all the way!

  2. Much though I love the Mr Men books, I am constantly irked by the frequency of typos and grammatical errors in them. Is it really that difficult to proof-read a book with barely 500 words properly?

    Our boys love The Faraway Tree books and Kara is just growing into them now. It’s a rarity to have a book that will span 3.5 to 8-year-olds! I do love the children’s classics, and we have children’s versions of other more grown-up classics (such as Treasure Island) too. Having said that, the boys do also enjoy a mix of more modern books (Horrid Henry is the current craze) and Isaac is just getting to the age where I’m hoping to get him interested in Harry Potter too.

    1. I think we can all accept that Harry Potter is a modern classic! Failure to do so is simply….daft. We don’t have that many Mr Man books, I shall have to go and check the few we do have. Also want to find a kids version of Treasure Island as I read that as kid too.

  3. I am very jealous! My son is not showing a great deal of interest in books and if i don’t get to share some of my favourites with him it will break my heart. I think that it’s never to early to learn about good writing and this comes from someone with a healthy appreciation for a bit of trash but thanks to my mum at least I KNOW it’s trash. #brilliantblogposts

    1. Give it time, I’m sure you’ll be able to read some of your faves to your son. I used ot volunteer in my daughter’s school and boys were, pretty much exclusively, one reading level behind the girls. Thanks for commenting Charlene.

  4. Classics tend to be classics for a reason and I think they’re always a reliable starting point when introducing books for children. Although I’ve been a bit disappointed by the Folk of the Faraway upon revisiting it.

    Like you, I despise trashy books and can be a bit of a snob, and there are unfortunately a lot of poor quality books out there. I’ve learned to relax my attitude though. My son has started reading for himself and I think it’s more important to let him find his own way with book selection so he feels that it’s more of his own choice and it works. I still bring like to pick up books I’ve chosen for him, though – gently steering him towards real quality stuff!

    I’m going to do a bit of a shameless plug though. My own blog is mostly about books I read for my son (and other stuff), so you might find it interesting: https://readingwithtoby.wordpress.com/

    1. I am going to check out your blog! I try to steer my kids towards good titles when we go to the library but Helen is old enough now to chose her own. She mostly does well but this one occasion, eurgh, the books were truly awful.

  5. Don’t get me started – there is real joy in finding a good story to read aloud. But the dreck there is out there! Most often, in my case, the stuff targeted at girls. Beyond Dahl though we have enjoyed the Just So Stories, Greek Myths, moving on to Dickens now (Usbourne do a nice repackaging of both). David Walliams is good for moving onto chapter books but the hit for my two is undoubtedly Tom Gates. They read them (voraciously) on their own – a nice bridge between books and comics. Get them if you haven’t already!

    1. I have heard very good things about David Walliams as it happens. I also want to start reading the Just So series. Tom Gates is one I haven’t heard of. I may have to check this out so thanks for the suggestion Matt. Pleasure to have you over at the blog.

  6. My cubs are a bit younger than yours but my 3 year old daughter loves the Tales of Beedle the Bard. I skip The Hairy Heart though!

    I’m looking forward to introducing her to Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth. Diane Wynne-Jones was a great childrens writer and books like Howls Moving Castle might be something you might both enjoy.

    I’ve got the Dark Materials trilogy put aside too.

    I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman and he writes for children too. If your daughter doesn’t mind a bit scary then Coralline is good.

    1. AH, yeah, e have to avoid scary. In fact Faraway Tree had its moments! Anyway, thanks for the suggestions. I will follow up the non-scary ones.

  7. Our six-year-old is enthusiastically guzzling the Harry Potter books (I actually write this as she prepares for bed, and another dozen or so pages of Order of the Phoenix), and has enjoyed Alice in Wonderland, Famous Five, Secret Seven, and The Borrowers. However, she LOATHES Dahl with a passion, and finds Charlie & the Chocolate Factory particularly disturbing. I am, however, going to try her on The BFG next, because I think it may conquer her Dahlphobia.

    I’m hoping she will lead eventually to Narnia, Tolkein, Discworld, Adams, etc. I’m unashamedly raising a geek.

    For a modern writer, who writes good, real-world, real-issue stuff for young kids and teenagers, I do recommend Susie Day: http://susieday.com/. Her ‘Pea’ series of books for youngish (8-10) children is utterly charming.

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