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:-
- 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?).
- 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.
- 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.