Scott O’Dell (1898-1989) is widely, and justly, regarded as one of the USA’s most important children’s authors. Only the second American to win the international Hans Christian Andersen Award (a distinction he shares with only four other American authors and one illustrator), he won a 1961 Newbery Medal for Island of the Blue Dolphins and, in a fifty-five-year career, published over two dozen more young-adult novels, mostly historical fiction set in Mexico or the American southwest.
A couple years ago, I gave a pile of slightly-used books to the young children of some friends I was visiting over the New Year. Among them were the first two Measle books by Ian Ogilvy. During that holiday I even read portions of the first book aloud, complete with character voices.
This 1961 Newbery Medal winner has come to be regarded as a classic of historical fiction for young readers, written by one of America’s most honored children’s authors. I remember seeing a film based on this book when I was a grade-schooler, and the feelings of heartbreak and loneliness that I associated with that film were still on target when I read the book at age 40. It’s an amazing, inspiring, exciting story, rich in discoveries about creatures of beauty and wildness and teeming variety; yet at the same time, it is a tale of deep melancholy whose ending may leave you wistful.
The award-winning author of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH wrote a book in the 1960s that is kind of a cross between a medieval fantasy and a Gothic horror novel, only it’s set in the Eastern U.S. in the 1960s, and the race riots and social unrest of that era are an element in the horror. Frightening as it is, I remember my fourth-grade teacher reading it to my class, and it still chills me to the quick at the age of 30.
Sometime British actor, and now American author, Ian Ogilvy continues to show his writing chops in this sequel to Measle and the Wrathmonk. Aimed at a slightly younger audience than the Harry Potter books, Ogilvy once again creates an atmosphere laced with equal parts goofiness and menace, and then turns loose his plucky little hero, Measle Stubbs.
Before the storied friendship of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin was a gleam in Patrick O’Brian’s eye, he gave the world this book featuring a very Aubrey-like young midshipman named Jack Byron and his boyhood friend, surgeon’s mate Tobias Barrow—who is like Stephen in all ways short of being Irish.
I really must be more careful about how I throw around words like “best” and “favorite.” But from a fairly early chapter in this book, I was already thinking about using them in this review.
The main characters in this book are two Irish youths who grew up together: parson’s son Peter Palafox, now a midshipman on H.M.S. Centurion; and his servant Sean O’Mara, who starts out as a lowly fo’c’sle hand and works his way up to bosun’s mate. To be sure, they are fictional characters, and their adventure on the high seas reads somewhat like a very promising preview of the later Aubrey-Maturin novels. But the adventure itself is torn straight out of history.
I had this book on my shelf for several years before I got around to reading it. When one of my co-workers saw me reading it in the break room he said, “I’ve had that book on my shelf for years, but I’ve never gotten around to reading it.” Now, I realize this doesn’t constitute a scientific poll, but I reckon there are a lot of people who can say the same thing. If you’ve been tripping over The Forgotten Beasts of Eld while deciding what to read next, stop. Pull it down from that shelf, crack it open, and read the first chapter. You may be surprised at how hard it is to put down.
War is hell, but peace can be mighty inconvenient, too. Jack Aubrey feels this strongly as a Royal Navy post-captain near the top of the seniority list. Very soon he will reach the point where he may either hoist the blue flag of an admiral or be passed over for promotion: a terrible and irreversible disgrace, popularly described as being “yellowed.” And now that Waterloo has come and gone, and Napoleon is out of the picture, and the world’s oceans aren’t full of enemy ships ripe to be plucked as lucrative prizes, there isn’t much chance of an officer like Jack distinguishing himself.