Juliet Townsend

The fairytale life of Hans Christian Andersen

It has long been my habit, when approaching a new biography, to read the account of the subject’s childhood first, then jump to the deathbed, before settling down to the main narrative between. It was rather disconcerting, therefore, to find that Paul Binding’s life of Hans Christian Andersen eschews the deathbed and ends with the

Children’s books for Christmas | 29 November 2012

My 20-month-old granddaughter totters into the room. Her eyes are shining with the fervour of St Bernadette. She has caught a glimpse of the divine. Two small stuffed pigs are clasped in her arms. Clearly she has been in heaven. Actually she has just returned from a visit to Peppa Pig World, the most exciting

A courtly man hunt

In ‘He Fell Among Thieves’ Henry Newbolt describes a young man’s voyage to service in India: He watch’d the liner’s stem ploughing the foam. He felt her trembling speed and the thrash of her screw; He heard the passengers’ voices talking of home. He saw the flag she flew. And, with any luck, as ‘the

Children’s Books: Myth and magic

It was the second week of term and my grandson’s birthday. He had just started at primary school and the only alternative to social suicide seemed to be to invite the whole class to his party. With a few old friends that made a total of 30. They ran yelling in various enjoyably noisy games

Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller by Jennifer Kloester

Those of us who have spent an embarrassing number of hours immersed in the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer have learned to live dangerously. We have been overturned in high perch phaetons, held up innumerable times by highwaymen, been kidnapped and spirited across the Channel, lost several fortunes at Faro or Bassett and have even

Bad lads and Bogwoppits

Juliet Townsend selects the best of this year’s reading for toddlers through to teenagers In these straitened times one can only be grateful for the excellent value offered by picture books for young children, which have remained at the same price for several years. Since the migration of their production to the Far East, some

Round and round the garden

Juliet Townsend finds that children’s arcane playground rituals have survived television, texting and computer games When Iona and Peter Opie published their groundbreaking work The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren in 1959, they started their preface by pointing out that Queen Anne’s physician, John Arbuthnot, friend of Swift and Pope, observed that nowhere was tradition

Fleeing fog and filth

In a sense, as this interesting collection of his writings makes clear, Rudyard Kipling was always abroad. His first vivid memories were of an early childhood in Bombay, ‘light and colour and golden and purple fruits’ in the market with his ayah, or visits with his bearer to little Hindu temples where ‘I held his

Recent books for children

One thing which struck me immediately on surveying the books on offer for children this Christmas is the large number which are really toys, with only a minor bookish element. Walker Books have produced several of these this year. Cars by Robert Crowther (£12.99) boasts moveable pop-ups of cars ancient and modern, with realistic detail

Children’s books for Christmas | 9 December 2006

December, as far as children’s books are concerned, is the month of the hardback. For the rest of the year the young are fobbed off with soft covers, but the Christmas present book can be an altogether more substantial and permanent friend. This is true of picture books for the very young. Dimity Dumpty by

Acute observations

In the 1950s, when I was 14, I spent a winter fortnight with my parents at the Villa Mauresque, which Somerset Maugham had lent to them to entertain the recently widowed Rab Butler and his daughter, Sarah. It was an uneasy holiday setting for two teenage girls. As I wrote a little apprehensively in my

Children’s books for Christmas | 13 December 2008

In these hard times it is gratifying to find one Christmas present which has remained virtually unchanged in price for the last seven or eight years — the children’s book. Most of the illustrated books for the very young and the increasingly elaborate pop-ups and stories incorporating various pockets, inserts and DVDs are produced in

Turning back the pages

Magic Moments: The Books the Boy Loved and Much Else Besides, by John Sutherland Curiosities of Literature: A Book-lover’s Anthology of Literary Erudition, by John Sutherland John Sutherland’s life has been devoted to the enjoyment of books and the passing on of that enjoyment to others, whether through his columns in the Guardian and Financial

The county personified

One of the glories of British public life is the way in which ancient institutions, if left unmolested by officious politicians, can evolve over centuries to become something quite different from their original function, but just as valid. This is certainly the case with the office of Lord Lieutenant. Originally created in Tudor times to

Children’s books for Christmas | 15 December 2007

Part of the charm of giving books to children at Christmas is that they are so easy to wrap. After an evening spent wrestling with a variety of soft toys with elongated limbs and tails, a large combine harvester, an assortment of weapons and a pogo stick, it is a relief to settle down to

The view from the nursery

It was a perpetual source of regret to me at the age of ten that my parents were so boringly agreeable. My attempts to persuade my friends that my father, in reality the mildest of men, was a violent sadist, who regularly whipped me with his cane while uttering the sinister words, ‘I’ve got Tickler

Back to St Trinians

The Great Big Glorious Book for Girls by Rosemary Davidson and Sarah Vine One of the publishing triumphs of last year, The Dangerous Book for Boys, with immaculate timing tapped into a rich vein that combined nostalgia with exasperation at the seemingly unstoppable advance of Nanny State, with her stifling regime of risk assessment and

Starting out on the wrong foot

E. Nesbit once pointed out that, in order to write good books for the young, it is not necessary to enjoy a close relationship with children in adult life. The essential thing is to retain a true and vivid memory of one’s own childhood; not only of events and people, but of feelings and emotions,

Recent children’s books

The bookshop shelves are stacked with the usual bewildering array of children’s books this Christmas, and the first striking fact is what good value they have become, largely because, like almost everything else, most of them are now produced in the Far East, from Thailand to Cochin. The average price of a lavishly illustrated book