the young just as much as fiction
by ISABEL QUIGLY
"'THINGS" often make more popular presents for children than toys, and books about "things" rather than stories. I don't necessarily mean guide-books, manuals and catalogues, but anything that stimulates imagination, stirs interest, prods into action or experiment. And no one is going to convince me that because fiction tends to be thought "creative" and fact "uncreative" that there is necessarily more imagination, interest and excitement in every middling tale about Simon Susan and Spot the-Spaniel.
History deepens and geography broadens the mind: this is a rough-and-ready truth, and anyway geography's a dull word for all the interests it now encloses. Last time 1 had some first-rate books you could vaguely call historical, and this time a lot you could vaguely call geographical. And, of course, historico geographical, because the two shade together in a series like Muller's "Adventures in Geography" or "World Explorer" series (both 12s 6d).
The first series takes wellknown travellers, from modern ones like Peter Fleming. Fuchs and Hillary right back to others as far back as Cortes or Raleigh, and tells the story of a particular journey. I lire With Cartier up the St. Lawrence, With Darwin in Chile (the Beagle voyage). and, my favourite of them, With Kinglake in the Holy Land, which excitingly links up the ancient, modern and nineteenthcentury Middle East.
The "World Explorer" series, for slightly younger children, has bigger print, shorter stories, excellent bold illustrations, and a general life-story, not a detailed single trip. I have Raleigh, John Smith, Hernando de Soto and (my favourite) Cateau de Leeuw's Roald Amundsen.
Chatto and Windus's "Around the World Today" series, at 12s 6d, for about 10-year-olds, takes a boy in a particular country and describes a slice of his life, with lots of local colour and large handsome photographs on nearly every page.
The three I have are all by Betty Cavanna, with photographs by George Russell Harrison — Tavi of the South Seas, Demetrios of Greece and All of Egypt. Nice boys, all of them, from their pictures; but the text makes them sound just a bit too good to be true, and the whole idea seems likelier to appeal to grown-ups than children.
For younger travel minded children there are David Gentleman's Fenella books (Cape, 7s 641): Fenella in Greece, Spain, Ireland and The South of France. But Fenella is a tourist, not a resident, though as a friendly child she meets the locals, buys the local gear, wears the local clothes and gets a local child to play with.
The coloured pictures by the author are enchanting, but again I feel this is a slightly whimsical notion to enchant the grown-ups more than anyone else.
Science and do-it-yourself have an easier time — facts to impart, instructions to give. In Nelson's "Little World" series, at 15s, Joy Spoczynska tells how to keep fish, reptiles and amphibians in The Aquarium and The Vivarium and the Terrarium highly practical books that tell you exactly how to make homes for, keep, feed, rear and reproduce pretty well anything you are likely to find from waterbeetles and sticklebacks to tortoises, toads and slow-worms. Non-aquarist and non-herpetologist parents had better be warned that these are enterprising books that stir you into doing just what they talk about.
World's Work excellent "Zim Science Books", 12s 6d, by Herbert S. Zim, well illustrated and packed with readable matter, bring out No. 17, Sharks. Muller's "Modern World" series, also 12s 6d, have two by Edith Lucie Weart, How 'I'm, Breathe and The Story of Your Glands, which are chatty, lively books on what might not sound particularly lively subjects but are the sort of thing many children lap
up delightedly, especially when presented with large, clear, anatomical but unalarming pictures.
The same goes for Navin Sullivan's Animal Timekeepers (Phoenix House, 12s 6d), which tells how birds, butterflies and fish know when to migrate, oysters to open their shells, and so on.
Geoffrey Watson's Fun with Ecology (Kaye and Ward, 15s), well-illustrated, well-arranged, is for the enthusiast, the child who can concentrate or the adult prepared to help. The author is founder-director of the British Young Naturalists Association, and knows how to suggest the riches there for the looking.
Chatto and Windus's "Challenge Books — Eye Witness Reports," I2s 6d, tells the story of a particular enterprise, with photographs and charts on nearly every page and a fairly chatty style to tell a fairly technical tale. Charles R. Joy's Taming Asia's Indus River is subtitled "The challenge of dust, drought and flood"; and Arthur R. Pastore's Dynamite under the Alps "The challenge of the Mont Blanc Tunnel."
Lastly, science, art and wit all combine in Brian Wildsmith's glorious Birds (Oxford University Press, 16s), which has colours and forms for anyone from babyhood on, and could be given as a family treasure to a godchild at its christening or a great grandmother on her eightieth birthday. Anyone who knows Mr. Wildsmith's ABC will know the kind of riches to expect — and anyone who doesn't should have a look and see.
There is plenty of middling fiction, but little that stands out. My favourites this time are Joyce Gard's The Snow Firing (Gollancz, 16s), Barbara Sleigh's Jessamy (Collins, 13s 6d) and from a fairish bunch of Puffins, John Gunn's The Humpy in the Hills.
The Snow Firing is about a boy potter, the excitement of a craft; and about very credible people. Philip is illegitimate (this part is beautifully dealt with), and a bit lonely, with a withdrawn, slightly embittered mother in a small community that blossoms as he makes friends and interests. It is exciting, touching, human; about people of all ages and sorts, and above all it shows that childhood is a part of life, not a hermetic stage quite apart from the rest of it.
"Jessamy" is credible fantasy: a modern girl goes back to the 1914-18 war (dream, magic?). It is all so fetchingly done that if you don't, in sober moments, credit it, this hardly matters, because the detail is so lively and convincing at the time.
"The Humpy in the Hills" is Australian, a tough adventure story told just as tough adventures ought to be, with its children just credibly untough enough and scared when in real life they would be.
The Parents of Oscar Wilde by Terence de Vere White
(Hodder and Stoughton 45s.)
THIS new de Vere White pie, ture of Victorian Dublin makes highly entertaining — if expensive — reading. Sporanza's involvement in Irish separatism and William's in a court scandal are, like all that surrounded those bizarre parents, written up with humour, affection and, at times, trenchancy.
The book gives a good share of new information about the Wildes as well as a number of unfamiliar engravings and daguerreotypes of them and of their associates like the redoubtable Gavan Duffy, for whom Sporanza wrote in the Nation before "her patriotic dreams had evaporated."
Consequence: Truth And . . . by Fr Daniel Berrigan S.J., recently reviewed in its American edition is to be published here by Sheed and Ward on October 20.