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The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Joe, Beth and Frannie take their cousin Rick on an adventure he’ll never forget! Find out how they escape from the Land of Dreams. And what goes wrong in the Land of Topsy-Turvy. And who drives a runaway train in the Land of Do-as-you-Please”

REVIEW: I absolutely loved Enid Blyton as a child. Beginning with my Mum reading me her Famous Five books as bedtime stories, I soon ended up loving such series as ‘The Naughtiest Girl in School’, ‘Mallory Towers’ and ‘St Clare’s’ – and, of course, the Faraway tree stories. I picked up this copy during a free book giveaway at work a couple of weeks ago after realising I couldn’t find my Faraway Tree collection (which I’m still desperately hunting for!), and couldn’t resist re-reading it. ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ is the second book in the series, and I remember it as one of my favourites. These stories truly are enchanting. A magic tree, inhabited by lovable characters such as the beautiful fairy Silky, the amusing Saucepan man, and kind-hearted Moon-Face, hosts a different magical land at the very top of its branches every week. Three local children, Joe, Beth and Frannie, are eager to introduce their cousin Rick to the wonders of the Faraway Tree and their beloved friends there, and this leads to a number of enchanting and amusing adventures for the children and their magical friends. My favourite tale had to be that of the Land of Magical Medicines, in which amusing incidents involving lots of growing, shrinking, flying and swelling up took place. The stories made me feel as safe and comforted as they did when I was a child, and I remembered the enchanting feeling of escaping on a new adventure every chapter with a great deal of fondness. I would highly recommend this book, and it is definitely the sort of story that should be read to children to encourage imagination and a belief in magic – one day, I hope I will be reading it to children of my own.

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The Story of Alice by Robert Douglas Fairhurst

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “This is the secret history of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Wonderland is part of our cultural heritage. But beneath the fairytale lies the complex history of the author and his subject. Charles Dodgson was a quiet academic but his second self, Lewis Carroll, was a storyteller, innovator and avid collector of ‘child-friends’. Carroll’s imagination was to give Alice Liddell, his ‘dream-child’, a fictional alter ego that would never let her grow up.

This is a biography that beautifully unravels the magic of Alice. It is a history of love and loss, innocence and ambiguity. It is the story of one man’s need to make a Wonderland in a changing world.”

REVIEW: I have wanted to read this book since its release, and was very excited to receive it for my birthday last month. I am a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland and have read the book and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, many times. Although I knew a little, as many of do, about the story behind Carroll’s creation of this famous tale – his close friendship with a little girl named Alice Liddell, whom he one day took a boat ride with and, to amuse her, told her the story which would eventually become Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – I learnt a great deal more through reading this biography. Douglas-Fairhurst writes beautifully, and the book reads almost like a novel itself, truly capturing the magic surrounding both the creation and dissemination of Alice. A great deal of time is spent discussing one of the great mysteries of Lewis Carroll; how close was he to Alice Liddell and the other little girls he befriended and photographed? As an amateur photographer, the majority of Carroll’s portraits involved young girls, many of them named Alice and some either nude or barely dressed. Douglas-Fairhurst discusses the problems this poses for us in the modern day, looking back on Carroll and his life; realistically, many of us might apply the term of paedophile to Carroll, in light of what we can see from his photographs and the letters he wrote to these young girls. However, Carroll – when he was busy being Charles Dodgson – was a reverend, a religious man, and often condemned those who viewed the purity and innocence of children through a ‘sinful’ eye. I would concur with the conclusion that Douglas-Fairhurst makes: that Carroll was, in fact, simply captivated by the innocence and beauty of youth, a period of life which he saw as carefree and creative. Carroll maintained a close relationship with children because he loved youth and wished to reconnect with his own lost years, and I think you can see that childish and youthful imagination shining through in both of the Alice books. I really enjoyed learning more about Carroll and the story behind the creation of Alice, and would highly recommend this book.

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A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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RATING: 4/5

REVIEW: ‘A Little Princess’ was one of my favourite books as a child, and my parents bought me a beautiful copy (shown above) as a present upon my recent graduation. I dived straight back in to re-reading it, and loved it just as much as I did all the times I read it as a child. ‘A Little Princess’ is an enchanting story of an unusual young girl named Sara Crewe. Eccentric, intelligent and imaginative is sent to an English boarding school by her beloved Papa after growing up in India. Sara’s Papa leaves the school’s two mistresses, the harsh Miss Minchin and the weak-willed Miss Amelia, with the strictest instructions that his daughter be treated like a Princess in every way, and provides her with an elaborate trousseau, lavish homeware and a beautiful doll whom she names Emily. Sara becomes the show pupil of the school, but despite this remains a kind and modest little girl. She befriends the plump, unintelligent Ermengarde, the timid young servant girl Becky, and the spoilt little Lottie, and enchants not just them but many of the other girls with her creative stories, which she is happy to share with everyone. When Sara’s father unexpectedly dies, however, Sara’s whole world is changed forever. She is forced by Miss Minchin to work as both servant girl and tutor to the younger pupil, banished to the attic, and out of loneliness befriends the attic’s resident rat (whom she names Melchisdec), and his family. Yet she remains constant in her kindness, hope and imagination, and retains her friendships with Ermengarde, Becky and Lottie, albeit in secret. Sara also befriends the Indian gentleman who moves in to the house next door, and whose monkey sneaks in to her attic one day. From then on, both the Indian gentleman and Sara imagine themselves as friends, despite their hardly knowing each other, and take courage from thinking of each other’s lives. Sara, as she deserves, in fact receives the happy ending she deserves due to her acquaintance with this gentleman; it turns out that he was once her father’s friend and business partner, and came to England in order to find Captain Crewe’s little girl and give her a proper home. Sara is restored to her former position, taking Becky with her as a lady’s maid and happily leaving Miss Minchin and her school behind to start a new, happy life as a little princess once more. The story is heartwarming and teaches a great lesson to children –  and indeed, a lesson that even as adults we often need reminding of – that even in the worst of situations, we should always act with kindness, hope and courage, because a happy ending is always possible.

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The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

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RATING: 2.5/5

BLURB: “First published by Macmillan in 1894, The Jungle Book is the classic collection of animal tales that shows Rudyard Kipling’s writing for children at its best. The short stories and poems include the tale of Mowgli, a boy raised by a pack of wolves in the Indian jungle. We meet the tiger Shere Khan, Bagheera, the black panther, Baloo, the ‘sleepy brown bear’, and the python, Kaa. Other famous stories include the tale of the fearless mongoose Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and that of elephant-handler Toomai of the Elephants.”

REVIEW: What little I knew of ‘The Jungle Book’, prior to reading the lovely copy I picked out on a birthday bookshop trip back in February, was – unsurprisingly to anyone who knows me – was gained from watching the Disney version many, many, MANY times. What I didn’t realise, however, was that the original text of ‘The Jungle Book’ does not just consist of the familiar – and very enjoyable – story of the man-cub Mowgli; it also contains a number of other short stories based in the Jungle, including the story of the mongoose Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, which was probably the one I enjoyed the most after the traditional Jungle Book tale. For the purposes of this review, I will focus on ‘The Jungle Book’ story itself, as this is the one we are all the most familiar with. Although all of our favourite characters remain; the brave Mowgli, bold Bagheera, bumbling Baloo, sinister Kaa and the terrifying Shea Khan; many aspects of the story are changed and become, in fact, far more disturbing. The meeting with the monkeys – King Louis in particular – one of the most famous parts of the Disney film, does not in fact happen, or if it does it was done so briefly that I missed it entirely. The orginal tale by Kipling is also much more gruesome, and for example we see Mowgli skinning Shea Khan and holding up the removed fur to boast of his killing of the tiger. The other stories I did not find particularly memorable, and I did not even enjoy the original Jungle Book story as much as I thought I would. I do think, however, that my love of Disney may have blinkered my interpretation of the book, and therefore I would still urge you all to read it, as I know it is regarded as a much-loved children’s classic.

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Third Year at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Darrell and her friends are delighted to be back for their third year at Malory Towers. This year there are some new faces too – the snobbish American, Zerelda, and the tom-boyish Bill. But it’s Mavis with her precious singing voice who causes the biggest upset of the year.”

REVIEW: The third book in the wonderful Malory Towers series opens with Darrell heading back to Malory Towers without her best friend, Sally, who is in quarantine for an illness, leaving her instead stuck with one of the new girls, an overconfident American girl named Zerelda who likes to pretend she is much older than the rest of the schoolgirls. Zerelda, with her make-up and fancy hairstyles, struggles to fit in at Malory Towers despite the admiration of Gwendoline, who it seems will never learn her lesson at the school. She is also joined in being an outcast by Mavis, a boastful young girl whose singing voice has given her dreams of becoming a famous opera star. The other new girl, Bill, however, fits in much better and provides some drama and excitement by bringing her horse, Thunder, along to Malory Towers, who provides for me the most upsetting moment of the series when he becomes unwell with colic and Bill struggles to save his life. Mavis also provides some drama when she decides to flee the school in the middle of the night in order to compete in a village competition, leading her to damage her voice possibly forever. This is one of my favourite books in the series, with the interactions of Zerelda providing some light relief, as well as the sneezing pellet trick – and once again, provides a heartwarming tale showing how people can change for the better.

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Second Form at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Back to Malory Towers and in the Second Form now, Darrell and her friends know that they should be a little more grown-up. But sometimes sheer mischief gets the better of them…and they think they can get the better of the mistresses. Are they about to go one trick too far?”

REVIEW: The second installment in Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series is just as entertaining and heartwarming as the first, once again containing important messages about friendship and the difference between right and wrong. Malory Towers has welcomed three new girls at the beginning of this book; the quiet, serious scholarship girl, Ellen; the scatty and artistic Belinda; and the rich and boastful Daphne. Whilst Belinda fits in instantly, both Ellen and Daphne have a little more trouble, though for very different reasons. Ellen is struggling to maintain the high grades that led her to achieve the scholarship, and is worried that she will disappoint her parents, whilst Daphne has made friends with the spoilt Gwendoline and is hiding a dark secret behind her bragging. Combined with this, Alicia is causing friction among the second formers as she grows jealous of Sally’s position as head girl, which leads her to play a very amusing trick on the teachers – which, I do believe, will make any reader laugh out loud no matter how old they are! Things begin to get worse for poor Ellen, however, when she becomes unwell and is accused of stealing by the other girls when she is in fact trying to find test papers to cheat from. I will not reveal who the real thief is here, though I know many of you will have read the book, as it is always nice to leave you with some element of surprise! I am thoroughly enjoying re-reading these childhood favourites and would definitely recommend them to those who haven’t already been acqauinted with them.