Books for Older Children

THIS season’s harvest offers ample evidence that children’s hooks have emerged from the temporary eclipse of the depression years. There is a more varied and a more enlivening selection than has been offered by American publishers for several years. It is my hope that the titles chosen for this review will indicate the range and excellence of eight representative books.
Of all subjects, travel has perhaps been treated with the least originality in books for boys and girls. Overloaded with information, whether factual or legendary, books of travel have been generally looked upon as boring by the very boys and girls who are eager to go forth and see what the world is like. In Denmark Caravan (Dodd, Mead, $2.00) Ruth Bryan Owen has produced the exception. The caravan itself is an exciting thing, ‘as shipshape as a yacht,’and the utter simplicity with which the realistic story is told engages the reader’s attention from the departure of the caravan from the United States to the very last glimpse of Denmark.
The success of this book lies in the author’s genuine feeling for the country to which she went as Minister, and her fine understanding of the children she is introducing to Denmark. With her love of Andersen’s fairy tales and her knowledge of Denmark of to-day, reënforced at every point by the authentic and often beautiful sketches of Hedwig Collin, a contemporary Danish artist, the book seems an indispensable one for an adult as well as the child traveler to Denmark.
There is no more encouraging sign of the times than the willingness of the scholar, the research worker who is endowed with the gift of dramatic presentation, to write for the young reader. In her biography of Audubon (Harcourt, Brace, $3.00) Constance Rourke, who has been called the foremost scholar of American frontier legend, has written a book of absorbing interest to boys and girls just entering the teens. Clar and distinct as an etching, her portrait of the naturalist, the artist, the woodsman, rises from the time and place in which he lived, a period of American history which has never been better depicted than in this book. Audubon’s personality grips the imagination; so also does Constance Rourke’s definition of his place in American art as well as history. She has followed Audubon’s trails in Florida, the Louisiana bayous, along the Ohio River and in the Mississippi country, and has gathered from authentic sources the traditions which she presents. The book is illustrated with reproductions in full color of twelve of the elephant folio prints from Birds of America and with many drawings in black and white done in the spirit of Audubon’s friend Bewick, by James Macdonald. This is not a book of the year, but one of a lifetime. It sets up a milestone along the path of biographical writing in America. Need I add that it is of equal interest to boys and girls and to adults.
Ten Saints, by Eleanor Farjeon (Oxford University, $2.50), is a book of another kind. The author, a storyteller of the first order, has here retold the stories of the lives of Saint Christopher, Saint Bridget, Saint Dorothea, Saint Martin, Saint Patrick, Saint Hubert, Saint Giles, Saint Simeon Stylites, Saint Nicholas, and Saint Francis, in her own inimitable way. She has invested legend with life and made each of her stories readable and charming. Helen Sewell’s illustrations for the book are an added assurance of its beauty and place in one’s thought for a holiday gift. There have been many lives of saints, but none so widely acceptable as this.
Of the narratives one of the best is Phebe Fairchild (Stokes, $2.00), written and illustrated by Lois Lenski. Miss Lenski, an artist and illustrator of noteworthy accomplishment, has in this book transcended any previous work she has done. In Phebe Fairchild, Her Book she has not only brought to life a ten-year-old child of Connecticut in the 1830’s and kept her alive through three hundred pages, but she has revealed an assimilation of books, newspapers, and all manner of records of the period as refreshing as it is amazing. Miss Lenski’s pictorial re-creations, her designs for chapter heads and end papers, seem to come directly out of the early New England tradition of bookmaking. But the arresting quality of the book in text, as in illustration, lies in its humanity and vitality. Lois Lenski has written and illustrated her story out of a full absorption of the life, the atmosphere, and the culture of the period. Nothing quite like it has ever been done before. The book will be of common interest to ten-year-old girls in search of a story and to collectors of children’s books who are looking for authenticity of period, mood, and atmosphere.
By contrast, Roller Skates, by Ruth Sawyer (Viking, $2.00), presents a ten-year-old girl in New York of the 1890’s. This story, while autobiographical, is exhilarating from start to finish. Lucinda, its heroine, has a most exciting time in New York while her family are in Europe, and one follows her on her roller skates down Fifth Avenue, to Bryant Park, to Eighth Avenue, eager to visit all the strange friends she visits and join in the many activities she enjoys.
Winterbound, by Margery Bianco (Viking, $2.00), is a story for older girls who are beginning to wonder what to do with themselves. It is about four young people who, without their parents, are left to spend a winter in an old-fashioned house in the Connecticut hills. The book is well written and invested with the novelist’s art, and the characters take on life and meaning beyond the measure of a ‘juvenile.’
Undeniably the quality of the writing often determines the fate of the book for boys and girls no less than for their parents, and by this test Geoffrey Household’s The Spanish Cave (Atlantic Monthly Press and Little, Brown, $2.00) will long survive. It is a fantastic adventure story about a twelve-year-old English hero, which one reads from beginning to end with complete absorption. Originality, high adventure, and a factual background of the Spanish coast known at first hand are here. The result is an uncommon tale, uncommonly well written, and effectively illustrated by Henry Pitz.
Among the increasing number of books dealing with Indian life and character, Tangled Water, by Florence Crannell Means (Houghton Mifflin, $£.00), is a vivid, authentic story of Navajo Indian reservation life. The heroine, a girl of fifteen, fights stubbornly against her stubborn grandmother for the right to go to school and learn the ways of white people. The colorful illustrations are by Herbert Morton Stoops.