Identify an obscure children's book(s) from the sixties?
April 10, 2011 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Obscure children's book(s) from the sixties? Warning: this is a very long shot.

I have a very fond, yearning memory of a book (or possibly books) I read and adored as a child in sixties Britain. The bad news is I remember very little about these books beyond the sense of magic and wonder they engendered in my little mind. I think the books were British, but they may not have been. I have asked people about it/them for years and no one has a clue what I'm talking about. So this is, I fear, a tough one. Here is what I remember:

- The books were a mixture of colour pictures and text. The pictures were sort-of pastel, but a bit brighter than that.

- They were probably aimed at 5-8 year olds. The stories were magical and fantastical, somewhat in the manner of Rupert the Bear, but I am definitely not thinking of Rupert, even though I loved him and his Nutwood pals too.

- I think the stories featured anthropomorphised animals, but also fantasy creatures like fairies, wizards etc.

- The closest thing to a clear memory of a specific scenario I have is a castle or city... possibly in the sky... where much of the structure was made of sweets, chocolate, candy, possibly sticks of rock. The main protagonists somehow journeyed to this place and had adventures. Something like that.

Like I said, this is a long shot. I'm just asking this in the slim hope that some Brit of my age (or whoever) may have bells rung. Thanks...
posted by Decani to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Little Golden Books?
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 1:35 PM on April 10, 2011

Response by poster: No, not those, Carlotta, but thanks. If there was more than one of these books I don't think it was many more. They definitely featured the same main character or characters. I'd also add that I seem to remember the pictures were quite detail-rich; at least to a six-year-old's eye.
posted by Decani at 1:40 PM on April 10, 2011

Do you think it might have been something by Enid Blyton? She has lots of books, with lots of different editions and illustration types, but many of her collections ring bells as far as your descriptions go.
posted by lesli212 at 1:50 PM on April 10, 2011

Response by poster: No, not Enid Blyton. I have a strong sense that these books were by no one of note. They were very odd, and whimsical in a slightly disturbing way. I'm almost certain they were not by anyone well-known.
posted by Decani at 1:54 PM on April 10, 2011

Oh hey, I found someone who has Enid Blyton books arranged by type, and I thought the section of books based around the same character or group of characters might be of interest.
posted by lesli212 at 1:55 PM on April 10, 2011

ah, nevermind then. I figured you'd know if it was Enid Blyton, but it did surprise me to see how much she had that I hadn't read (then again, I'm American).
posted by lesli212 at 1:56 PM on April 10, 2011

The Just So Stories?
posted by just_ducky at 1:57 PM on April 10, 2011

The Uncle books? About an immensely rich elephant and his friends who are having insane adventures inside a baroque city?
posted by scruss at 1:59 PM on April 10, 2011

Response by poster: Woah, quick responses!

Definitely not "Just So". I hadn't heard of the "Uncle" books but it isn't those, although they seem to be the right era and possibly aimed at a similar age group.

I'm racking my brain for more details but it's so long ago. I do feel fairly sure there were lots of characters. My feeling is that there was a gang, a bit like Rupert's friends, and they had these adventures. The overall mood was quite similar to Rupert, but it definitely wasn't that.
posted by Decani at 2:06 PM on April 10, 2011

Left-field suggestion: were there book versions of the Magic Roundabout in Britain the '60s? (The French series aired in the '60s, before the British series in the '70s, so this is a long shot.)
posted by scody at 2:10 PM on April 10, 2011

Could the books have been illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman? She's an American illustrator but she illustrated several fairy-tale picture books.

I found a pretty cool book database and entered search terms like ages 5-8, keyword castle, published 1900 to 1970. The one result for that search was a book called All in Free but Janey written by Elizabeth Johnson and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Apparently Elizabeth Johnson wrote a lot of other childrens books.

Long shot but hey, maybe the database will work better for you than it did for me!
posted by lovelygirl at 2:12 PM on April 10, 2011

Response by poster: Not The Magic Roundabout, scody, although now you've made me want to go to YouTube to get me some Dougal. :-)

There was no spin-off from this book. No TV or anything. I know it was an obscurity, not least because no one I ever speak to has heard of it!
posted by Decani at 2:13 PM on April 10, 2011

Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories?
It was a favorite in our California household in the sixties. I remember it as magical, and subversive, and full of beautiful and sometimes scary illustrations. I don't know how well known Sandburg was to Brits in the sixties.
posted by Atelerix at 2:13 PM on April 10, 2011

Response by poster: No... not those. To give you an idea of the artwork, it was sort of like Rupert. This kind of thing.
posted by Decani at 2:17 PM on April 10, 2011

This site has lots of scanned illustrations from children's books - you might recognise something from there?
posted by janecr at 2:34 PM on April 10, 2011

Could they have been the Pogles Annuals? They were a big part of my late 60s childhood, I can tell you that - 1967 - 1974, each one had bits adapted from the Pogle's Wood series, as well as a series continuing on from the original Pogles series, with the witch. There were also other stories, often fantastical. I can't find anything online, but they were illustrated by Peter Firmin - they style is basically the same as Noggin the Nog
posted by Grangousier at 2:40 PM on April 10, 2011

Oh, and a lot of stories in the annuals were unrelated to the TV series, so you wouldn't have recognised them from there.
posted by Grangousier at 2:45 PM on April 10, 2011

This sounds very, very familiar. Was one of the characters a dragon with a very distinctive name?
posted by Judith Butlerian Jihad at 3:01 PM on April 10, 2011

I actually have some of the Pogles annuals on a shelf here--they are magnificent pieces of worldbuilding with some lovely self-contained stories, but they (or at least the ones here) don't fit the description above.

Noggin the Nog, on the other hand, sounds much more on the money. Almost all the cast is human, but there's a talking bird who plays a major part, as well as Groliffe a delightful ice-dragon, some mermaids and a cast of characters heavy with the must of myth: giant kings trapped under the earth; tiny people in a subterranean kingdom; flying machines; sea monsters; the king of the walruses... and Nogbad the Bad and his only friends the crows.

There were intermittent TV series starting in 1959 (mostly on Youtube), but most people remember the series of 12 story-books released by Kaye & Ward. All have Peter Firmin line-art with one-colour halftones, which a young mind might remember as pastel. There were other books as well. Most of them are now available from the Dragon's Friendly Society in Liverpool, which has reprinted them. In particular the Kaye & Ward titles are now a gorgeous boxed set of hardcovers. I held off buying it for years, afraid they wouldn't live up to my memories, but actually they surpass them.

(Peter Firmin will have an exhibition of his recent art running from 14th to 20th April, at the No 2 Gallery of the Horsebridge Arts & Community Centre, Whitstable, Kent.)
posted by Hogshead at 4:12 PM on April 10, 2011

Doubt this is right, but just throwing it out there: the Raggedy Ann and Andy books? Or could it be Noddy? (or is Noddy Enid Blyton too?)
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:27 PM on April 10, 2011

Beverley Nichols' The Tree That Sat Down and The Stream That Stood Still?

It doesn't quite match your descriptions of illustrations, but I remember there being lots of talking animals and fairies. There was a woodland shop and a rival version that might have all been made of sweeties.

Look at some of the Amazon reviews and see if this matches.
posted by vickyverky at 6:54 PM on April 10, 2011

Never mind; I found the book I was thinking of (after seventeen years!) and it was published in 1983.
posted by Judith Butlerian Jihad at 9:30 PM on April 10, 2011

Best answer: Pretty certain they would have been the Toby Twirl books by Sheila Hodgetts, try - sorry, I'm typing this on my phone and struggling with links and formatting. my mum read them as a child in the 60s though I think they may have come out before that.
posted by kumonoi at 12:36 AM on April 11, 2011

I know you said it wasn't Enid Blyton, but if you liked the books you describe, I think you would like her Faraway Tree series. Specifically, The Folk of the Faraway Tree meets every single one of the criteria you mention. British author, features fairies, wizards and anthropomorphised animals, the protagonists travel to and adventure in a land made of food/candy (The Land of Goodies), aimed at children of the age group you mention and (at least my copy) has pictures like you describe. So even though it isn't what you're looking for, maybe it would help soothe the pain if you never find your book?
posted by lwb at 3:14 AM on April 11, 2011

You said it wasnt Enid Blyton but she did do some books that were more on the magical side - your description of a cities in the sky and sweets reminded me of The Faraway Tree. I loved that book as a kid (and hated Famous Five).
posted by Ness at 3:18 AM on April 11, 2011

Molly Brett?
posted by stuck on an island at 6:38 AM on April 11, 2011

Yes, I was thinking The Faraway Tree as well.
posted by mippy at 7:15 AM on April 11, 2011

Response by poster: kumonoi... you might just have achieved the impossible!

The name "Toby Twirl" is ringing mad bells; the artwork looks about right (man, they were a bit of a Rupert rip-off, weren't they?!) The timescale is right... I'm going to scour the web for any references to this particular story I recall but I honestly think you may have broken a thirty-five-year-plus mystery for me. Many thanks! And thanks to everyone else who made so many good suggestions.

I am convinced. AskMe rocks!
posted by Decani at 12:16 PM on April 11, 2011

Response by poster: YES! Proof beyond doubt here! This is it. Man, I'd forgotten the ideologically unsound black sweets, but given the period one can hardly be surprised.

Right, now I have to scour the stores to try to get hold of these books.
posted by Decani at 12:28 PM on April 11, 2011

Response by poster: And here's my "wizard" memory. Awesome.
posted by Decani at 12:38 PM on April 11, 2011

Decani - glad to be of help! As I said upthread, my mum owned a few of these as a child - I remember reading them when visiting my grandparents, and it was the one with the town made of sweets that stuck particularly in my head. I always found them faintly creepy! I wonder if my gran still has any of these books?

Not sure if I'd want to read them to my own kids though...
posted by kumonoi at 1:26 PM on April 11, 2011

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