Top Ten Most Underrated Childhood Books

This is a rendition of Top Ten Tuesday by the This week was top 10 underrated books in a genre, and I have chosen to do Childhood Books because frankly, there are too many wonderful books that no one else seems to have read and/or are out of print. So, if any of you have also enjoyed these works, please tell me!

Most Underrated Childhood Books

-Picture book section:

1. The Keris Emerald by Mary Parke Johnson

This is a fairy tale about a Russian lad who wants to gain the attention of a princess by giving her the greatest of all emeralds, hidden in the forest of the Keris fairies and guarded by a snow leopard…It’s gorgeous, and strange, and lovely.

2. The Princess on the Nut by Michelle Nikly and Jean Claverie

This is the tale of the son of the princess on the pea and his search for a bride who isn’t so “perfect” or princessy as his mother. The pictures are gorgeous and give a lot of extra information, too!

3. The Magic Pumpkin by Lucille E. Sette and Phyllis L. Tildes

One of my favorite Halloween books, The Magic Pumpkin is about old Mr. Squiggs, who loves Halloween because he gets to be even more unpleasant and dreadful, and it is sanctioned! I love the way this writing goes in threes: how he interacts with men, with women, with children, his jack-o-lanterns are dreadful, are hideous, are frightening! Only this year, the pumpkin has something to say about being so horrible.

4. All works by Barbara Helen Berger
Gwinna Animalia
This artist/writer creates such gorgeous, magical works that I cannot recommend them enough. My first was “Grandfather Twilight” and I think that’s the easiest one to find, though.

5. This Is the Place for Me by Joanna Cole and William Van Horn

This charming book is about a bear who’s fed up with his house and goes looking for a better place to live. I still think of this bear when I need some perspective or am thinking of making crazy, impulsive life-choices, and the images still make me smile in amusement, so what more could one want in a picture book?

(Extra): Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady by Selina Hastings and Juan Wijngaard

-Since it’s a well-known tale I felt this was more of an extra mention, but this work probably began my great love with all things Arthurian, the artwork is amazing, and it’s just one of the most vibrant treasures.

Chapter Books:

6. The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
ordinary princess

Again, I cannot recommend it enough-a committee suggesting they hire a dragon to help wed their plain daughter, a princess who runs off rather than having it and finds living with animals in the wood a rather unpractical affair and so gets work with her non-anthropomorphized squirrel and crow…read it! I do every spring.

7. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

And this is the book I read every fall. It’s set in England during Mary Tudor’s reign, with the stubborn, curious, and practical Kate sent into exile in a palace full of mysterious circumstances and tales of living elves…It’s a retelling and expansion of the Tam Lin tale and it’s brilliant.

8. The Gammage Cup: A Novel of the Minnipins by Carol Kendall and Erik Blegvad

This world is delightfully filled with poetry, courage, and discovery.

9. A Royal Pain by Ellen Conford

This one is more real-world…almost. “A sixteen-year-old in Kansas, who discovers she is really a princess, is taken to a tiny European monarchy to assume her duties and marry a distasteful neighboring prince, and in the ensuing weeks tries to become such a “royal pain” that everyone will want to be rid of her.” It’s great fun, and a good read-aloud book.

10. My Angelica by Carol Lynch Williams

Angelica is an elementary student who dreams of becoming a great and famous romance writer! Unfortunately, her book is filled with sentimental tripe wrapped in hilariously absurd euphemisms. Her best friend is both a good poet who’s aware of this problem and utterly in love with her. It’s a ridiculously charming read. Why it didn’t catch on I do not know.

So! How about you guys? What are your favorite childhood books that other people’s lack of knowledge keeps you from talking about? Have you read any of these?

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem

By: Vivian Vande Velde


Scholastic Inc. 2001

A fairy tale anthology review

Vivian Vande Velde’s The Rumpelstiltskin Problem contains six stories that grapple with spinning straw into gold.  More amusingly, this book struggles to understand the characters who appear in the familiar story.  What motivates Rumpelstiltskin?  How did the idea of spinning straw into gold start?  What kind of people decide to marry someone they’ve known over threats for three days or offer up their child for some deal concerning gold?  There are many answers in The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, all filled with quirks and charm.


The stories in The Rumpelstiltskin Problem twist and turn the story’s characters into many actors: cruel kings and kind ones, stupid girls and clever ones, generous spinners and hungry ones.  Whatever person you’re a fan of, this collection has a tale where they are wonderful.  Whoever you dislike, there’s a story to mock their distastefulness.  The consistent features are something to laugh at, someone to like, and playful writing that nudges you along like a hayride: the setting is familiar, the new bumps are fun, and it’s part of a world somewhat different from your own.  Besides, as well as all that straw, each of Vivian Vande Velde’s versions provides a little bit of gold.  It’s just hiding in different places.  The Rumpelstiltskin Problem is a very swift ride that will please.  After my trip I recommend it.




Neil Gaiman’s “M Is for Magic” anthology

M is for Magic

By: Neil Gaiman


Harper Trophy 2007

A children’s fantasy anthology review

Neil Gaiman’s fantastical stories throw words, images, and problems around like paint in M is for Magic.  The stories range from tales of thievery and the devil to dealings with trolls, phoenixes, and the Holy Grail.  The resulting works brim with bold patterns: zebra stripes, leopard print, and giraffe spots-somewhat familiar, starkly memorable, and all vying for attention.  These bold stories will grab your mind, flash their bright themes, and then settle down quietly for a snack.  Gaiman writes like a general.  He either attacks the reader with surprise, efficiently wrapping everything up before all the meanings and uproar quite settle down, or else slowly sets up his plots to surround and take down, completing his mission so quietly and easily that it feels like you didn’t quite get the full experience you were expecting.

In short, these stories are likeable.  They delve around the edges of disturbing behavior and fairy tales, but always manage to remain uniquely Gaiman’s.  On another note, the way the endings are reached seems designed to leave the reader unsettled and wanting something more.  While that might be appropriate for many of these particular plots, I wish there had been a little bit more resolution with a few of them.  It seems that there is no middle ground with these works, either everything is subtle or absolutely nothing is.  I longed for a little in-between.  That being said, these stories will definitely give you something interesting to while away your time, and they are different enough that there should be something for every fantastic taste.  My personal favorites are “Sunbird” and “Troll Bridge.”  Yours may be something else, but you’ll never know unless you read it.  I recommend taking it to waiting rooms, on airplanes, or anywhere else that really needs a good dose of anti-boredom magic.

Maurice Sendak is dead


“Where the Gone Things Are”



To the ringmaster.

Cares he commanded,

Laughs were his, too.

A rinse for the mind

When his wilds came through.



-Said the pictures?

Made them of dreams.

Nothing could be branded,

Genius is like that.

In monsters or cats

Or Pig!



There must be more to death

Than no more anything.

If only a sandwich or two,

Some comfort soup? Or milk

Could be death kitchen’s stew.



Taste every side of it,

There’s life and there’s sad,

And there’s a crown, too.

It can’t be all bad,

Not after all that we had.


No bumbles, or swears,

Or lions with maws

Can snatch off the ringmaster’s

Circus of paws.

Where the gone things are

-is wild.


In and out of lives,

For years and for today,

There’s so much to say goodbye to,

And no bye’s good to say.

Death must be more than ‘stop’.

-a higglety, pigglety, pop!



I count one to nine-

But this is over. (No!-when?)

I promise, I swear,

I won’t ever turn Then.

Now is the last line.


Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

By: Salmon Rushdie


Penguin Books 1990

A middle grade fantasy adventure review

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is an adventure story, an exploration of the inner-workings of tales, a romantic quest, and a very simple book.  Rushdie’s words dance as they paint images in your head.  Finding yourself taken to a foreign world, with different rules, is rarely so illuminating, or so much fun.  Like the heroes of most such tales, Haroun Khalifa finds himself confronting opposites: the dark and the light, silence and gab, what others accept as real versus what he knows to be somehow true.

As the son of a storyteller, Haroun often finds himself facing the question: what use are stories?  When his mother leaves the family to lead a more serious and sober life than she led as the wife of the cheerful Rashid, the Shah of Blah, Haroun finds this question almost unbearable.  Fortunately, all it takes in order to sort out this problem (not to mention other twists and dilemmas in the plot), is to meet the right people, make the right observations, and of course, perform actions out of love.  Luckily for us, Rushdie’s youthful character manages to accomplish all this without leaving the readers behind, letting humor out of sight, or allowing a moment to be dull.

This story, like the Sea of Stories, has so many colors and threads that it appears like one big, gleaming, rainbow treat.  If you like nightshirts with purple patches, or armies made of volumes and pages, or genies with colored whiskers, or boys that stand up for their fathers, or really, anything at all, this is a book for you.  As an incredibly smart man named Sheldon Cooper once said, “What’s life without whimsy?”

A Virtual Celebration of Diana Wynne Jones

A Virtual Celebration of Diana Wynne Jones.


Diana Wynne Jones wrote things full of verve, imagination, and mindfulness.  You can tell she had fun writing them, you feel it would’ve been delightful to talk to her.  Her characters always had that little extra something that spices up worlds and makes you care about their stories.  Reading her books helped get me through challenging times and new situations.


And, most interestingly to me, she had a way of inserting horrible things into her youthful tales, while gliding over it so smoothly you had to stop and say, “Wait-what just happened?” to fully realize it.  Many of her fans I’ve discussed this with do not, in fact, remember these things to have happened at all.  “It’s because she’s so sneaky about it!” I reply.  It’s truly amazing.  This woman could flesh out her worlds with all the true things, good and bad, and explore both sides without darkening the mood.  You can read about downtrodden people, awful dilemmas, and come out recalling it as a veritable pastry of delicious storyhood, which would be perfectly true.  Such is the magic of Diana Wynne Jones.  No matter what else you think or remember about her books, her writings runs deep.  Yet, somehow, they never lose the light or the comfort of a fantasy playing out on the surface.


My favorite such fantasy is Hexwood.  In delicious pastry stories, this is the gooey, giant cinnamon bun to take out all others.