Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, Dr Seuss, Beatrix Potter – the giants of children’s writing and illustration are hard to forget, but do you remember the other, lesser-known children’s books from your childhood?
Here are some of our vintage favourites – from the slightly weird and slightly gruesome to the quaintly dated and mischievously funny, they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.
Enjoy them again through new eyes and take a trip down memory lane.
Would You Rather
John Burningham, 1978
No child could fail to enjoy this brilliant book by classic children’s author and illustrator John Burningham, in which a young boy contemplates a series of gruesome choices. “Would you rather eat spider stew or slug dumplings or mashed worms?” It’s a concept that never gets boring – and a good game for long car journeys when Eye Spy runs its course.
Where the Wild Things Are
Maurice Sendak, 1963
When Max puts on his wolf suit and shouts at his mother, he sent to his room without any supper. But his bedrooms turns into a magical world and he sets sail across the sea to where the wild things are and becomes King of the Wild Things. The vivid intensity of a child’s imagination is richly portrayed in this evocative book – and it is slightly more unnerving than we remember!
There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly
Pam Adams, 1972
This is a very weird story about a lady who swallows a fly, then eats a spider to catch the fly, a bird to catch the spider, a cat to catch the bird and so on until she eats so many ever-larger animals that she dies. There is something about the rhyme and rhythm of the story – and the slightly gruesome ending – that children still seem to love.
Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy
Lynley Dodd, 1983
We have a special place in our hearts for lovable hound Hairy Maclary and his band of canine friends. There is a whole series of these books, and the characters – including Hercules Morse (a mastiff) and Bottomley Potts (a dalmation) – are as endearing as they were back in the 80s when we enjoyed them first time round.
The Tiger Who Came to Tea
Judith Kerr, 1968
This is a comforting, classic and, these days, possibly somewhat gender stereotypical tale, of a tiger who comes for tea with Sophie and her Mummy. He eats all the cakes and all the biscuits, then everything else in the house – including Daddy’s supper! When Daddy gets home from work, he takes Sophie and her Mummy out for sausages, chips and ice-cream instead. On route, they pass a cat that looks a bit like the tiger. We never noticed that first time round…
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
Michael Rosen and illustrated Helen Oxenbury, 1989
A story of a family that goes on a bear hunt through mud (scwelch-scwerch), a snowstorm (hoo-whoo, hoo-whoo), grass (swishy-swashy), a river (splash, splosh) and a wood (stumble-trip, stumble-trip), this book appeals to young and old and is great for literacy thanks to its repetition and alliterative sounds. Recently turned into a brilliant TV adaptation, it is as good as it ever was – and the illustrations are magnificent.
The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business
Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch, 1989
There is no escaping the lavatorial humour in this book, in which SOMEONE does a poo on Mole’s head. He sets about investigating who is responsible to the delight of children – and, ahem, more infantile adults. FYI, this is a brilliant book for potty training if your child is feeling nervous about doing poos – a common problem!
Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd, 1947
This is a perfect first bedtime story about a little bunny going to bed and saying goodnight to everything in his room. Cosy, old-school and brilliantly soporific, you may find your own eyes closing as you bid night-night to the comb, the brush, the bowl full of mush and the little old lady whispering hush.
Sweetly dated and a lovely book to read to your little one.
The Giant Jam Sandwich
John Vernon Lord, 1972
A favourite from our childhoods and still a favourite today, there is nothing not to like about this book in which a town is invaded by four million wasps. Bap the Baker and the villagers all come together to make a giant jam sandwich in which they trap them and become a wasp free town again. Hurrah! Entertaining, creative and humourous with colourful illustrations and rhyming couplets, this inspires even the most reluctant reader. You could even read it while eating jam sandwiches – a vintage snack of the first order.
Alfie Gets in First
Shirley Hughes, 1981
Alfie is so excited to be home from his shopping trip that he slams the door on his mother and sister, locking the keys – and himself – inside. Given that this is a typical toddler thing to do, it is a good one to read so they are prepped if they ever do something similar.
Then you can shout through the letter box, “Remember Alfie from the story? Okay, stop crying, get the keys and just post them back through the letter box then we can all get in.”
Good old Shirley Hughes. The illustrations will also remind you how the world used to look when you were a child…
P.S – Any favourite stories from your own childhood? Have a dig around in your parents’ loft and let us know!