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June 20, 2017 9:40 PM   Subscribe

Did you once love a kids' book that no one else remembers? Are you looking for something unique to read at bedtime? Readers of Atlas Obscura share their favorite obscure childhood treasures.
posted by Harvey Kilobit (171 comments total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
Came for Peter Graves, was totes disappoint, so: Peter Graves.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:57 PM on June 20, 2017 [7 favorites]

The War Between the Pitiful Teachers and The Splendid Kids stuck in my mind for most of childhood, much like what's said in the article, I had vivid dreams about being a child living in the sewers. I tracked down a copy a few years ago after some inspired googling, but haven't had the chance to read it again yet.

I feel like it might be #2 after Alien for my bizarre dream inspiration.
posted by temancl at 10:04 PM on June 20, 2017 [7 favorites]

I was surprised to see Stig of the Dump got republished in 2010. It was my favourite when I was a kid, and no one else has ever heard of it.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:04 PM on June 20, 2017 [7 favorites]

Mine would be the Space Cat series by Ruthven Todd.
posted by Catblack at 10:06 PM on June 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Hah, Trixie Belden and The Girl with the Silver Eyes. I had those on my shelf, along with the more popular Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys collections. I also read a series of historical romance novels for pre-teens.. sort of an American Girl precursor. I think they were called the "Sunfire" series.

I'm still trying to find a green, cloth hardcover Grimm's fairy tales from my childhood, mostly because of the incredible illustrations by Walter Crane. The fleur-de-lis pattern on the cover haunts my dreams. My mother lost it while teaching elementary school and I still resent her for it.
posted by xyzzy at 10:09 PM on June 20, 2017 [12 favorites]

One of the great joys of parenthood is being able to drudge up old books and make my kid read them. For my 2 years old now, rarities from my past include Mr. Pine's Purple House (highly recommend!), various Barbapapa books and Gus Was a Friendly Ghost.

I read voraciously as a tween and I fondly remember the many, many weird stories, many of which I remember the stories well but not the titles. I miss when "young adult" books were cheap and weird and you had to order them through the school catalog, sight unseen (remember that?!) Stuff like Upchuck Summer (masturbation, in a book?!), Bunnicula (wild adventures of a cat and a dog and an evil vampire bunny they live with. Shut up, we had no internet!), the Tripod trilogy (my first taste of sci-fi and dystopian fiction, it holds up well vs. the current breed) and Skeeball and the Secret of the Universe (set in Virginia Beach where I spent some summer vacations, but set during the offseason, a fact that was somehow shocking to me, that people continued to live on the beach even in winter. And yes, this book DOES have a lot of skeeball-related self-reflection. I am not at all surprised it has made such a minor blip in the world, but it somehow really stuck with me anyway.)
posted by lubujackson at 10:41 PM on June 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

The War for the Lot: A tale of fantasy and terror by Sterling Lanier. It's not what he's known for writing, a pair of novels called Hiero's Journey & The Unforsaken Hiero. And he's most well known as the editor who tracked down Frank Herbert & offered to publish Dune after he'd been turned down a couple dozen times.

The War for the Lot is about a boy who spends a summer at his grandfather's house in rural Connecticut & learns he can telepathically talk to the animals in the nearby lands then gets involved in a war against an army of rats that plans on invading when their home in the town dump is threatened. I spent several summers as a boy at my grandfather's house in rural Connecticut exploring the land & wildlife around me. Oh & Sterling Lanier was a somewhat distant cousin of mine & autographed my copy of the book. All true, swear to god.
posted by scalefree at 10:42 PM on June 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

To this day, no-one is able to identify a book I remember reading as a kid; something about a boy/man travelling across rooftops on moonlit nights. Maybe he travels using moonbeams? The illustrations were kind of sketch-like, black/sepia/and maybe red, on white (landscape oriented) pages.

posted by New England Cultist at 11:01 PM on June 20, 2017

If I were to choose something to be read to me at bedtime, it would be this charmingly written essay from the NYT's Sunday Book Review on the author's search for his long lost Giles of the Star.
posted by fairmettle at 11:16 PM on June 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dude. Bunnicula is a classic. If you're attending dinner parties where discussions of white asparagus DON'T draw Bunnicula references, well, you need new friends.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:34 PM on June 20, 2017 [28 favorites]

yaaaaay Trixie Belden!

For me it was Makra Choria (Ardath Mayhar) and Seven Citadels (Geraldine Harris). In the day and age of ebooks it's much easier to find them now, but for a while there I had to dig hard to find copies.
posted by offalark at 11:37 PM on June 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think these are obscure just because of my age, but I ADORED Cherry Ames (adventuring nurse), Sue Barton (ditto, but slightly more conventional), and Vicki Barr (adventuring stewardess). They were widely read by Baby Boomer girls where they were popular for opening up these new realms of professional women's stories to ambitious girls; I inherited my mom's sets. I have never met anyone my own age who's read them but when I ask nurses 50 or older about Cherry Ames, they inevitably light right up and we enjoy a good gab about our favorite Cherry adventures and beaux.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:42 PM on June 20, 2017 [11 favorites]

Still kind of mad at Sterling Lanier for failing to write the third book in the Hiero series.

Nice to see some recognition for Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles; just read her Frontier Magic trilogy with great satisfaction. Want more.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch was my favorite book when I was 12, but I really like more conventional YA stuff as an adult. The Cuckoo's Child by Suzanne K Freeman was so, so good, but I've given up hope she'll write much of anything else.
posted by jamjam at 11:43 PM on June 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Aw, I also loved The Ordinary Princess and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles! I was very into alternative narratives for princesses.

Stig of the Dump was an assigned book at my school in the early 90s, Multicellular Exothermic - maybe it's better known in the UK?

I think my obscure childhood treasures were mostly just old and not from the UK rather than actually being obscure - two of them were published in the 1930s (& consequently at least one of them is problematically racist in a way I didn't recognise when I was small) - Susannah of the Mounties and Thimble Summer were both big faves and I still have my tattered copies of both.

I also loved the Drina books by Jean Estoril which I think are now out of print, because I definitely paid £25 for the replacement copy of the last one in the series a couple of years ago (and have no regrets).

Ooh, and The Silver Crown which was maybe one of my earliest forays into sci-fi - I rebought a copy of it the other year and it's still creepy.
posted by theseldomseenkid at 1:19 AM on June 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

Stig of the Dump was indeed well known in UK- even had a tv series.
posted by Gratishades at 2:26 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Three Fat Men, by Yuri Olesha. A Soviet children's book that somehow landed up in a quiet Karachi home during the height of the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. It probably did a good job of inoculating me against the religious right in power in Pakistan at the time, though I didn't realise what it was really about till adulthood. I would love to find copies to sneak into the libraries of all the children I know.
posted by tavegyl at 3:42 AM on June 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

Anyone remember "fortunately unfortunately"? Fortunately I am still able to remember some details, unfortunately never been able to track the book down. Fortunately there is a post about obscure children's books, unfortunately...
posted by sammyo at 4:01 AM on June 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

A number of these were well known and read by kids in my elementary school (myself included). Makes me think time makes everything obscure, except a few standouts, some of which seem likely classics at the time, some not.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:02 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Right there with you, sammyo.

In picture books, I recently had cause to revisit The Story of Zachary Zween and Miss Suzy, neither of which I've seen or heard of from other people since childhood.

On the YA front, I rarely ever see copies of the Three Investigators books in used bookstores these days, but I read oodles of them as a kid.

I also read The Girl with the Silver Eyes repeatedly, if surreptitiously, as it was clearly Not A Book Boys Should Read. Same for The Girls of Canby Hall books, which earned me a suspicious look or two from boys, and puzzled looks from girls.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:07 AM on June 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

The Girl Who Owned a City - a dystopian world without adults and a total 70s feel.
posted by triage_lazarus at 4:20 AM on June 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

The Great Mom Swap. Two girls each think that the other has the best mom, and so they decide to live at each other's houses for a week.

What was interesting to me, I think, was not just the swappage of moms (after which everyone learns their lesson of course), but that one of the girls was a writer. She was filling her notebook with a romance novel which of course was terrible, although the narrative didn't make fun of her for it. She gets a chance to meet a real live agent who accepts it right away, and of course she is over the moon, until her proxy-mom pulls the contract away - it's a vanity press, and the agent just wants her money! This was the first lesson I ever learned about the real business of writing, and it remains a valuable one.

Recently I was thinking about a lovely picture book I found in a library when I was a kid. It was about a boy who learned how to cook and eat flowers and made all sorts of beautiful dishes. I'm not surprised it's out of print, though. I loved it so much I tried to eat an iris.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:42 AM on June 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

I would have thought that How to Eat Fried Worms would belong on this list, but it was turned into a movie in 2006, some thirty-odd years after I read it. Blows my mind.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:42 AM on June 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

Well, this awakened some dormant memories. I read through my mom's collection of Trixie Belden books one summer when I was 8 or so. My preferred snack at the time was graham crackers, which I would eat from Tupperware snack cups (you know the ones) while the Bob-Whites of the Glen did their thing. Even now, when I eat the rare graham cracker, I get a vivid sensory flashback to low, golden sun on a hot August day, the smell of dry pine needles coming in through my open window, and the occasional crack of aging book glue as I turned the pages. The slight give of the gradually delaminating cellophane covers and that distinctive smell of aging pages... I wonder if the similarity between old book smell and graham crackers is part the reason this particular association has held on for so long.

My mom had some uncharitable feelings towards Nancy Drew, who she considered annoyingly perfect and more than a little spoiled. My mother's name is also Nancy, which may not have helped matters. She would probably have called her a Mary Sue if she had known the word, so her collection of childhood books completely omitted those distinctive yellow covers, but included a huge range of other vintage children's books. The aesthetics of those books are still so evocative for me, with their sharp ink illustrations of an earlier world's hair and clothes. All of them were remarkably well-preserved, considering they had often been passed down from my older aunt to my mother, then trucked through my mother's tomboyish, itinerant childhood as an army brat. Now I wonder if I've ever thought to tell my mother that I want to hold onto them, and I'm worried that they might have been downsized. If the set of first edition Oz books is gone, I might actually have a breakdown.

Does anyone else ever get panicky at the thought of all the books the world has lost and will lose? I need to go donate some money to a library or something, right after I email my mom to ask for photographic evidence that the books are safe...
posted by wakannai at 4:59 AM on June 21, 2017 [9 favorites]

Yeah, The Girl With the Silver Eyes seems to be a lot of people's forgotten favorite.
I would have thought that How to Eat Fried Worms would belong on this list, but it was turned into a movie in 2006, some thirty-odd years after I read it.
That one wasn't at all obscure. It was, however, really traumatic to people with a worm phobia who were required to read it in third grade. Ask me how I know.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:04 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Moe Q. McGlutch, He Smoked Too Much.

Spoiler - it doesn't have a happy ending. My dad was a two pack a day smoker - not sure of that had anything to do with me loving this book or not. Probably not, as the smoking wasn't out of place in the early 70s, and I wouldn't have been getting an anti-smoking message from anywhere else.
posted by COD at 5:20 AM on June 21, 2017

I remember loving Nancy Burns Brelis's The Mummy Market and have not seen or read it for years.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:39 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I loved The Bungee Venture about a time travelling family, The Secret of Rumbling Churn about a group of intrepid Scouts, and, most of all, Gullband by Susan Musgrave.
posted by fizban at 5:44 AM on June 21, 2017

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. I should really try and find this again. Wikipedia says there were four sequels, I only remember one or two.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:48 AM on June 21, 2017 [12 favorites]

I also read the Cherry Ames books, along with Nancy Drew. I did not become a nurse, but learned a lot from them. My favorite book as a pre-school child was a Little Golden Book, "The Color Kittens". It told you how to mix colors, it rhymed, it had kittens and charming illustrations.
When I was older "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" was my favorite, set in Colonial times.
posted by mermayd at 5:54 AM on June 21, 2017

Fattypuffs and Thinifers. I found this in the school library when I was about 10 and the message (but not the plot) is still with me. Another one was Half Magic which told a cautionary tale about magic, and of course, I can't remember the story apart from one character wishing they were invisible and becoming ghost-like.
posted by arzakh at 6:08 AM on June 21, 2017 [8 favorites]

My great lost childhood book, long out of print, is Carol Donner's The Magic Anatomy Book. It's got beautiful illustrations, an awesome cat that acts like a cat, and it's surprisingly accurate and thorough (though I'm sure neurons and white blood cells don't talk).
posted by kewb at 6:14 AM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I wrote a post about The Girl with the Silver eyes

Also, Fortunately by Remy Charlip is available here.
posted by knitcrazybooknut at 6:16 AM on June 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

I loved Girl With the Silver Eyes! Also The Secret Life of Dilly McBean (I think I really wanted to discover I had secret powers.)

And The Ordinary Princess was a favourite. To this day I can rattle off "Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Ann"!
posted by web-goddess at 6:35 AM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I totally forgot about, until this moment, but I did have and enjoyed "The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars". Delighted to be reminded of that!

One that I enjoyed quite a lot as a kid, to the point of still trying to find a replacement copy for the library[1], was Elizabeth Lansing's Lulu's Window. It was from a generation prior to mine, and seemingly obscure even then.

[1] Yes, don't even mention that rediculious person selling a copy on Amazon for $700. There's an eBook copy in OpenLibrary which is unsatisfying, but readable...
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 6:40 AM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

The Beast in the Cave, by Mary Alice Philips. (Not to be confused with the HP Lovecraft eldritch horror bearing the same title.) This is the story of a young Cro-Magnon boy who invents the art of drawing. He creates pictures of animals on the walls of a cave. The images are so realistic that they frighten his community. I loved this book because it wasn't about school, sports, rocket ships, or any of the usual subjects presumed to be of interest to young persons. (I didn't mind those things, understand, I just appreciated having something less formulaic.)
posted by Weftage at 6:41 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I loved the Universal Monsters when I was a kid, so the 5th Grade Monsters books by Mel Gilden were tailor-made for me. I remember reading and re-reading those, along with Bruce Coville's Monster of the Year, about a boy who puts up a billboard advertising a Monster of the Year contest, only to be shocked when real monsters start showing up at his house.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 6:43 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I sent the following to the Atlas Obscura folks in response to their call for books, and was not selected (hmph). Bless Metafilter for following up--I should have thought of that myself.

Two books almost immediately came to mind when I read your article; one is most likely middle-grade and the other is right on the cusp between middle-grade and YA, I would think (depends how interested the reader is in crushes and their resolution--which I ALWAYS was!).

The first book is A Word to the Wise, by Alison Cragin Herzig and Jane Lawrence Mali. It tells the story of a "slow" fifth-grade reading group who are fascinated by a big, important-looking book--a thesaurus--that shows up on their table of pre-selected library books by mistake. Their teacher says they're not ready to read it yet, but they decide that she's wrong, so they steal it. Each kid in the group--around 9 or 10 kids--takes it for a couple days, and it helps each of them in a very particular way. Beegee learns a lot of synonyms for "stupid" ("the thesaurus had really liked that word") which he yells at some bullies and scares them off. Jonathan helps his father come up with anti-littering campaign slogans for a city council run. Grace convinces her mother how much she wants a puppy. In the end, the entire group carry creative picket signs to protest terrible cafeteria food. I've loved playing with words ever since I was little, and this book did so much of that--I know a lot of it by heart still because its depiction of words and their value are so spot-on.

The other book that comes to mind is Memo: To Myself When I Have a Teenage Kid, by Carol Snyder. I remember really enjoying this book as a young teenager, but it didn't hit me until I was an adult how influential it was, and why. What drew me specifically when I was young was the idea of the mother handing down a diary of her teenage years to her daughter, which I thought was a wonderful idea and considered doing if I had children. I still think that's a powerful concept, but there's much more in this book that's powerful. Karen, the 13-year-old protagonist, struggles with boys, clothes, dances--and wants to be a scientist when she grows up. She gets to know the boy she has a crush on because she helps him with his math (it's revealed eventually that he has a learning disability). Her best friend is male--and that never goes beyond friendship to romance. Her father works at home (he's also a scientist and has a lab in the basement; she enjoys helping him with his work). I still remember vividly the lines, "I don't think I'll ever get used to being the only kid in school whose father is a class mother." All told, this book is so refreshingly non-sexist, and the main character is such a positive role model--and it's all done neatly and naturally, without bludgeoning. I think there are more families around like Karen's at this point (although I think in many ways the book could still be effective and not too dated), but in the 1980s I think they were much rarer, and it was good to see the alternatives.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:44 AM on June 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

The HodgePodge book by Duncan Emrich

I remember it being a collection of folklore, superstitions and games that he learned directly from schoolkids in different regions of the country.
I told my daughter about the some of the different superstitions about what to do when passing a cemetery and to this day she will repeat "bunny bunny bunny" as we pass and then "Rabbit" at the end.
posted by exparrot at 6:45 AM on June 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

When I was a kid (which puts us in the 1960s or early 1970s), I read a children's adventure story featuring a gang of kids, narrated by one of their number. The gimmick of the book was that we didn't find out which particular member of the gang was actually telling this story till quite close to the end.

That's all I can remember about it. I was raised in Britain, which means the book must certainly have been available here, and was most likely the work of a British author and British publisher. Any bright ideas, Metafilter?
posted by Paul Slade at 6:51 AM on June 21, 2017

When this subject has come up to me in the past I always remember the book Avalanche, picked up at the annual elementary school book fair (which was nearly better than Christmas). It's about a teen skier who gets trapped in a pocket under the snow following an avalanche...The two details that I recall are: 1) after going days without brushing his teeth, he describes them as feeling like they have moss growing on them, and 2) he survives (spoiler alert) but loses a toe or two from frostbite, so he has to walk with a cane...It's my go-to mental reference when -- however infrequently -- thinking about how important toes are for balance.

Back to the original article: That "Blue Man" book sounds great...What a terrifying cover!
posted by doctornecessiter at 6:57 AM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I remember The Girl With The Silver Eyes too.

My obscure, improbable, memorable book is The Men From P.I.G. and R.O.B.O.T. which is about spacefaring secret agents on strange planets; one of them has a complement of robotic helpers, and the other has a complement of genetically enhanced pig helpers. Really. I have just now learned it was written by Harry "Stainless Steel Rat" Harrison.

It didn't change my life or anything, but I loved the idea of the super pigs.
posted by edheil at 6:59 AM on June 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

If we count non-fiction, I'd add some activity books that I got a lot out of. Stephen Caney's Playbook, The Kids' Kitchen Takeover, Made In Summerhill, and The Zoom Book (can't find a link; a book of activites and projects from the PBS show "Zoom"). There's also a series of activity books we had in the school library than I can't find by title or anything.
posted by edheil at 7:05 AM on June 21, 2017

Mischief in Fez by Eleanor Hoffman was included in a 1960s Colliers Junior Classics 10-volume set of collected kid's stories and poems that my parents had in the house.

It probably is problematic in its depiction of the Exotic East, but is also a marvelous story of djinns, magic (black and white), and a boy trying to save his father from a demon. One of the djinns takes the form of a fennec (desert fox with huge ears) and there's a lot of suspense and adventure.
posted by emjaybee at 7:08 AM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

The great Ballagundi damper bake — an illustrated Australian tale of wheat gluts and swagmen — seemed otherworldly to 7-year-old me in Scotland. It was about that time I discovered the Uncle books by J. P. Martin, and those have pretty much been the guidebooks for my life.

And then there were Gordon Boshell's Captain Cobwebb books. The one I remember best — Captain Cobwebb and the Red Transistor — had unpleasant subterranean attack-flounders called wurgs. It also introduced me to the “fancy alien food that's actually familiar and tasty” trope , used among many others by Harry Harrison (in Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers) and Terry Pratchett (kinda, in Pyramids).

Props to folks remembering The Men from P.I.G. and R.O.B.O.T.: I remember it being great at the time, but it may not have aged well. I'm very sure that the Nicholas Fisk YA sci-fi I devoured as a pre-teen will have fared similarly: Space Hostages, Trillians, Grinny, Escape from Splatterbang/Wheelie in the Stars and the druggie/time-travelling Time Trap. (Lawks! Fisk — aka David Higginbottom — only passed away last year.)
posted by scruss at 7:33 AM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Half Magic and the rest of the Edward Eager chapter books are still in print.
posted by brujita at 7:39 AM on June 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't think of Half Magic as being obscure! On the other hand, I also don't think of the Great Brain books as being obscure, and I talked to a bunch of people my age recently, none of whom had ever heard of them. I also distinctly remember liking a series of picture books about a Quaker boy named Obadiah, and that also got a bunch of blank looks. I think that I read different kids' books than the rest of my generation.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:43 AM on June 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

I also distinctly remember liking a series of picture books about a Quaker boy named Obadiah

Thy Friend, Obadiah?
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:58 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Owl Hoots Twice at Catfish Bend, which fascinated me as a kid and still hints at larger themes like totalitarianism.

There is another told from the point of view of alligators living in the sewers and while I still own it, I don't remember the title right now. I obviously like stories told from the point of view of animals.
posted by agregoli at 8:04 AM on June 21, 2017

I have always been glad that my school library had a copy of Saturday the Twelfth of October.
And Black and Blue Magic.
posted by Occula at 8:09 AM on June 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

I loved "The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death" - surreal science-fiction farce that was sharply witty with a spiraling, wheeling plot. Primed the pump for my lifelong love affair with Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett and Repo Man.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:11 AM on June 21, 2017 [10 favorites]

Peter Graves

Huh. I've always enjoyed his later work on Mission: Impossible, and of course his delightful light comedy turn in Airplane! but I'm intrigued by this glimpse into his earlier career.
posted by Naberius at 8:15 AM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I loved "The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death" -

Be sure to follow up with "The Snarkout Boys and the Baconburg Horror"
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:40 AM on June 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

Mine is "I, Trissy".
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:11 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I found a copy of The Tyger Voyage, which has beautiful illustrations. Re-reading it through my adult lens has mainly revealed how casually racist it is. It's also has kind of an oddball meter so reading it out loud takes concentation.
posted by tmt at 9:39 AM on June 21, 2017

I also don't think of the Great Brain books as being obscure, and I talked to a bunch of people my age recently, none of whom had ever heard of them.

Not sure if I'm your age, but I sure remember them, and in fact, was recently discussing them with a friend who's 48. Only thing is, I hated them. I read them because they were staggeringly popular among a certain segment of my friends, so I kept trying, and I kept hating. I remember I thought the parents sounded like assholes because they would punish the kids by giving them "the silent treatment" whenever they misbehaved, and then the kids would use that to manipulate each other in really nasty ways (as in "If you don't do what I want I'll tell Dad you did such and such and that will be good for at least two days of the silent treatment"). Even as a child, I thought of that as sadistic and it ruined my enjoyment of the books entirely.
posted by holborne at 9:43 AM on June 21, 2017

I loved the Great Brain books... still have the whole series on my shelf.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:00 AM on June 21, 2017

I loved The Pushcart War and Emil and the Detectives.
posted by zoetrope at 10:18 AM on June 21, 2017 [11 favorites]

E.L. Konigsberg was one of my favorites (RIP). My sister had a copy of (george), which now sits on my bookshelf - that same copy. It's red, and simply says (george) on the cover.

I don't think it got as much limelight as her others like Proud Taste for Scarlet & Miniver and From the Mixed up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler. But I thought it was so cool that Ben had a man living inside of him, helping him transition to adulthood & navigating the "popular vs right" thing to do.
posted by yoga at 10:22 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I read a lot of weird books as a kid, but Prescription Z sticks out for some reason. Kid knocks over some beehives while goofing around and gets badly stung up, so for treatment his doctor sends him to the local medicine man who shrinks him down and makes him live in a beehive for a while.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:31 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Our dusty little rural library had a copy of Yellow Yellow..
posted by ovvl at 10:42 AM on June 21, 2017

This version of the Sorcerer's Apprentice -- the pictures were completely freaky to me as a kid.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:59 AM on June 21, 2017

I don't know if it counts as obscure or not, but Tuck Everlasting made a strong impression on me, also. It was another one of those cool, summertime "eh what's this, then" serendipity finds.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 11:21 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Poems Every Child Should Know.
posted by clew at 11:22 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I loved The Pushcart War too; previously. There a couple of older books that I wonder if anyone else has heard of. I liked Tree in the Trail enough to write a book report on it at some point; based on its publication date I wonder if it was a book my father read as a child and passed on to me. His mother (if I recall correctly) gave me her copy of an obscure book called White Patch, an English translation of an Italian tale of a lazy boy who gets turned into an ant and has a variety of adventures. I specifically remember him nearly getting captured by an ant lion. At the time I thought they were an exotic predator only found in far-off lands (such as Italy). I was delighted some time later to discover they are quite common here in the Southeastern United States; to this day if I am in an area with dry, sandy soil I find myself looking down to find their distinctive conical traps.
posted by TedW at 11:24 AM on June 21, 2017

Count me among the many devotees of The Girl with the Silver Eyes.

Very much along those lines, I'm surprised Escape to Witch Mountain hasn't come up yet. My memories of the book are all tangled with my memories of the 1975 movie, but I'm pretty sure I read the book first and loved it.
posted by gurple at 11:25 AM on June 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

Terrific post--I saw quite a few books I recognized in there and had almost forgotten about. Matthew Looney! I loved that series.

My elementary school library was a treasure trove of books published long before I was born--I loved it. I'm not sure the librarian ever met a book he wanted to weed.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:26 AM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

At 6, my kid's a fairly precocious reader, and she's probably technically capable of reading and understanding most of the books on this list. One of the hardest things, for me, is waiting to try to expose her to them until she's old enough to really get and enjoy them.
posted by gurple at 11:33 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

One thing this list (and particularly knitcrazybooknut's post about Silver Eyes) makes super clear is the critical importance of book cover art, both for attracting readers and for stirring memories.
posted by gurple at 12:10 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

So fun to see lots of old favorites mentioned here!

I was so pleased that my kid liked The Pushcart War, and one day I brought home The Gammage Cup and started reading it to her. After the first couple of chapters, she took it away from me so she could read it herself and loved it.

A Candle in Her Room by Ruth M. Arthur is one of the best scary doll stories ever (Dido!). I tracked down a copy on Ebay and it was still creepy after all these years.
posted by mogget at 12:38 PM on June 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

The mention of Peter Graves reminded me of Pretty Pretty Pretty Peggy Moffitt (years later, I found out she was a real person), Porko von Popbutton (Beat the Queen!), and Lazy Tommy Pumpkinhead.
posted by mogget at 12:43 PM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh god I have never felt more validated than when I saw Deathtrap and Dinosaur on this list. I still own my old copies of that and its sequel ("No Time for Rabbits"--surprisingly harrowing!). Someone loves the book that I, too, love!!!!!!
posted by leesh at 12:45 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh and for books not on the list, one of my other faves was Hey, Didi Darling, about a group of middle school girls who are in a band but no one takes them seriously because SEXISM and so they pretend to be boys. Hijinks ensue.
posted by leesh at 12:47 PM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


I was totally thinking The Girl With The Silver Eyes would be my entry for the list and there it is at the end! How crazy! I still have my copy at my parents... I'm reasonably confident mine has a different cover than any in knitcrazybooknut's post. Huh. I'll have to check next time I'm home.
posted by maryr at 12:48 PM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Stranger From the Depths

But if non-fiction is allowed, my elementary school library had a book called Animal Inn that I signed out over and over.
posted by lagomorphius at 12:52 PM on June 21, 2017

Maybe they're too old, or maybe they're not as obscure as I think, but my list would include The Happy Hollisters and the Henry Reed books.
posted by namewithoutwords at 1:03 PM on June 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'd forgotten about the Circle of Light books! Two books I loved that no one else seemed to have read were The Mountain and the Summer Stars and The House Without Windows. Now to see if they're still in a box somewhere!
posted by korej at 1:06 PM on June 21, 2017

My sisters and I were ferocious readers and spent countless hours at the Cupertino library. The Matthew Looney books were always favorites of mine and I don't hear much about them these days. Recently, friends introduced me to the Enchanted Forest series at the perfect time to share it with my equally voracious seven-year old daughter. She has reread them twice so far.

Seeing the joy my daughter takes in books is in the list of Best Things--quite high.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:09 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, man, I do hope one day the itch I have for a childhood book can be scratched. There's this one book that I can hardly describe so don't have any real expectation of anyone recognizing my description, but I'll give it a shot; this thread is as good a place as any.

A group of kids have some detective/sleuthing adventures in their town. It's a picture book, mainly, with these detailed drawings of a town, sort of on a hillside, all close up and bunched up together, giving a wonderful sense of dense and busy little village. I can't remember if it's black & white or color, and I definitely can't remember the title. Probably from the 70s but could be older; no later than the early 80s.

Not much to go by, such is my dilemma.
posted by zardoz at 1:29 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Does anyone remember Clarence Below The Basement by Uncle Gordon? Nobody? Shame.
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 1:42 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

As a small child, my favorite book was Julian May's They Lived In The Ice Age. I still have my copy.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:47 PM on June 21, 2017

Oh my God, Captives of Time is on Kindle now! A few months ago, I tried ordering it from a used bookstore, but they had to refund me because they couldn't find their copy after all.

I recommend this book so hard, even though I have not seen it in twenty years. It's about a medieval teenage girl whose whole family is slain by raiding soldiers, except for one little brother who goes mute from the trauma. She has to shepherd him on foot to find their one relative, who lives in a city and builds clocks, and they catch up to him just in time for the Black Death. This sounds too grimdark to bear, but it has a lovely, delicate, redemptive ending that I remember to this day. Malcolm Bosse might be famous overseas, but he isn't in the US, and from this and the one other book of his I have read, he really deserves to be.

Also recollected: The Great Doctors, a nonfiction '50s-era introductory history book that was dated even when I found it in the classroom, but gave me lots of delightfully terrifying medical info. I have one of those snapshot memories of hiding in the corner rather than going to recess, and rereading it. That was fifth grade and I had trouble explaining a lot of what I was doing that year.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:23 PM on June 21, 2017

Two of my very favorite obscure ones (surely, The Dark is Rising Sequence and the Chrestomanci books are not obscure, right? If so, this is truly a fallen world) were Borgel and The Bronze King.

Borgel, which has more recently been baffling people on standardized tests, is a wonderful absurdist journey through "time, space, and the other" with New Jersey dirtbags, in which god is -- among other things -- a dancing popsicle. It's charming and humanist and good-hearted and unabashedly weird, and I've always been disappointed that the world is not like what it promises.

The Bronze King is probably even more obscure, but it doesn't deserve to be. It's part of the "Sorcery Hall" trilogy, a strange little group of books about misfit children with magical powers in New York. I remember it as being vivid, even when it was non-magical: the life of a latchkey kid in the tumbledown NYC of the 1980s was fascinating on its own. And it has a wonderful conceit, in which reality is being undermined as landmarks and public art are destroyed, weakening the barriers against a crushing consuming darkness. This is so much like what is happening now, as the good bits of the world are worn away under the tide of capital, Trumpism, and climate change that I just keep hoping for the book ending: King Jagiello riding, finally, from his plinth in Central Park to set things right.
posted by SandCounty at 2:55 PM on June 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have to give a shout-out to the Danny Dunn books, which were pretty popular for their time (the franchise extended over two decades), but the last one was published forty years ago. Very thoughtful for weird and not-so-weird science books. My favorite was Danny Dunn, Invisible Boy, in which Danny does not turn invisible; rather, his scientist mentor invents a drone that looks exactly like a dragonfly, and that Danny can pilot and use spy on people via a VR-type rig. The book's villain? The U.S. government, who wants to use the bug to spy on enemies both foreign and domestic. (I don't think that it was a coincidence that it was published in 1974.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:56 PM on June 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

> we enjoy a good gab about our favorite Cherry adventures and beaux

You know Nurse Cherry Aimless, right?

I have yet to find the answer to this AskMe, if anyone reading this remembers a YA book about a girl who dressed as a boy to get a job at a baseball stadium and accidentally falls in with the mob and has to decline an offer from a prostitute without giving herself away.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:54 PM on June 21, 2017

Mischief in Fez by Eleanor Hoffman was included in a 1960s Colliers Junior Classics 10-volume set

Well this is a very serendipitous FPP. Yesterday I was trying to recall a story I loved as a child and it took some googling because all I could remember was the girl in the story was named Molly. It turns out to be a Victorian classic titled Molly is Six and it was included in the Jr. Classics Vol # 5 Stories about Boys and Girls.

I haven't read that story in 50 years but I can still remember parts of it so clearly. There were 12 Chapters, each chapter being a month. Molly gets a kitten, develops a relationship with a young woman, goes to the sea side, and has a rather innocent, uneventful year that is none the less charming.

The Junior Classics was an amazing resource that I read and re-read over the years. I particularly loved the Fairy tales and the stories from around the world.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:00 PM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Man, I read so many weird books as a kid. Many of those above, but also
Conrad the sotry of a woman who is delivered an instant boy by accident.

Harvey, The Beer Can King

and the super creepy House of Stairs.
posted by Duffington at 4:03 PM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have a few obscure favorites from various ages.
Mary Chalmers did nice picture books for little kids and seems to have faded away (undeservedly, to my mind). My favorite when I was 3 was A Christmas Story.
One of my favorites from middle school was Fog Magic, about a girl who can visit a village in the past, but only when it is foggy.
Another favorite from Junior High was High Trail.
My mother's favorite, which she made sure I read, was A Girl of the Limberlost.
posted by gudrun at 4:15 PM on June 21, 2017

One book that can't be that obscure, but no one ever talks about that I liked was "Bless the Beasts and The Children," about a group of troubled kids that end up deciding to release some animals that they were tending. I had to read it for school, but it was all worth it when it got referenced on "Sealab: 2021."
posted by drezdn at 4:18 PM on June 21, 2017

I loved all of Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books. The Changeling may have been my favorite, but also The Velvet Room and The Egypt Game. I always loved the idea that life was mysterious and interesting.
posted by jilloftrades at 4:29 PM on June 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

I still have this one too: No Dessert Until You've Finished Your Mashed Potatoes. Some epically creepy illustrations in that one!
posted by yoga at 4:59 PM on June 21, 2017

> a group of troubled kids

That phrase brings to mind, of course, The Grounding of Lot 6. I wonder how that's stood up to time, and if my kids would like it as much as I did (and what that would say about my parenting if they do).
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:07 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I remember the Great Mom Swap! Even the fact that their houses were in the background of the cover photo.

My entries are Time at the Top, about a teenage girl who uses an elevator to go back into the 1880's and tries to make her father marry someone she met in the 1880's. My sister passed it on to me, and spent years tracking it down. It WAS recently reprinted though.

Then there was the Young Astronauts series. I was literally the only person who checked them out from the library, but they quietly got slipped into a sale and I couldn't find them to buy. One of my great childhood regrets. BUT NOW THEY ARE ON AMAZON and thank you for reminding me of how much I loved the stories of young people being sent to colonise Mars.
posted by guster4lovers at 5:36 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

My sister was so obsessed with a book called It Looks Alive to Me that we had to make a special trip to the AMNH in New York to look for all the things mentioned in it. Now it, too, is on Amazon, and for only ... $800?
posted by lagomorphius at 6:12 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh man, as a tween I was really into this book called Gypsyworld that is super problematic on a million different levels, but it had this combination of environmentalism, teen angst, nudity, and making out (so much making out!) that made it prime fantasy fodder for a kid who was just starting to get excited about things like kissing.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:48 PM on June 21, 2017

a YA book about a girl who dressed as a boy to get a job at a baseball stadium and accidentally falls in with the mob and has to decline an offer from a prostitute without giving herself away.

Oh I remember this one too! If more details help bring it to mind:
the boss buys the girl a session with a prostitute so "he" can lose "his" virginity, but she declines the prostitute by telling her she has a girlfriend but can't tell the boss, because "she's different, she's Chinese". They talk and when the prostitute leaves, she tells the girl "Good luck with the [racial slur]". When she first meets the boss, she hasn't gotten as far as thinking of a boy's name, so when he asks, she thinks of her father's name, and says "Giovanni... John... Johnny." and the boss sarcastically says "Giovanni John Johnny. Is that first, middle, and last?" The boss doesn't guess that she's a girl, but he deduces that she's lying when she says she's eighteen, because she doesn't have an Adam's apple.
posted by Daily Alice at 7:15 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another Trixie Belden fan here... those books taught me to say Rabbit Rabbit when you wake up on the first of the month for good luck -- no idea if that's really a thing, since I never heard anyone else ever reference it.

And this thread sent me down the rabbit hole for my forgotten book -- all I could remember was that the main character had a doll named Bertha Evangeline Esther Peebles (BEEP), and that I thought that was such a funny name that I named a stuffed animal after it and sang it in my head to a tune I made up, which I can still sing to this day. Thanks to Google I now know the book was The Bad Times of Irma Baumline - A book I have no memory of whatsoever. Spoooooky.
posted by Mchelly at 7:36 PM on June 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I do remember The Bad Times of Irma Baumlein but somehow had conflated it with The Hundred Dresses, which is also about a lying little girl but which has a totally different tone.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:47 PM on June 21, 2017

This has been one of my favorite threads in a long, long time.

A couple of obscure books I remember -- I had a lot to choose from, as every Wednesday evening in summer, my sister and I went to the library to take out a stack of books, and our local library had an AMAZING, and wonderfully weird selection. Lots of 70's paperbacks.

- Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Green Sky Trilogy. A fantasy series featuring a group of people who lived underground, and a girl who chased her rabbit-creature out and found a group of people who lived in a forest canopy, and had fabric wings/gliders. (I think?)

As an addendum, it looks like there's a sequel to The Egypt Game! And it might not be as racist as the title implies!

- Okay, I doubt anyone will get this from my terrible description, but I remember a book I got from a friend that wasn't interesting to me (at the time), but I have really, really strong memories of some of the descriptions. There was an older woman, possibly African-American, possibly Southern, who lived in a dilapidated house. A man lived in a shed in her garden, but he wasn't human; more like a personification of evil, or possibly death? I remember the book being very slow and heavy on the description, especially of this man/demon/what have you in the garden. This would have been no later than the very early '90's.

- Lucie Babbidge's House! It turns out that there is a huge plot element that I have zero memory of, so that's kind of neat. I remember that and Behind the Attic Wall being super-creepy and a bit sad.
posted by kalimac at 8:11 PM on June 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


I am not alone! It was not a fever dream!
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:26 PM on June 21, 2017

My vaguely remembered story had a character named Roy G Biv. That's all I remember.
posted by soakimbo at 10:20 PM on June 21, 2017

The Golden Key. My Side of the Mountain. Those are unknown. But I read The Girl with the Silver Eyes and bought it for my son.
posted by kerf at 12:23 AM on June 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Kalimac, I loved Behind the Attic Wall! It was slightly sinister but also sweet and sad.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:36 AM on June 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I loved Tilly's House as a child- a picture book about a doll maid who decides to break free and live on her own.
posted by daybeforetheday at 2:17 AM on June 22, 2017

kerf -- My Side of the Mountain isn't unknown to me! That book was something of a bible when I was little. Paired with Sarah Bishop, I am certain I will last at least a week before dying horribly in the wilderness, should I ever have to live in it.
posted by kalimac at 4:51 AM on June 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

We read My Side of the Mountain in school - is it really unknown?

I am seeing so many glimpses of unfamiliar faces here -- I know I read Behind the Attic Wall, and all the mentioned Zilpha Keatley Snyders (though I could only remember The Headless Cupid, The Witches of Worm, and The Egypt Game before reading the other titles here). And I'm almost certain I read The Girl With The Silver Eyes, but I have no memory of it.

My other two favorites, but that I kept so I know they existed, were Linnets and Valerians, and Ellen Raskin's The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) -- and both of those are back in print again, so I'm hoping not yet forgotten.
posted by Mchelly at 5:59 AM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

There was this one series of books I read as a kid whose name I can't remember but whose impact on me was profound.

It was about a group of kids whose parents are all scientists. They move to this island to work on some super secret project and the kids discover their parents are working on an AI. For some reason the kids are all super smart like their parents and end up breaking into something and befriending the AI. It gets a little hazy after that, but I remember the kids were trying to protect the AI from being destroyed, for some reason.

The only full scene I remember from the series is one of the girls explaining the misquotation of "music soothes the savage beast." Her explanation was so calm, precise and ... cool. I'm not sure why it stuck out to me, exactly, but it was the first time that I, as a pre-pubescent boy, ever related to or thought that a girl character in a book was cool.

Anyway, if that sounds familiar to anyone and you can come up with a name please let me know. I've tried to find it in the past and never had any luck.
posted by Tevin at 7:24 AM on June 22, 2017

Thanks to Google I now know the book was The Bad Times of Irma Baumline - A book I have no memory of whatsoever. Spoooooky.

I liked that one too, although I haven't thought about it in years. As I think about it now, I realize that although everyone knew Caddie Woodlawn, the more obscure Carol Ryrie Brink books were the ones that stuck with me, particularly The Pink Motel and The Highly Trained Dogs of Professor Petit.

(Lord, as I look at the reprint of Professor Petit on Amazon, I'm just completely won over by this "Nancy Pearl's Book Crush Rediscoveries" concept! SO many books I loved as a child. Nancy Pearl may be my long-lost twin.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:34 AM on June 22, 2017

Adding another book - Mandy by Julie Andrews. Yes, that Julie Andrews. A lovely story of a secret house to call one's own. There was a little gingerbread-style house near me growing up that I always pretended was Mandy's.
posted by jilloftrades at 7:35 AM on June 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

Oh, why not: one more series that I really loved was The Mad Scientists' Club, a number of stories about a technically-minded Explorer Post which seem to have access to an insane amount of surplus military gear that they use to do things such as participate in a hot-air balloon race, build and operate a remote-controlled "sea monster" in the local lake, and in The Big Kerplop!, go back to the same lake where an Air Force plane has apparently accidentally dropped a nuke. The author, one Bertrand R. Brinley, had quite the life.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:48 AM on June 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oooh, yes, to the mentions above of the Collier Junior Classics set. Mischief in Fez was wonderful, and it was included in its entirety, I believe. Other volumes includes excerpts from Little House on the Prairie and All-of-A-Kind Family. And there was an excerpt from a biography of Mary McLeod Bethune, including photos, in the Roads to Greatness volume, that affected me deeply. And does anyone but me still cherish Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm--unabridged, unmodernized, with the Riverside Press illustrations by Helen Mason Grose?
posted by apartment dweller at 7:49 AM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Correction: this is the Mary McLeod Bethune biography I remembered; it is by Emma Gelders Sterne, 1894-1971.
posted by apartment dweller at 8:29 AM on June 22, 2017

I'll just throw in a plug for the Russel Hoban/Quinten Blake collaboration How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 8:59 AM on June 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Speaking of dated books -- I had one I read many times as a kid, where people had to check in with a computer each time they left the house, and it turned out that was so they wouldn't run into their clones? Or something? And this may have been the same book where it turned out that there had been so much interracial marriage that there were only a few teens left who weren't multiracial and somehow they met up and they decided to go their own ways because of racism? I think maybe the lesson was both that racism was bad and that interracial marriage was bad?
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:40 AM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

This thread is so good!

- Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Green Sky Trilogy. A fantasy series featuring a group of people who lived underground, and a girl who chased her rabbit-creature out and found a group of people who lived in a forest canopy, and had fabric wings/gliders. (I think?)

Huh, this reminds me of the fantasy world described by one of the girls in the Changeling, but I didn't realize it was a whole trilogy.

I loved the Changeling so much - just a great book about being pre-teen and feeling like you don't belong, with a super-sad ending.

That phrase brings to mind, of course, The Grounding of Lot 6. I wonder how that's stood up to time, and if my kids would like it as much as I did (and what that would say about my parenting if they do).

I can't speak for Kids These Days, but re-read it a few years ago as an adult and it was still extremely enjoyable. There is one romantic sub-plot that would 100% not fly these days (the early twentysomething male teacher-figure gets involved with one of the 15-16-year-old female students, and everyone is cool with it), but otherwise it's still really great.
posted by lunasol at 10:52 AM on June 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also, children's/YA sections of used book stores are GREAT for finding those obscure books you half-remember from childhood. Though as I get older, it's harder and harder to find those books as they get replaced by newer ones.

I've had some good success finding books through AskMe, either my own questions or those others ask. There are a few I have not been able to find, though. There was the one about the girl who built a whole fantasy world around a collection of pewter animals. The one about the working-class girl who somehow winds up in the cool, rich-kid crowd, and then at the end one of the rich kids gets paralyzed in a drunk-driving accident. The one about the pioneer girl named Kate on the Oregon Trail. Someday!
posted by lunasol at 10:56 AM on June 22, 2017

The one about the pioneer girl named Kate on the Oregon Trail.

Kate's Book?
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:56 PM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid (which puts us in the 1960s or early 1970s), I read a children's adventure story featuring a gang of kids, narrated by one of their number. The gimmick of the book was that we didn't find out which particular member of the gang was actually telling this story till quite close to the end.

Hmm, Paul Slade. It didn't have an evil clown in it by any chance? Do you remember if you were terrified?
posted by glasseyes at 2:42 PM on June 22, 2017

The one about the pioneer girl named Kate on the Oregon Trail.

Kate's Book?

OMG I love you.
posted by lunasol at 2:42 PM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hmm, Paul Slade. It didn't have an evil clown in it by any chance? Do you remember if you were terrified?
posted by glasseyes 30 minutes ago [+] [!]

Nope, the book I'm talking about was already out 15-20 years before the publication of Stephen King's It (which I've never read anyway). Best I can recall, my childhood read had more of a Famous Five vibe about it, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't Blyton either.

As a matter of interest, does It have the same mystery narrator reveal I mentioned? I'm genuinely interested to know.
posted by Paul Slade at 3:25 PM on June 22, 2017

Rabbit hole for lost books: 80’S BOOKS A-Z GUIDE (individual books and series)
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:17 PM on June 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

The first book I remember reading, at around eight years old, was a copy of a paperback my Aunt Marcia left behind the guest bed. The Shining. Yeah, I became both an avid reader and deeply fucked up child.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 8:22 PM on June 22, 2017

Did anybody else read the kids' sci-fi books by H.M. Hoover? Such as the Morrow books, or This Time of Darkness, or The Delikon, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:35 PM on June 22, 2017

Speaking of Willo Davis Roberts, whose seemed to specialize in disturbing YA, there was Don't Hurt Laurie, about a girl whose mom beats her. There's a happy ending but...yeah.

Similarly, Good Night Mr. Tom has an abused-by-his-mom kid in England during WWII who manages to find an home in the English countryside when he's evacuated.

Not sure I would actually recommend either of those, though they both have good bits, but now I wonder if they gloss over/over-sensationalize what actual abused kids go through. I think Mr. Tom was fairly popular in the UK though.
posted by emjaybee at 9:09 PM on June 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

The earliest obscure book I can recall loving was C D B! I enjoyed Sid Fleischman's books, particularly By the Great Horn Spoon! and The Ghost in the Noonday Sun. Also, the first three of Jane Langton's Hall Family Chronicles, The Diamond in the Window, The Swing in the Summerhouse, and The Astonishing Stereoscope.
posted by ogooglebar at 10:20 PM on June 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

The War Between the Pitiful Teachers and The Splendid Kids

I have a copy. He also wrote a book of poetry - borrowed that from the library.

I think I also may have a copy of The Girl with the Silver Eyes. I know I have a copy of Alan Mendelssohn, the Boy from Mars.

Out of print books I read as a kid are pretty well all the codices I buy these days. I keep my eyes out for them at garage sales, at used book stores.
posted by jb at 11:03 PM on June 22, 2017

Speaking of dated books -- I had one I read many times as a kid, where people had to check in with a computer each time they left the house, and it turned out that was so they wouldn't run into their clones? Or something? And this may have been the same book where it turned out that there had been so much interracial marriage that there were only a few teens left who weren't multiracial and somehow they met up and they decided to go their own ways because of racism? I think maybe the lesson was both that racism was bad and that interracial marriage was bad?

They weren't the same book, because I've read the second one. It's by Piers Anthony, I believe. the white kids thought they were living in 1960s America, the black kids in 15th century Africa - they were supposed to have arranged marriages but they were all mixed up. It was weird.
posted by jb at 11:08 PM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Behind the Attic Wall is excellent. I have a copy of that one, too. I should reread it again.
posted by jb at 11:17 PM on June 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ohhh, I loved The Mad Scientists' Club books! I was trying to think of obscure favorites but I was a voracious reader as a kid and checked out so much from the library that I only remember bits and pieces of various plots but nothing where I could put together an entire story or remember an title/author's name.

I do, however, have an original copy of Charlotte Cross and Aunt Deb from MH Barton's books for girls set (which I just found out was actually a set when I was looking it up online). I have no idea how it came into my possession -- likely a hand-me-down from some relative who was aware of my fondness for mysteries. I've gotten rid of a lot of books from my childhood, but I've never been able to part with this one even though it's not exactly quality literature.

The only really obscure book I've loved is one I unfortunately don't know enough to be able to search for it intelligently, and I just lost another hour of my life trying again. One summer when I was eight or nine, the regular library we went to was undergoing construction so all the children's books were sent to a teeny-tiny temporary library, and while most of the popular books were on the main floor, I spent a lot of time in the basement with the reference-type books because that was the summer I was fascinated by fairy tales and mythology, and I found a collection of one-act plays geared towards young adults that were either taken from fairy tales or at least had a fairy tale veneer.

I checked that book out repeatedly and acted out all the scenes (in the privacy of my bedroom, of course). I remember it just being completely nondescript -- one of those old-school library reference types, with the grey hardcover binding that lists nothing but the title/publisher/etc. There were probably dozens of short plays in the book, and there actually could have been more than one book.

My favorite play was about a king who was trying to make sure his daughter got married but she didn't want to. I still vividly remember a scene of the king and his advisor pacing and saying "Alas," "Alack," "Alas the day," "Alack the day" -- those were delightfully novel phrases to my eight-or-nine-year-old mind. There was also one collection that had a section in the back for "modern" settings (probably the 50's or 60's, so not actually "modern" since this would have been the mid 90's), and one of them was about a girl who had a cold. I can't remember more about the plot, but I had lots of fun trying to recite her lines like I, too, was stuffed up with a cold.

For the past decade I've been trying to find proof that such a collection -- or even just one of the plays -- actually exist, but instead I end up spending fruitless hours combing through library catalogues with no luck. I really would love to re-read those plays one day.
posted by paisley sheep at 12:10 AM on June 23, 2017

I just remembered one of my favourite authors when I was a kid/young teen: Ellen Conford. I think the first of her books I read was a short story collection--If This Is Love, I'll Take Spaghetti. She was just so GOOD at writing dialogue and never talked down to her audience. I liked her humorous novels, like The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations and the one about the pseudonymous student newspaper advice columnist in Dear Lovey Hart, I Am Desperate. But I also loved her serious ones like To All My Fans, with Love, from Sylvie, about the girl who is being abused in her foster home and runs away to be a Hollywood movie star, and And This Is Laura, about an ordinary girl with an overachieving family who finds out her special talent is psychic powers.

What an awesome trip down memory lane this thread has been. Now, unlike Laura, I am not psychic but I think I see a large Amazon purchase in my future....
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:21 AM on June 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban is, in my experience, unknown to most people but loved by librarians. It's just . . . just incredible.

The mouse and child of the title are a pair of toy mice, joined by the hands and operated by clockwork. The story tells of their beginning in a toy store, their purchase and eventual discarding, their pursuit by a malicious rat and their quest to become self-winding. wikipedia
posted by Caxton1476 at 7:18 AM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Aw, I watched the movie of The Mouse and His Child so often as a kid - Never read the book (or realized there was one)!
posted by Mchelly at 7:31 AM on June 23, 2017

Good Night Mr. Tom

I never read that one, but I read a sort of companion book by the author about a girl whose posh British parents had sent her to the US during the war and she comes back afterwards when she's a teenager. It was completely fascinating as an American pre-teen.
posted by lunasol at 7:54 AM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

> They weren't the same book, because I've read the second one. It's by Piers Anthony, I believe. the white kids thought they were living in 1960s America, the black kids in 15th century Africa - they were supposed to have arranged marriages but they were all mixed up. It was weird.

Huh, it looks like you're talking about Race Against Time, which doesn't ring any bells -- but it would be even weirder for there to be two YA books with that plot. Also weird: his website.

> Don't Hurt Laurie

Oh god, I loved that. And The Pinballs, and Nobody's Family is Going to Change, and all these other books about abused and/or neglected children.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:24 AM on June 23, 2017

Goodnight Mr. Tom had all the elements of my favorite books: World War II, kids having to take on grownup responsibilities to save the day, and child abuse. I was an odd child.
And This Is Laura, about an ordinary girl with an overachieving family who finds out her special talent is psychic powers.
I remember this one because it had a similar plot to a book that I really liked, Ordinary Jack, which is about a completely ordinary kid stuck in the middle of a madcap family of overachieving British eccentrics. Jack gets sick of being ordinary and hatches a plan to convince everyone that he can tell the future. I think that I thought that And This is Laura was copying Ordinary Jack, but it looks like they came out the same year, and it was probably a coincidence.
Oh god, I loved that. And The Pinballs, and Nobody's Family is Going to Change, and all these other books about abused and/or neglected children.
Problem books! I remember reading a bunch of things by educational experts about how terrible the problem book trend was and how awful those books were and feeling bad about it, because I remember liking a lot of those books. But I liked a lot of every kind of book. I am not sure I was a very discerning children's book reader.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:27 AM on June 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

ooh I love this! I too loved some of the others mentioned above - The Great Mom Swap, Avalanche, Sarah Bishop, Bunnicula, My Side of the Mountain (and The Island), Time Windows, Tilly's House - I had completely forgotten some of these till I saw the titles!

Anyone remember Barbary - girl smuggles her cat onto a space station?

Probably my favorite childhood book was Need A House? Call Ms. Mouse! which is sadly out of print. I am dying to read it again but copies are hundreds of dollars.

I loved a really stupid book called The Obnoxious Jerks in about 6th grade. No idea why, it sounds really silly now.

I really liked a book about an American family of three boys that moved to England for the dad's job, and there were hedgehogs in their garden, and they tried to have one live in the closet. Does anyone remember this one? Hedgehogs in the Closet.

And I was OBSESSED with the Song of the Lioness series - and later found out those are not obscure at all, hooray!

MonkeyToes, I could easily spend the rest of the day on the 80s book website, yikes, why do I have to work?
posted by john_snow at 9:49 AM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ok, and now I realize that I have been completely conflating Goodnight Mr. Tom with another book, where two wartime evacuees become friends and one of them dies at Dunkirk. It looks like it might be The Dolphin Crossing by Jill Paton Walsh.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:58 AM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wonder what the critics who complained about the "problem books" in the '70s and '80s thought when middle-grade and YA books started declaring the entire world a problem with the dystopia trend, and the entirety of human boys a problem with the paranormal-romance trend.

Not that I am complaining about the existence of any of these. I would have been absolutely blown away by them if they'd come along in my time. But I enjoyed the problem books. I also enjoyed fantasy and books with quiet, peaceable moments in them, but I was interested in unhappiness. I knew that I was lucky to have loving parents and a happy home, and I wanted to know what things were like for kids who didn't.

I wore out my copy of The Great Gilly Hopkins -- not that it's obscure now that it's been a movie starring Kathy Bates and Octavia Spencer, but it meant a lot to me long before that. I also really enjoyed Daphne's Book, about the sad Stevie Nicks-y girl who nobody likes, who harbors a terrible secret. (How many '80s YA books started out that way?)

Another thing I loved about problem books was that nobody seemed to be keeping an eye on the kids. They were free to walk miles by themselves, walk to school, wander in the woods, play in the junkyard, and as long as they got home by dinner no one complained. If they wanted to be out later, their parents never noticed if they opened a window to sneak away after bedtime. I was surrounded by a bad neighborhood and heavy traffic, plus the windows had been painted shut for years. So that was a fantasy of mine, right there.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:11 AM on June 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

something I have noticed: Goodreads entries for these books often show reviews by kids who have either been assigned to read and review the books or done it out of their own bookishness, and they're pure and I love it
posted by Countess Elena at 10:15 AM on June 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

The funny thing about the critiques of "problem books" is that a lot of earlier books featured kids with really big problems, such as being orphaned and having to go live with grumpy relatives, or being orphaned and having to set up house in a boxcar, or being orphaned and having your evil boarding school director make you into an unpaid servant until a kindly magical Indian neighbor and his pet monkey rescue you with snacks and gifts and information that your father secretly left you a fortune, or..... Were they not considered "problem books" because being orphaned was not a common problem by the time we were all reading those books?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:22 AM on June 23, 2017 [9 favorites]

I loved a really stupid book called The Obnoxious Jerks in about 6th grade. No idea why, it sounds really silly now.

I also loved this book but am afraid to reread it because what if it is actually terrible?
posted by leesh at 12:11 PM on June 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Anyone remember Barbary - girl smuggles her cat onto a space station?

yes, by Vonda McIntyre, who also did Star Trek novels. best book about a space station that I've ever read, because it was so realistic. wonder if I still have that one? i'd need to check.
posted by jb at 12:38 PM on June 23, 2017

Tevin, I'm pretty sure you're thinking of the A.I. Gang books by Bruce Coville. A childhood favorite of mine too!
posted by thesmallmachine at 12:03 AM on June 24, 2017

Problem books! Oh yes, I read so many of those. I was a precocious reader so they probably weren't age-appropriate but I did enjoy them. Mostly I remember they involved kids whose parents were getting divorced. My parents were not divorced, so this was quite exotic to me, and provided some fodder for anxiety (would my parents get divorced too?).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:42 AM on June 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Nthing The Girl with the Silver Eyes. I must've read and reread that one a dozen times as a kid. Easily one of my favorites, and a great ending.
posted by eamondaly at 8:37 AM on June 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh, problem books! I loved them. I also really loved novels about Victorian orphans being mistreated. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

My friend's theory about why kids love these kinds of books is that many (most?) kids feel persecuted, so it's gratifying to read books where it's absolutely acknowledged and verified that these particular children are being persecuted, and then they are always freed from their persecution in the end.
posted by lunasol at 1:56 PM on June 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oh, The Girl with the Silver Eyes was one of my absolute favorites. I used to wish so hard that my eyes were really silver instead of blue, and that I could move things with my mind. I loved the Trixie Belden ones to bits, too. I still have a few of them from the time I decided that I wanted to collect them all.

The book I remember with deep fondness is Who Stole Kathy Young? -- a pair of best friends, one of whom is deaf, watch the tourists in their town and are sure that some of them are up to no good... and then the deaf friend gets kidnapped. I read my copy until it fell apart.
posted by sarcasticah at 6:01 PM on June 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Hey, CheeseDigestsAll! I remember The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet! A few decades ago I came across a copy in a used book store but my kids were already too old for it so I left the book for someone else to discover.
When I was small I spent a lot of time at my great-aunts' house and went through a fantastic collection of pre-WWI children's books. The Jeweled Toad, for instance. I don't recall the story at all, but wonderful illustrations!
One book that I did remember for years and thought I would never see again was Racketty-Packetty House, but came to the rescue. Re-reading it on-line I discovered that the author was Frances Hodgson Burnett known for The Secret Garden (which I never could get into) and Little Lord Fauntleroy (which I never even tried). Illustrations are by the great Harrison Cady who also illustrated Thornton Burgess' stories. But what got me as a kid was the wanton cruelty of the story, which was about an abandoned doll house:
Their house had grown shabbier and shabbier, and their clothes had grown simply awful; and Aurelia Matilda and Victoria Leopoldina had been broken to bits and thrown into the dust-bin, and Leontine—who had really been the beauty of the family—had been dragged out on the hearth rug one night and had had nearly all her paint licked off and a leg chewed up by a Newfoundland puppy...
One-legged Leontine has some of her paint reapplied so that she always wears a silly smile. She is renamed Ridiklis by the evil little girl who owns the doll house. She also has a fancy, new doll house and one day decides that all the dolls in it have scarlet fever. She leaves while they are still ailing and in great agony. So, of course, the raggy-ass dolls come over and nurse them back to health. And then one of Queen Victoria's grand-daughters visits and takes the racketty-packetty house away from the terrible little girl and all the dolls live happily ever after. So this is another of those warped books meant to teach children how to be Good. It was published in 1906, so a bit progressive in that it doesn't have the dolls' owner dying of scarlet fever herself, but it's sort of implied that she will be an unhappy person all her life. I expect her lover was killed at the Somme and she later contracted Spanish flu, but that book hasn't been written yet.
posted by CCBC at 6:21 PM on June 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Victorian orphans being mistreated" probably means The Water Babies belongs on this list. I dunno if kids read this book anymore - it's really all over the place, depending on which edition one gets. But I remember it. Also Doctor Dolittle. The Doctor Dolittle books were still hugely popular at my local public library in the '70s.
posted by lagomorphius at 9:42 AM on June 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

CCBC if you want to read Burnett wallowing in mistreatment of children, then A Little Princess is for you.
posted by emjaybee at 4:58 PM on June 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Gee, I seem to have tapped into a genre here. A Series of Unfortunate Events seems like a nice antidote, though.
posted by CCBC at 6:17 PM on June 25, 2017

There was also Joan Aiken's books, starting with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, which I didn't realize until years later was a parody of miserable orphan books. I read it completely straight. I also didn't realize that those books were alternative history, because I was not the kind of 8-year-old who realized that there was no King James III. I really should re-read those books as a grownup.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:26 PM on June 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Okay, that became a derail, I guess. Here's another book I really liked that is now forgotten (and OOP) even though it won a Pulitzer and spawned a TV series: The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor. This is the story of a 12-13 year-old kid on the way west in 1849/50 and it was great! Published in 1958, Wikipedia says it never would have made it onto a school reading list at the time. I think this is wrong, but I never bothered with those lists much. Taylor later wrote A Journey to Matecumbe which Disney made into a movie, which is why that particular book is still in print. It reuses many McPheeters concepts but, to my mind, is not as good. I suspect Thomas Berger read Taylor's book before writing Little Big Man. Also good is Taylor's look at Deadwood, A Roaring In The Wind. BTW, I never saw a single episode of the TV series and didn't even know it existed until a few years ago.
posted by CCBC at 2:17 AM on June 26, 2017

The Twenty-One Balloons, written and illustrated by William Pène du Bois, was and remains one of my favorite books from my childhood. A retired professor sets off on a round-the-world journey in a hot-air balloon, meets misfortune when a seagull pierces the balloon, and ends up crash-landing on Krakatoa, where he meets a community of 20 families who have built an idealized community with gorgeous architecture, fabulous labor-saving household devices, and international cuisine (the Gourmet Government!). The kids even have a group activity involving a ring of small boats attached bow-to-stern and equipped with hot-air balloons; the boats are all attached by spokes to a ring around a giant pole threaded like a screw; they gain torque as the ring rises, so that when it gets to the top, the ring of boats whirls away over the sea. The group floats with its balloons a while, then the kids let the air out when they get over the ocean, detach from the ring, hoist small sails and sail back home. (This is merely one small part of the book but it made quite an impression on me! There is so much cleverness in all the inventions.) Unfortunately, the volcano on Krakatoa rumbles ominously....

A favorite at the other end of the familiar vs outlandish spectrum was Jan Washburn's The Family Name, about a teen girl who felt ordinary in a family where one sister was beautiful and popular and the other one was brilliant and accomplished. She is injured in a terrible accident and, during her convalescence, learns that she can become remarkable in her own way (spoiler: she becomes a star swimmer and saves the life of a friend).

I read a few of the Meadowbrook Girls books, which celebrated pluck and hard work and seemed quaint to me even then (the girls won a snobby tennis tournament even though they only had blue serge gymsuits to wear!).

I loved the art and the message of Leo Lionni's Frederick.

A few of those mentioned above were faves of mine as well: Mandy, The Egypt Game.
posted by GrammarMoses at 3:50 AM on June 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

So many gems in here! And thank you, thank you! Many of you have reminded me of things I loved and either couldn't remember the titles or had forgotten about - Behind the Attic Wall, Daphne's Book (still in print!)

My submissions to the Moonrise Kingdom Library are as follows:

There's a Rainbow in my Closet which is not even remotely about sexuality, but rather creativity, art, Van Gogh and his brother Theo, and, of course, rainbows. Which I loved as a little/teen girl long before I had any inkling about my sexuality. Sadly I will probably never get to read this again because the cheapest secondhand copy appears to go for over $400. Sigh.

The Man who Rode his 10-speed Bicycle to the Moon. I remember this made a really big impression on me when I was a young adult, but can't remember a lot about it. The goodreads entry makes me think I possibly wouldn't like it so much now, but I really loved it at the time.

Ruth Nichols' A Walk Out of the World, with gorgeous illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman, whose work deserves an FPP at some point if I ever get around to writing one. In some ways it was a very typical fantasy novel with kobolds and dwarves and magical wise women and untold dangers that the sibling protagonists negotiated, but it was really excellently done.

And not entirely obscure on this side of the world, but probably unfamiliar to most of you northern hemisphereans: Margaret Mahy's The Changeover (though honestly, I could also pick The Haunting or The Tricksters or The Catalogue of the Universe; I love them all so much) which is about coming of age on many levels and is shot through with Mahy's magical prose that transforms the ordinary into something completely, gloriously uncertain with possibilities.

Now I will go back to trying to work out the mysterious books I vaguely remember but not well enough to know their titles or authors, or even more than a hazy idea of the plot.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:39 PM on June 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't know the name of the book, but it was by Hughes Mearns, and it included the poem "Antagonish":

Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away

When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away.
posted by anshuman at 9:39 PM on June 26, 2017

Goops and How to Be Them (A manual of manners for polite children), by Gelett Burgess

And I didn't find this one til adulthood (and not actually sure it's a kids' book), but: Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book, by Shel Silverstein

Btw, I'm now in love with
posted by anshuman at 9:49 PM on June 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

OH MY GOD thank you Athanassiel for reminding me about A Rainbow In My Closet! I loved that book and borrowed it from the library many times when I was a kid.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:59 PM on June 26, 2017

And speaking of Trina Schart Hyman, does anyone remember the book she illustrated called You've Come A Long Way, Sybil Mackintosh by Charlotte Herman? It was a book on manners and etiquette for teen girls written in 1974. I probably read it in 1984 and felt very sophisticated.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:07 PM on June 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Wow, that looks great - I never had that one but the illustrations are gold and the bits of text are hilarious!
posted by Athanassiel at 5:12 AM on June 27, 2017

Just last night I was dreaming of the literature we were assigned in each year of school, starting age 11

Lord of the Flies
The Hobbit
My Family and Other Animals
Cider with Rosie

others I recall include The Owl Service and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen - both being read to us at age 9
posted by infini at 8:31 PM on June 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Mushroom Planet Books held my interest at a young age. Elenor Cameron Previously on MeFi wrote childrens books, essays on writing for children, librarian turned author Eleanor had a career that spanned over 30 years.
posted by pdxpogo at 2:04 AM on June 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

While in the Michael Bond thread - though Paddington is no one's idea of obscure - I was reminded of the very first book I had, which was a Pogles annual. Probably the second, possibly the first.

Pogles' Wood was a series by Postgate and Firmin, better known as Smallfilms, better known for Bagpuss, The Clangers, Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine. It concerned a tiny family who lived in the base of a tree - Mr and Mrs Pogle, their adopted son Pippin and a creature called Tog, with a magic talking plant that lived in the garden and dispensed wise advice.

I'm almost exactly the right age for Pogles' Wood - it was first broadcast when I was two and three years old.

But it came out of a first story called The Pogles, about how Mr and Mrs Pogle fought against a shape-shifting witch, and came to be the temporary guardians of the King of the Fairies' son, Pippin. After one broadcast, the BBC deemed it too frightening and it was never seen again until The Dragons' Friendly Society released it only a few years ago. I went to a showing at the BFI. It is pretty scary. I don't think I would have taken very well to it when I was two, anyway.

Although only two series of Pogles' Wood were made they were repeated in the Watch With Mother lunchtime slot for many years.

It's possibly a peculiarly British thing that popular television shows have associated books, a melange of comics, stories, puzzles and articles, published as Christmas presents. These will vary from cynical tie-ins to books in their own right. The Pogles annuals were very much in the latter camp - written by Postgate and illustrated by Firmin, they contained versions of some of the Pogles Wood episodes, games and puzzles, unrelated (but often hilarious) stories, even occasional recipes. At the front of each one was a story which continued on from the original tale of the witch. We learn of where Tog comes from and what he is; why there is a magical talking plant in the Pogles' front garden; how Mrs Pogle went on a quest to visit Pippin in the land of the Fairies, and how he came to live with them for good. The Witch keeps returning, and keeps getting banished to abstract concepts. To be nothing, or go nowhere, or to be a memory. In the last annual, published in 1973 (when I was, strictly speaking, a bit old for it), Mrs Pogle finally comes to terms with the witch as a part of her own psyche, a friendly old doll she can hang in the kitchen and talk to when Mr Pogle is away from the house.

I still have the annuals here. I'm maybe a bit afraid to read them, in case they don't quite live up to what I've been carrying in my head for fifty years. But the stories are at least as important in my own formation as Paddington or Tove Jansson's Moomin books.
posted by Grangousier at 4:50 PM on June 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

As a kid I was very much into the authors Lee Harding and Victor Kelleher. I think all their early work is out of print, so tomorrow I'll have to hit the second-hand bookstore and see if I can find any of their stuff. Lee Harding wrote Displaced Person, which was a kind of unsettling story about a boy who is slowly 'forgotten' by reality, and winds up in a liminal world populated by other forgotten people and items. I've remembered that story every time I stood in front of a set of automatic doors that didn't open (this is one of the first signs the protagonist receives that he is dropping out of reality).
posted by um at 5:42 AM on July 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, I forgot to talk about Victor Kelleher. The Hunting of Shadroth flat-out scared me as a kid. It was the first book I read where the antagonist wasn't a flesh-and-blood creature or person, or something like a ghost, with a mind. Shadroth was a primal, evil entity, enormous in size, that slowly gained strength and corporeality as it's demands for sacrifices were met.
posted by um at 5:56 AM on July 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh wow, so many of my favorites mentioned! I was delighted to see The Ghosts of Departure Point mentioned. I loved this book and read it so many times back in the day.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:34 PM on July 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

And...yesterday I learned that SO MANY of these books are available to read for free on the Internet Archive: The Girl With The Silver Eyes! The Ghosts of Departure Point! The Great Gilly Hopkins! A few of the Sunfire books: Rachel, Elizabeth, Nora, and Jessica.
A few other favorites of mine not previously mentioned here: Claudia, Dear Lola, or How to Build Your Own Family, and Yours Till Niagara Falls, Abby. Hello rabbit hole!
posted by SisterHavana at 8:36 PM on July 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Sinbad and Me --by Kin Platt. I don't remember anything about it except that I read it when I was ten years old and for days afterward I walked around with my feet six inches off the ground. That was when i fell in love with reading. I've tried to find a copy since but no luck.
posted by storybored at 9:14 PM on July 15, 2017

Leon Garfield wrote a number of delightful books set in the Georgian era includingThe Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris about two small boys who, learning about the classical tradition of exposing infants and the legend of Romulus and Remus being suckled by the she-wolf and founding Rome, decide to borrow the infant sister of one of the pair and leave her temporarily on a hillside to see if they can entice a wolf to adopt her. Unfortunately she is noticed by a passerby who takes her to the local foundling home and while the boys stage a rescue they are unable to do so until after dark and inadvertently bring back the wrong child - a dark complexioned male infant.

Other works of his kid's fiction lean more towards horror with engaging characters and gruesome scenes to delight the young: resurrection men and rookeries, pickpockets and public executions, bedlam and battlefields...

The Joan Aiken books were an absolute delight to me and the alternate history was the sweetest part where the dastardly Hanoverians were struggling to depose King Charles III and his heirs. (Among other plots by tipping Saint Paul's over during the Coronation) That was where I was first introduced to the concept of alternate history and my grip on reality has grown increasingly and satisfyingly tenuous every since.

She also wrote a series of short stories about Mark and Harriet Armitage who attend a school that teaches magic, and which I think may have been some of J. K Rowlings unconscious inspiration - although of course the Potterverse is very true to genre, so it is hard to say. But when I first read about Hogwarts I thought about the Armitage children and their homework and their mixture of mundane and magical life.

E. Nesbit's novels The Phoenix and The Carpet, The Psamead, Three Children and It and others were set before the First World War which apparently makes them quite inaccessible to most kids, unfortunately. I don't know why the Nesbit books should be inaccessible and Anne of Green Gables should be readable, but that's how it is. At any rate, the E. Nesbit books are stories where sibling groups of kids have magic adventures, The older period settings make them all the more convincing to me. It gave me a feeling like magic was something that used to happen a lot more back then and could still happen now but it was a lot less likely now that we have television and I suppose still less likely for my kids who had computers and if they had kids exceedingly unlikely since they have mobile devices...
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:50 AM on July 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Leon Garfield also wrote, with Edward Blishen, two books adapted from Greek mythology - The God Beneath the Sea, which centres on Hephaestus and The Golden Shadow about Heracles. They have astonishing illustrations by Charles Keeping, which bewitched and terrified me when I was young.

Keeping also illustrated many of the historical novels of Henry Treece and Rosemary Sutcliffe, which is probably why I've such an odd idea of English history, counterbalanced by the altogether more domestic medieval England of Cynthia Harnett. Her novel The Wool Pack was set in Burford, near where I grew up in Witney, and it was strangely thrilling to balance the historical account represented by Harnett, with the actual places shown in the novel and the imaginative reconstruction that came through in the act of reading. That was in around 1972, so my reading of the novel is now in the distant past itself.

(I'm typing this just down the road from where Charles Keeping was born, in a building that was already standing at the time, though his birthplace has long been demolished.)

Adelaide Harris was illustrated by Fritz Wegner - the illustrator of a book such as might be mentioned here is often as important as the author and ought to be credited.
posted by Grangousier at 10:11 AM on July 19, 2017

(That last reads like a reprimand, and definitely wasn't.)
posted by Grangousier at 10:12 AM on July 19, 2017

Thank you um! Victor Kelleher wrote the Forbidden Paths of Thual which I am pretty sure is the book I asked about in this Ask.

Now to track down a copy this as well Master of the Grove and The Hunting of Shadroth. I hope they up live up to my memory.
posted by antiwiggle at 11:40 AM on July 20, 2017

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