Before Brona’s Books #1001ChildrensBooks

Long before the birth of Brona’s Books, nearly 12 years ago, and long before my preschool teaching days, I read nothing but children’s books. Lots of them. As often as I could, as many times as I could. Rereading favourites was the only way to feed my voracious habit. The school library could not keep up with me and I only had so many birthdays and Christmases each year to request new books!

These are the books that made me the reader I am today.

It’s when I developed a taste for historical fiction and a love of classics. It’s when I realised that animal stories were not really my thing (talking animals were ridiculous but real animal stories were too distressing). I was willing to give most genres a try, as long as they had rich character development, witty dialogue or an epic storyline to suck me in.

I have reviewed a number of my childhood favourites on this blog over the years. But it took Deb @Reader Buzz and her 20 Books of Summer post to get my nostalgic juices flowing again. Deb is down to just 268 books of her 1001 book challenge. Many of the books were unfamiliar to me, but a few made my heart go pitter-pat!

To assist Deb in her decision-making process about which of the 268 she should really read, I thought I would highlight a few of my must-read teen books.

Pastures of the Blue Crane | H. F. Brinsmead (original 2013 post)

When I first discovered Pastures of the Blue Crane on my school library shelf as a teenager, I thought that I had struck gold – that I had uncovered some little known Aussie treasure.


I have since discovered that Pastures of the Blue Crane won the CBCA Book of the Year Award for 1965 & that Hesba Fay Brinsmead (1922 – 2003) wrote a lot of children’s book.

My dad grew up in the Tweed and we spent many, many family Christmases in the area with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandma. My memories of the area date from the early 1970’s onwards – just 5 or 6 years after Brinsmead wrote Pastures of the Blue Crane.
When I read this for the first time in my teens, I was able to picture the streets, the mountains, the banana plantations, the cane fields, the beaches exactly as she described them. I could smell the smoke, the humidity & the lush ripeness of the area. I could taste the fruit and hear the screeches of the insects, birds & bats.

I also really related to Ryl – the loner, the outsider, who didn’t feel like she belonged to anywhere or anyone.

When I reread Pastures of the Blue Crane in 2013 for one of my very first AusReading Months, I was shocked by the blatant, casual, and very un-PC comments made by some of the characters. I had forgotten just how prevalent and unquestioning was the use of racist and sexist language during my youth. I do not miss those times at all and I was grateful for the chance to see that we have indeed made progress, even if at times it feels like we have not.

This book remains dear to my heart. It was one of the few teen books I read that was set in Australia, and in a part of Australia that I knew well. It was the first time I had read a book that included a (positive) Indigenous perspective. I never knew that our stories were worth celebrating too. I never knew that the times I was growing up in could be the stuff of a good story. This was the first time I saw that possibility. It was intoxicating.

I finished my initial review by saying,

Pastures of the Blue Crane still holds up as a sweet coming-of-age story despite the dated use of language. The themes of belonging & identity bind it together. Highly recommended to anyone looking for a ‘real’ story – there’s not a vampire, werewolf or dystopian baddie in sight!

The October Child | Eleanor Spence (original 2013 post)

I read The October Child when it first came out, which meant I was only about 9 or 10. I found it pretty heavy going at the time, although I often found myself identifying with young Douglas, the responsible, sensitive and slightly anxious protagonist. 

I knew nothing about autism at the time and didn’t realise that the baby in this book was autistic. Spence didn’t use the term anywhere in the book, although she described exactly the tendencies and habits of an autistic child and the impact this can have on an entire family.

This book moved me as a child but also scared me – so much so that I never read it again – until 2013.

It’s a powerful, emotionally charged book. It showed how the birth of a new baby, with special needs, could wreck havoc on a quiet, suburban family. Over time relationships became strained to breaking point, the mum was exhausted all the time, and the siblings were alienated from the whole process. When the whole family had to move to the city to be near a special school, all the tensions burst forth. There was no happy ending for this family. Only a realistic, thoughtful one instead.

Rereading this in 2013, I was grateful, once again that the world had moved on from the 1970’s.

Support services for families are much improved, community awareness and understanding are more widespread and the shame and fear often associated with children with different abilities in the past, is mostly in the past.

The October Child was awarded the 1977 CBCA Book of the Year. It was shortlisted for the British Carnegie Medal. In 1999, Spence received the Australia Council for the Arts Emeritus award “for her outstanding and lifelong contribution to Australian literature.” Spence was also made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2005 for her “contribution to Australian literature and her services to autism.”

The Twelfth Day of July and Across the Barricades | Joan Lingard (2017 review post by Cathy @746 Books)

For Cathy, these books about Sadie and Kevin, set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, had the same affect on her as did reading Pastures of the Blue Crane on me.

It had never occurred to me that someone could write a book about where I came from. Up until that point, I believed that everyone I wanted to read about either went to boarding school in England or high school in America. The idea that the experience of living in Northern Ireland was valid material for a book – and not a history book! – was beyond me.

Thankfully for both us, we discovered early in our reading lives, that our stories were valid too.

I was in my early teens when I discovered this series in my school library. I devoured them many times over. For me it wasn’t the Northern Ireland storyline that caught my eye, but the thwarted teen romance. At fourteen these books ticked all my romantic boxes – love across the divide that defied and challenged family expectations and societal conventions. Love really did conquer all.

Yet, these books were grittier than that. There was violence, there was hardship and there was an unplanned teenage pregnancy. Sadie and Kevin’s love came at a cost. They had to make tough decisions and tough choices, with very little family support.

Needless to say, these five books were regularly reborrowed, until an unsympathetic librarian made a comment about it, guilting me into never borrowing them again.

  • The Twelfth Day of July (1970)
  • Across the Barricades (1972)
  • Into Exile (1973)
  • A Proper Place (1975)
  • Hostages to Fortune (1976)

Flambards and Edge of the Cloud | K. M. Peyton (original 2014 post)

Flambards is the classic story of an orphan (with a large inheritance due on her 21st birthday), a mean, mercenary uncle, horses, lots of horses, two older male cousins and a kind stable hand!

It’s tragic, dramatic & romantic. At the time it was written, it was also controversial (an unmarried pregnant scullery maid, love across class divides & elopements).

Click here to read an interview with K.M Peyton about the controversy.

I am not a horse-y girl, and never have been. Once again, it was the romance that sucked me into this series – and all the WWI historical stuff. Christina was a protagonist after my own heart – insecure, unsure of herself but determined to be independent. And I loved all the old world versus new world tension – fox hunting versus aeroplanes, suffragettes versus the upstairs/downstairs divide, horses versus cars.

  • Flambards (1967)
  • The Edge of the Cloud (1969)
  • Flambards in Summer (1969)

Deb, I highly recommend ALL these books and I hope you fit them into your 20 Books of Summer reading, although I do wonder how they will hold up to an adult read, as opposed to a teen. Are they now too dated for modern readers? Or are thwarted romances and family dysfunction such universal themes that they will always resonate with teens?

13 thoughts on “Before Brona’s Books #1001ChildrensBooks

  1. I thank you (I wish I had a stronger phrase to express my gratitude) for this wonderful post. I will use this list to guide my summer reading, beginning with trying harder (spending money, perhaps, rather than relying on library shelves) to find copies of these.

    It was Louise who set me on the path to read all the 1001 list. I thank her (again feeling need for better phrase) for first sharing the 1001 Children’s Books book with me. I will (try to) send her the link to this post.

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    1. I’m glad you found this useful Deb. Louise is still active on twitter and fb, but not so much with the blogging world lately. Her comments were on many of the original posts for these books.

      I have my old copied of Pastures and October that I would be happy to send to you Deb. I bought them at a very crowded second hand shop in Wagga (where I went to uni and met Mr Books for the first time). I do not think I will read them again & would love to know that they were going to someone who would appreciate them. Email me your address if this suits.

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  2. I share your dislike of books featuring animals – with the one exception of Black Beauty. i can tolerate real animals to some extent as long as they are not the main feature of the book, but animals who talk are guaranteed to make me shudder

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    1. I read Black Beauty too, when young, but found it very sad at times. I read My Friend Flicka as well, but found it impossibly distressing from start to finish.

      My exception to animal stories is Watership Down. I quickly forgot that I was reading a book about rabbits, each character became so real to me.

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  3. Ahhhh, Flambards. And I loved the Sadie and Kevin books – we had to read the first one at school then I devoured the rest, they really took me out of the world I lived in and helped me understand.

    I can remember a few Australian books from my childhood years – Alan Marshall’s I Can Jump Puddles and Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby series (yes, I was a horsey child, though more keen on grooming and caring for them / reading about them than doing wild riding stunts!).

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    1. I had a pen friend in my younger years. She lived in Guildford and was horse mad. Her letters were full of grooming and riding stories. You just reminded me 🙂

      I didn’t read those Australian books as a child, but I did read Seven Little Australians, Callie’s Castle and several Ivan Southall books. None of those books were set in places that I knew well at the time, so they didn’t have the same impact on me as Pastures.

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  4. I don’t mind animal books – Black Beauty is one of my all-time favourites. But in decades of reading, buying for children and for grandchildren I haven’t read or come across any of the books you’ve featured here. My own reading was old fashioned even in the 1950s – adventure writers like RM Ballantyne and ES Ellis, books about brave Cavaliers (Royalists) defeating wicked Roundheads (Parliament) and so on.

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    1. Sadly all the books above would be considered quite old-fashioned by modern young readers.

      Looking for Alabrandi is a much more accessible coming-of-age-story these days and Karen Foxlee’s Lenny’s Book of Everything is a far more modern take on a family living with a child with different abilities.

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  5. I too was besotted with H F Brinsmead’s Pastures of the Blue Crane, so much so that when my family holidayed in the area, I asked my parents to drive me around where (I thought possibly) the book was set. I still remember the mountains, the beaches, the sugarcane fields. Thank you for the memories!

    Also, no gold star for that grumpy librarian, they would NOT do that now.

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  6. For awhile I was trying to work on that 1001 collection, too, but my progress has been very erratic and I’ve not touched it for a couple of years now (still, might yet return!). The books you mention that I also loved were the Flambards stories. I actually reread them last year and was surprised how shocking certain elements of the third book were (and I was reading them at 13 or so and I guess I just read past those parts…y’know, the grownups were pretty boring, it seemed). I wasn’t a horsey girl either, but did know girls who were, and the dynamics in the household and the triangular affections held my interest too. Particularly the crotchety old father and how daring and bold Christina was at times!

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