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Cornflower book group

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Martina

Oh those wolves! They were the very best part of the book for me. The energy of the writing of the train journey through wolf infested country was particularly appealing. it was so compellingly over the top and reminiscent of childhood fears, not to forget adult and other much more sinister ones. The strategy of the train driver to avoid wolves entering the train at the stations they approached made me laugh out loud!! So delightful. And the image of the wolf precipitating itself through the window!!

The lovingly evoked descriptions of food, including the potent box of cheese scraps at the school, contrasted with periods of deprivation. And remedies such as breath of sheep supplemented with brew of cherry bark syrup and maybe a spoonful of honey. It was reassuring that a plateful or two of porridge would cure better than the "grandest doctor in the kingdom".
The illustrations in my original edition carefully guarded in stack at my local library, are quite magical

Dark Puss

It is difficult to review a book like this as a reader of more than firty years of age, especially as unlike Cornflower I had not read it as a child. It is engaging and like Martina I was taken with the illustrations. However although I agree it has the required elements of a good yarn it has in my opinion rather over-egged the pudding and I found it just too melodramatic and a little too implausible to be really won over by it. As an adult reader I certainly found the good/evil distinctions rather too black and white but perhaps that might not have mattered to me had I read this aged ten. I did find the rapid change from the deep, wolf-infested winter to the balmy countryside of the south rather abrupt and on a very pedantic note Chalk Farm, the name arising from a corruption of Eton's Chalcots estate was not actually bulit upon until 1840, eight years after the date in which the story is set.

Although I enjoyed reading this book yesterday and this morning it is a good example of why I borrow the CBG texts (from my University Library in this instance) rather than purchasing them. I just wouldn't have bought it for myself as an adult. Good but not one I'll re-read nor will I seek out her other children's books. I might, if I have the inclination and CBG readers can recommend any, seek out one of her adult novels or poetry to compare.

Cornflower

Re. your point about Chalk Farm, given that Joan Aiken has set the book in the reign of the fictitious James III and imagined an early Channel tunnel which has let in the wolves, she is clearly not one to let historical fact get in the way of the story she wants to tell!
I've never read any of her adult books but I have fond memories (and still possess my childhood copies) of other books in the "Wolves" series, "Black Hearts in Battersea" and "Nightbirds on Nantucket", and I feel sure that I first encountered "Willoughby Chase" on "Jackanory" - did you not watch it, DP?
There is a very good Joan Aiken website (created by her daughter) here: http://www.joanaiken.com/

Cornflower

Yes, the remedies are marvellous!

Anji

Sorry Cornflower this one was a dud for me. Perhaps if I had read it as a child it would have been different, but I struggled through 80 pages and then gave up. It was gothic and dark, which isn't bad thing, initially I was thinking of Grimm's fairy tales but I just couldn't warm up to any of the characters and I just got bored. Surprising really as I don't give up on many books once I start them. It reminded me of the Secret Garden and I didn't like that book either.

Cornflower

Not to worry! Many thanks for giving it a go, Anji.

Chris

What a capable little girl Bonnie is. She courageously and efficiently copes with everything life throws at her, from her privileged life at home to the harsh treatment at the frightful children's institution and during all her adventures along the way. It has everything you need for a good children's book, a nasty governess, terrifying wolves, a kind maid, good overcoming evil and also a lesson in realising that not everyone is as they first seem. The idea that champagne is a remedy for malnutrition is fabulous! I didn't read this as a child, but I wish I had.

michi

I read this book when I was suffering from sinusitis last month. The pain was not so serious but really annoying, but reading this book was a great comfort that distracted me from the pain. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to indulge myself with some Children's classics such as Peter Pan, The Railway Children and Secret Garden which I had heard about but hadn't read yet. They were really delightful readings during the hectic festive time.

I loved the gothic atmosphere of the book and the entertainingly nasty governess! The impudence of wearing Lady Green's dress (unfittingly) made me laugh.
My daughter is too small for this book but when she starts reading by herself, this book will be definitely in her bookshelf. Thank you!

Susan in TX

I didn't have time to reread this one, but I have fond memories of reading it aloud to my children when they were younger. Joan Aiken is a favorite of my SIL and she has kept the children well supplied with her other titles. Not sure how I would have thought of it without a "child context."

Julie Fredericksen

I think I would have really loved this book as a child, but as a 63-year old adult (older, I think, than Dark Puss' "more than 50 years of age"),I found it to be way too treacly, especially the way incredulous things were all tied up in neat little bundles. Were there really bands of wolves roaming around in England in the new age of locomotives? Seriously, I don't think they were a problem with the railroads in the Wild, Wild West of the US. Of course, I could be wrong. Someone, please set me straight if I am. But yes, I return to my first sentence and declare that I would have really liked this book when I was a child.

Julie Fredericksen

PS - I did not read anyone else's comments before I posted mine. However, now that I have, I have to talk about The Secret Garden. I read it as an adult (well, college age, really). Feeling overwhelmed by all my required studies, I would go to the fiction stacks at the Chester Fritz Library at the University of North Dakota and pull out The Secret Garden for a wonderful, comforting read before facing reality again. Just to say that I am not at all against reading "kiddy lit" as an adult.

PPS - I must admit that I have never read "The Wind in the Willows". Should I?

Ruthiella

I did not read any Joan Aiken as a child, but I wish I had. I know I would have loved this book. I read the book over Christmas and since my holidays this year were particularly stressful, this book with its good/evil and white/black simplicity really hit the spot. I don’t think I could have handled anything deeper at the time. I found it charming and very comforting at 40 plus years. It is funny that The Secret Garden, a book I did read as a child and loved, has also been mentioned in the comments because Simon the goose boy reminded me of Dickon; both in his resourcefulness and his ability to tame animals.

Dark Puss

Hello Julie, there is about a decade in age between us. Regarding Wind in the Willows I'd say yes do. As a child I didn't much care for it but when I read it (a number of times) to my son I found it to be much more subtle and poignant than I expected. I still find Toad too much of a buffoon for my taste but he is a more complex character than I had appreciated.

Dark Puss

The last wolf in England was killed around the end of C15. The last official record of a wolf killed in Scotland was 1680.

Dark Puss

Thank you for the link and yes I did indeed watch Jackanory.

Mr Cornflower

So long as you take the book on its own terms - an old-fashioned narrative fantasy for children with a slightly off-skew historical background - I think it works pretty well. As a perhaps critical adult there were a few things in it which struck me as a bit odd - eg after the first part of the book in which you can hardly stir beyond the front door for fear of marauding wolves, they are barely mentioned as the story develops. But there are enjoyably nasty villains and virtuous heroines (and heroes) who all get their respective just desserts, and that, as Oscar Wilde reminds us, is the meaning of fiction.

Isobel

I adored this book as a child - it was the romance of the wolves in the snowy landscape that appealed to me, plus the character of Bonnie, who was the heroine that I wanted to be. I re-read it again a couple of months ago, and enjoyed it almost as much. It is clearly a children's book, and has no pretensions to be more, and so can be enjoyed as Mr C says on its own terms - which makes it a very good book, though not a great one. Just don't make the mistake, as I did, of watching the film as well.

Karoline

I very much enjoyed revisiting this book and will now have to track down the rest of the series as my memory is of enjoying them even more than this.

 Barbara MacLeod

I'm with Anji here. However I am pressing on with February's book which I have requested from the library.

Cornflower

I hope that one proves to be more to your taste, Barbara, but thankyou for trying "The Wolves..."

Cornflower

Glad you've discovered it now, Chris!

Cornflower

So glad it was a hit with you, Michi - and provided a distraction when you needed one, and how lovely that you're going on to read those other classics.

Cornflower

The context in which we read something and how it affects our perception or opinions on the book - very interesting point, Susan.

Cornflower

I agree, Julie, there are quite a few "neat little bundles" - I think my liking for neatness and tidiness generally extends to the plots of books so I was happy to have them there.

Cornflower

Thankyou, DP.

Cornflower

Lovely memories of The Secret Garden! It's a long time since I have read The Wind in the Willows, but I have heard the audiobook more recently and that version - read by Alan Bennett - was delightful.

Cornflower

I hadn't thought of the Simon/Dickon similarity but you are right, Ruthiella.

Cornflower

Wise words from Mr. Wilde.

Cornflower

Thankyou for that warning, Isobel - I'll content myself with the book!

Cornflower

Another successful re-read! Glad to hear it didn't disappoint, Karoline.

Dark Puss

Is your opinion of WIW different as an adult from your experience as a child?

Dark Puss

Dear Mr and Ms C, for those of us who are simple scientists, could you point me to the quotation please? I'm afraid my knowledge of literary figures and their sayings is not anywhere as good as yours!

Dark Puss

Who is Dickon??

Cornflower

Hard to say - I remember little of that early reading, at least, what I take to be from that time; with a book like that which I've seen dramatised more than once and read and heard bits of in various contexts, it's more a layering of impressions and memories one has.

Dark Puss

I've never seen any dramatised version of WIW.

Cornflower

You haven't read (or seen film or tv versions of) The Secret Garden? Dickon is the young boy who has a way with animals and who befriends Mary Lennox, the central character.

Cornflower

"The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means." Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest.

Dark Puss

Thank you very much! Not that I agree with her.

Dark Puss

Never read, never seen. Again thank you for enlightening me. You will be discovering (if you didn't already know) how ill-read I am in many respects.

LizF

Surprisingly I missed reading The Wolves of Willoughby Chase as a child which is a shame as it is the sort of book I would have adored when I was ten or eleven.

There were elements of it which reminded me of a couple of other books which I DID read as a child, namely Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse and Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, and I wondered if Joan Aiken had read them as they both pre-date 'Wolves'.
I did enjoy it and it has been added to my list of books to be given to the grandchildren when they are older (especially as I suspect that two-year-old Isabella will be a very similar character to Bonnie!)

Talking of wolves, I spotted that you have Carol Rifka Brunt's Tell The Wolves I'm Home in your arrivals column. As it was one of my favourite books of last year, I will be very interested to see what you think of it.

Cornflower

Glad to hear "Tell the Wolves ..." was a hit with you, Liz - I'm looking forward to reading it.

MelD

I thought I had read this as a child but when I went back to it, it turns out I hadn't, after all, and was mixing it up with something else. Perhaps this made me get off on the wrong foot with it, but I didn't really enjoy it. I was an old-fashioned child and loved lots of old-fashioned books but apparently didn't read this one (perhaps not any of Joan Aiken, though I'm definitely familiar with the name), and I can't say I would have enjoyed it any more aged 10ish. It all seems a bit odd and jolting. Too weak, somehow, despite the "right" categories for a story, as others have commented. Would I have found it frightening? I don't know. The one that frightened and fascinated me and also involves a girl being turned out of her own home was The Silver Crown by Robert O'Brien and I retrieve that shudder whenever I pick it up again now, so many years later.
So, sorry, I didn't appreciate this one. I'm actually surprised at how few of the book group books really appeal to me - it must be an education, anyway!

Cornflower

Thankyou for trying it anyway, Mel, and I'm off to look up The Silver Crown as I haven't heard of that one.

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