July 25, 2007

Childrens' fiction of the seventies

For me, one of the treats of having children has been the chance to read them some of the stories which I enjoyed when I was a child myself. So far, I’ve discovered that Roald Dahl is as funny and sometimes gross to me now as he was then, Tove Jansen’s Moomin books are still charming and strange (and unusual for their willingness to explore melancholy, especially Moominland Midwinter), Mrs Pepperpot still rocks, and the Land of Green Ginger is still the funniest children’s book ever.

Some books I remember my local library having when I was a child now seem to have largely vanished; the Jennings) and Billy Bunter books are not to be found in public libraries nowadays (though Amazon, inevitably, can still sell them to you); presumably the boarding school world they depicted is too alien to appeal to many modern readers (not like that Harry Potter).

But what’s slightly irksome is that there are some books which I remember enjoying greatly as a child, but I can’t remember titles or authors, only plot snippets. For example:-

  1. This series of books featured a young boy whose father was a brilliant inventor. In the particular story I remember, the invention was a radio-controlled, clear plastic, camera-equipped flying device about the size of a dragonfly, which could be used to observe people and events at a distance. I remember thinking that this was a cleverer way to grant invisibility than the usual pseudo-science or magical trickery; even as a child I could see that being actually invisible was fraught with difficulties (what part of you is the light bouncing off to allow you to see?).
  2. In this book, a boy and his father are imprisoned by some bad guys in a larder, with a candle burning through a rope in the kitchen outside. When the rope is burnt through, the house explodes, so putting the flame out quickly is quite urgent. Ingeniously, the boy uses baking soda and vinegar (I think) to make carbon dioxide, which he pours down a folded paper chute to extinguish the flame; even though he can’t see what he’s pouring, he knows it will work. Genius: he was the Artemis Fowl of his day.
  3. In this book, some children are trapped on a (man-made) spaceship which they have to pilot back to earth. In what I remember as a slightly grittier and more realistic approach to such adventures than I’d read before, the spaceship is nuclear powered, and the children are slowly but steadily succumbing to radiation sickness. (Oddly, although I can’t remember the name or the author of this book, I’m almost sure that it was a Puffin book.)

Trying to discover the names of these books is an interesting example of a search exercise which isn’t well served by the internet and its search engines. There isn’t an easy way to say “I’m looking for a references to these terms within a children’s book”. There isn’t an easy way to say “These books were quite common during the 1970s, though I don’t know when they were written”. I suspect that what I really want is somebody who was working as librarian and dealt with children’s books during the 1970s, and who has a prodigiously good memory! So perhaps I can use the internet the other way around – the Lazyweb way – and post this entry, then sit back and wait for such a librarian or other knowledgeable person to stumble on my ramblings and supply me with the answers. We shall see.


- 30 comments by 4 or more people

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  1. Walking along the canalside, I’ve been reminded just how much I adored the Swallows and Amazons books as a kid. Are these around still?

    26 Jul 2007, 07:26

  2. John Dale

    Absolutely. Libraries have ‘em, schools have ‘em and every bookshop worth its salt carries one or two.

    26 Jul 2007, 09:05

  3. Just trying to introduce Swallows & Amazons to my kids but they are put off by the size of it… which worries me about the teaching of reading at their primary school. Even at the age of nine, they are not reading books bigger than about 32 pages in length so anything bigger seems to overwhelm them. Still, there is hope yet, the oldest keeps having a bash at my Wisdens! (And I have taken to reading Swallows & Amazons out loud to them in the hope of getting them going… “Better drowned than duffers if not duffers won’t drown”!)

    26 Jul 2007, 11:59

  4. Jenny Delasalle

    Librarians love a challenge. Why don’t you post your query to the Coventry public library enquiry form at:
    http://www.coventrylibrary.org/ask6.htm ?

    They’re bound to be members of the Youth Librarians Group so they can ask their friends if they don’t know!

    26 Jul 2007, 15:16

  5. I had them read out loud to me at first and it was great being able to focus on the story rather than the reading of it. When I became a more confident reader, it was one of the first series I picked up to read for myself.

    26 Jul 2007, 18:42

  6. John Dale

    Hmm, good idea, Jen. I’ll give it a go.

    26 Jul 2007, 22:45

  7. Sue

    I used to love the “Famous Five” and “Secret Seven” books and get quite wrapped up in them although these days Enid Blyton is not considered very highly as an author and I think the books would seem a bit naff to todays youngsters. They had lots of picnics which ended up as adventures (in the picnics everything was always “washed down with lashings of ginger beer”.) I used to love having books read to me and then when I had my own children I loved reading to them. More recently as part of a job I had visiting elderly people I read to a man who had lost his sight and we both got a lot of pleasure out of that, he said it was much better than “talking books.” I think there is something quite intimate about reading to someone because you are experiencing the book together. My husband listens to a lot of talking books as he travels a lot of miles by car with his job and it helps to pass the time and it’s incredible the amount of knowledge he’s gained in that way, he gets through loads of them and if we’re in the library together and I see one I think he may be interested in, I show it to him and he invariably says “I’ve read that one” so he does actually think of it as reading. I’m off to meet an old school friend today (the old ones are the best, aren’t they?!) Toodle pip.

    27 Jul 2007, 09:22

  8. Niall

    I enjoyed Biggles. I imagine they have disappeared too. At least my sons do not seem to have come across them.

    Was your inventor – Professor Brainstrawm (sp?) – by any chance?

    27 Jul 2007, 13:04

  9. Hannah

    I’m reasonably sure that number 3 was Space Hostages by Nicholas Fisk. I read it when I was around 8 and had completely forgotten about it until I read your post. I’d be interested to know if it would still stand up as a believable bit of fiction today…

    Good luck with the rest of your search!

    27 Jul 2007, 13:49

  10. Roger Lindley

    I remember Mrs Pepperpot from when I was a kid in the 60s. A good read.
    I also remember a french book called “A hundred million francs” about a group of ghetto kids whose only posession, a toy horse on wheels, has been used by a criminal gang to stash the proceeds of a bank robbery.
    The seventies for me was GCEs. For Eng. Lit. we did Huckleberry Finn, Twelfth Night and The Crucible. I didn’t find our until years later that The Crucible had been written relatively recently.

    27 Jul 2007, 21:33

  11. John Dale

    By golly, this internet thing really does work; you’re absolutely right, Hannah, one of the books I was thinking of was indeed Space Hostages (and I was pleased to see that its reviews describe it as “realistic” and “gritty”, just as I remember it from thirty (!) years ago). It was written in 1967, so it makes sense that I would have come across it in the mid-seventies.

    I was expecting to have to wait for months or years before getting any answers, so two days has exceeded my expectations by a very large margin! Thanks for taking the time to reply, and congratulations on your memory; I don’t know how old you are now, but remembering books you read when you were eight or so is pretty good going at any age.

    27 Jul 2007, 22:08

  12. John Dale

    Niall, I don’t think the inventor was Professor Branestawm. I do remember those books, dimly, but I think they were more comedic than the books I’m thinking of, which were quite light in tone, but not out-and-out funny.

    27 Jul 2007, 22:10

  13. Hannah

    Glad to be of service! To be honest, no-one was more surprised than me when the title popped into my head :-) . I’m in my late 20’s now, but was always rather a bookworm; nice to see it’s paying off at last!

    I seem to recall that particular book atrophying on a shelf at my primary school’s library, along with a few other Fisk novels, so your local council library may be able to order a copy in if you can’t track it down yourself. If that sort of thing proves popular with your kids, try Monica Hughes or Diana Wynne-Jones (though check for age-appropriateness).

    I hope you find the other books soon :-)

    30 Jul 2007, 10:16

  14. John Dale

    Well, I have at least one and possibly two more answers. Inspired by Jen’s suggestion that it would be smart to ask somewhere where people who know this sort of stuff hang out, I looked around for a suitable site. (I considered Jen’s suggestion of the Coventry public library request form, but it seemed too reference-focussed for my purposes.)

    But I eventually discovered a discussion group all about identifying book titles so I posted my question there and very quickly got the answer that my first book is in fact Danny Dunn: Invisible Boy and that, strangely, my second book is probably another title in the Danny Dunn series, which somehow I’d completely failed to consider. This internet thing really works!

    30 Jul 2007, 22:30

  15. It’s strange how many of those titles I remember from my youth. Thankfully you can still get Biggles books from Red Fox publilshing where the majority of the series are in print. I’m not sure if the recent editions have been made politically correct in some respects, but if they have then that is a major shame on society to take a book that so accurate represented the period in which it was written and make it less accurate.

    05 Aug 2007, 09:55

  16. eightiesstyle

    Haven’t read Danny Dunn but it reminded me of some other science related books I loved as a kid – the Encyclopedia Brown Series and The Mad Scientists Club.

    Also loved Swallows and Amazons, they were already too dated for the majority of kids in the 80s but they were so good Im sure certain kids would still love them.

    13 Aug 2007, 21:18

  17. Craig

    I’ve been trying to figure out the name of Danny Dunn, Invisible Boy for almost 20 years now and I’m greatful for the information here. Now I can get a hold of these books to let my 8 year old and 13 year old read. Amazing how far technology has come since I read this book as a kid.

    10 Oct 2007, 02:41

  18. John Dale

    Epilogue: It took eighteen months, but the internet came through, in the form of Beatrice Pounder, who very kindly emailed me after reading this blog entry to say:-

    I came across your blog whilst looking for the title and author of a book which sounds very similar to book no 2. I remember a book in which a gang of kids ride around on a bus with one kid as the treasurer dolling out the fare in pennies. The larder escape involves the subsequent recovery of a silver egg which floats halfway up in a container and which is connected to some top secret research. It has been stolen by the gang which imprison the protagonist and his father in the larder. The boy uses the contents of the larder to mix up a saline solution (I think) on which he balances a chicken egg which he has held in the smoking candle flame to get all black on the shell. The egg looks silvery through the glass walls of the candle. Father and hero seize the stolen research egg and make their escape. Does this sound familiar? Anyway, I came across The Case of the Silver Egg, by Desmond Skirrow which inspired a TV series and was also published in the mid sixties. So I suggest an alternative book title.

    Copies of The Case of the Silver Egg are freely available from Amazon and other book-sellers, so I picked one up for a couple of pounds and lo and behold, it is exactly the book I was trying to identify. My thanks to Beatrice and everyone else who’s commented; this “Ask the internet” thing really works, if you’re prepared to be patient!

    21 Nov 2008, 12:52

  19. Tracy Ramsey

    I checked this book out nearly a dozen times while I was growing up. It gave me a love for science that has never left me. These guys were MacGyver, before he was a twinkle in Henry Winkler’s eye. I wish I could have seen the series. Any word about a movie based on this terrific book?

    14 May 2010, 19:57

  20. John Dale

    No movie as far as I know, but The Case of the Silver Egg was made into a TV series called The Queen Street Gang in 1968. It ran for two seasons, though unfortunately I don’t think it’s ever been released on DVD. I’d be curious to see whether it managed to keep the tone of the book, and whether the child actors match up at all with my mind’s eye view of the characters.

    14 May 2010, 22:33

  21. Andrew Uttley

    I remember we had a series of books when I was around 10 years old in the early 80’s. One of the books was called ‘Riley’. The whole class read it at one time or another because it contained the line. “four tins of baked beans and no bloody tin opener”.

    How innocent were we? What would today’s equivalent be?

    22 Mar 2011, 16:53

  22. John

    I’m a bit late to the party, but in the future, you can always ask at http://www.reddit.com/r/tipofmytongue

    08 Sep 2013, 09:29

  23. John Dale

    Thanks, John. There are always more books to be remembered, so it’s good to have a decent source.

    09 Sep 2013, 09:55

  24. Maggie

    I am looking for a children’s book I read in the early 1970s about a young girl who found a witch living at the bottom of her garden. I cannot remember the name or author of this book and it is driving me mad !!! Does anyone have any idea of the book I am looking for ??

    30 Jan 2014, 00:31

  25. istara

    Well Met By Witchlight by Nina Bawden perhaps? Published 1972.

    Three kids find a witch living in the woods near their home. Probably Bawden’s best work and well worth a read even if it’s not the one you’re thinking of.

    01 Nov 2014, 14:52

  26. Ally Holloway

    I’m trying to track down my favourite children’s book from the early 1970s (pub. 1970 – 1973?) about a grumpy animal (Mr.????) who drives around in his car, upsetting all the other animals. He’s urged to learn the Highway Code after an accident. His name was in the title but I can’t remember it – definitely not a Tufty book!
    Can anybody help?

    19 Jan 2015, 10:13

  27. Ely McKenna

    Hi

    Looking for a series of books in which the main character was a knight. The knight was either a fox or a lion (can quite remember!). The knight went on various adventures. There were multiple books. Reading age range would been 7-9 years.

    Anyone remember this particular character?

    Regards

    Ely

    26 Feb 2015, 14:42

  28. hilary woolf

    I am trying to find a book about a grandfather who tells his grandson that if he imagines hard enough things will become real. He imagines the settle from wind in the willows. I am trying to find the book for a friend who read it in the 70’s and can’t remember the title or the characters. Any ideas of what is or how to find out ?

    02 May 2015, 22:17

  29. Leo

    I’m looking for two authors/books from the 1970s or early 80s.

    The first was set in England. All I remember is one scene in which a criminal was handed but survived by putting a tube down his throat.

    The second was a about a school football team with a great player. Can’t remember much more other than it was really popular in the UK in the early 1980s.

    Thanks for your help

    23 Oct 2015, 23:33

  30. Leo

    I’m looking for two authors/books from the 1970s or early 80s.

    The first was set in England. All I remember is one scene in which a criminal was hanged but survived by putting a tube down his throat.

    The second was a about a school football team with a great player. Can’t remember much more other than it was really popular in the UK in the early 1980s.

    Thanks for your help

    23 Oct 2015, 23:34


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