Saturday, December 28, 2013

Update: Children's authors (Part 1 of 4)

When I first started this blog (unbelievably almost a year ago now) and created the Overwhelming List that's in some ways its raison d'être, I hadn't really given much thought at all to children's authors.  In the earliest version of the list, I included a few writers who are best known for their children's books (Noel Streatfeild, E. Nesbit, Eleanor Farjeon), but my focus was clearly on the fact that they also wrote novels for adults.  Only one writer from that list—Alison Uttleywas really primarily a children's author (and even she, I've since learned, wrote a couple of adult novels as well).  I included no writers who exclusively wrote for children.

Gradually, I started to include authors who wrote what I dimly regarded as "fiction that could be enjoyed by children and adults alike."  People like P. L. Travers and Eleanor Graham.  Then, as my resistance began to weaken, I included Elinor Brent-Dyer and Angela Brazil, who seemed just too influential to exclude.  And now, finally, my resistance—which was certainly based more on ignorance than any real bias—has thoroughly dissipated, and I have a series of four updates coming your way that are made up entirely of authors who wrote more or less exclusively for children.  

Apart from how interesting many of these writers are or may turn out to be, there is one very big reason I'm excited about these four posts.  Everyone reading this blog must already be aware of my passion for the colorful, elegant, artful dust covers of the heyday of the middlebrow.  And as soon as I started digging a little deeper into the kinds of books sold by wonderful small publishers like Girls Gone By and Fidra Books, I knew I could hardly resist going whole hog into exploring the genre.  Whether I'll enjoy reading the books as much as I enjoy perusing their covers remains to be seen (though I have two Brent-Dyers, an Antonia Forest, and an Alison Uttley on my "to read" shelf at the moment, so perhaps I'll know soon!), but regardless, the covers, some cheesy, some beautiful, and some a combination of the two, are irresistible.

I should point out that, since I am still primarily interested in fiction—longish works with real stories and at least somewhat developed characters—I am still excluding some no doubt brilliantly talented and personally fascinating women who specialized in picture books, alphabet books, etc. for very young children.  So, alas, still no Beatrix Potter on my list.

Although it's later than my time frame, Aiken's tale
of a haunted house that ensnares residents including
Henry James and E. F. Benson sounds irresistible

Happily, because children's books are highly collectible, images of dust covers and even of some of the lesser-known authors are more readily available than for many of the writers I discuss here.  So, if you're not fond of pictures, these posts will be a disappointment to you, I'm afraid...

JOAN AIKEN (1924-2004)
(married names Brown and Goldstein)

Novelist and children's author whose first story collection, All You've Ever Wanted, appeared in 1953; known for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962), Aiken wrote many ghost tales, including The Haunting of Lamb House (1991), which features Henry James and E. F. Benson as characters.

Joan Aiken

(married name Frankau)

Children's author and playwright, best known for a series featuring the Lockett children, beginning with August Adventure (1936), and a later series featuring Fricka Hammond and her cousins, beginning with Castaway Camp (1951); Atkinson also wrote one-act plays for women.

MARGARET J[OYCE]. BAKER (1918-     )

Children's author whose works are often set in Somerset and North Devon; titles include "Nonsense!" Said the Tortoise (1949), Four Farthings and a Thimble (1950), The Bright High Flyer (1957), Castaway Christmas (1963), and Cut Off from Crumpets (1964).

Vera Charlesworth Barclay

(aka Margaret Beech)

Daughter of Florence Barclay; a pioneer of the Scout movement, Barclay was also a prolific children's author, best known for her Jane series which included Jane Versus Jonathan (1937) and Jane Will You Behave (1944), and for various works on scouting and collections of campfire tales.

MARGARET BATCHELOR (dates unknown)

More research needed; author of six girls' stories in the 1910s and 1920s—Sallie's Children (1912), Six Devonshire Dumplings (1920), A Little Rhodesian (1922), The Children of Sunshine Mine: A Story of Rhodesia (1923), Gwenda's Friend from Home (1924), and Morwenna's Prince (1926).

Viola Bayley

VIOLA BAYLEY (1911-1997)
(née Powles)

Prolific author of children's adventure stories set in a variety of international locales; titles include The Wings of the Morning (1936), The Dark Lantern (1952), Paris Adventure (1954), Turkish Adventure (1957), Shadow on the Wall (1958), and Scottish Adventure (1965).

MARGARET BIGGS (1929-     )

Children's author best known for her Melling School series, many of which have been reprinted by Girls Gone By, starting with The Blakes Come to Melling (1951) and The New Prefect at Melling (1952); others include Dilly Goes to Ambergate (1955) and The Two Families (1958).

Margaret Biggs

(married name Myers)

Historian and children's author whose fiction sometimes made use of her early involvement with ethnography and archaeology; titles include Taha, the Egyptian (1937), The First Term at Northwood (1948), Trapped by the Terror (1951), and Sophie and the Countess (1960).

Pamela Brown, who published her first novel at 17


Sole author of three children's stories—The Hoojibahs (1929), The Hoojibahs and Mr. Robinson (1931), and Hoojibahs and Humans (1949)—as well as one collaboration with Barbara Euphan Todd, The House That Ran Behind (1943).

(married name Masters)

Actress and children's author (not to be confused with actress Pamela Mary Brown) whose work was often set in show business and whose first novel, The Swish of the Curtain (1941), appeared when she was only 17; others include Family Playbill (1951) and The Other Side of the Street (1965).

(married name Turner)

Author of girls' school novels, Caldwell published two books in the 1950s—Prefects at Vivians (1956) and Head Girl at Vivians (1957)—and has more recently written four more volumes being reprinted by Girls Gone By, starting with Strangers at Vivians (2011).

Endpapers of Christine Chaundler's Just Gerrie


Author of girls' school stories characterized by their realistic treatment and focus on girls who don't "fit in" or who resist conventions; titles include The Fourth Form Detectives (1921), Sally Sticks It Out (1924), The Exploits of Evangeline (1926), and The Madcap in the School (1930).

CLARE COLLAS (1885-1969)
(aka Clare Waters)

Author of four novels for children and girls—Four's Company: A Children's Fantasy (1942), The Flying Village: An Improbably Story (1943), The Blue-Coated Heron (1944), and A Penny for the Guy: A Real Story (1945).


Author of more than a dozen novels for girls from the 1930s to 1950s, including school stories and adventures; some of her works are Torley Grange (1935), The Grenville Garrison (1940), Stepmother (1948), At School with the Stanhopes (1951), and The Wild Lorings at School (1954).


  1. Oh boy, not only do you write a blog about the middlebrow books I love, you've now moved on to my other great interest: children's books. These are tagged on my blog as children's books, girlsown or school stories; really must get those tags sorted. I love so many of the authors you've mentioned in this post. BTW Christine Chaundler also wrote boys' school stories, as Peter Martin. Once you start on this caper, there's no end to it!

    1. So glad you like the post (and hopefully the ones still to come as well). I'm a mere novice when it comes to these writers, but am definitely in danger of being seduced by them and adding a whole lot of new titles to my to be read lists. As an expert on them, please don't hesitate to correct me or comment or share more of your knowledge! Thanks for letting me know about the Christine Chaundler's pseudonym--I hadn't come across it, but will add it to my list.

  2. I've just this minute finished Elizabeth of the Garret Theatre (a re-read) and hastened to your blog to see if you mention Courtney. I am enchanted to see that the cover you post is the one that is missing off my volume - same artist as the frontispiece.

    My GOlit database seems to think I don't have any more by her but since this one isn't listed either I am now going to scour my bookshelves for more. I enjoyed it very much.

    1. Clearly it's true that great minds think alike, Cestina! I'm reading Courtney at the moment as well--Sally's Family. I hope to get around to reviewing it here soon, when things quiet down a bit. Looking forward to reading other of her books.

    2. Silly me! I knew I had another - I only finished it a few weeks ago. Senior Memory Syndrome I fear. I enjoyed it very much.

  3. Haunting of Lamb House, definitely not for children, or most adults. Not one of her 'sane'novels.


NOTE: The comment function on Blogger is notoriously cranky. If you're having problems, try selecting "Name/URL" or "Anonymous" from the "Comment as" drop-down (be sure to "sign" your comment, though, so I know who dropped by). Some people also find it easier using a browser like Firefox or Chrome instead of Internet Explorer.

But it can still be a pain, and if you can't get any of that to work, please email me at I do want to hear from you!