A vintage reading list from novelist Salley Vickers

You know you’ve been a literary critic for too long when you start a book at the end. And I don’t mean turning directly to the last page to find out what happens, either. No, I’m talking about the acknowledgements. To the well-trained eye, these thank-you lists – sometimes spare, sometimes gushing – position their author with merciless precision in the literary ecosystem.

So when I flipped to the back of Salley Vickers’ latest novel, I was in for a pleasant surprise because she lists not people but books. Which is apt since The Librarian traces the impact an idealistic young Children’s Librarian has on East Mole, the Wiltshire market town she moves to in 1959. She is Miss Blackwell, a name borrowed from the ‘remarkable’ Children’s Librarian at Vickers’ own local library when she was growing up.

As Vickers explains, ‘It is to Miss Blackwell that I owe many of the books and characters that have informed not only my writing life but probably my whole take on life, what seems to me to matter most, how I brought up my children and how I like to be now with my grandchildren’.

Among those books is Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, which Vickers bought with a birthday book token when it first came out in 1958. It is, she says, ‘one of the greatest children’s books of all time’.

She learnt to read before she started school using The Tale of Peter Rabbit and others by Beatrix Potter, in whose debt she’ll forever be ‘for so enhancing my vocabulary at a very young age and for her salutary example in the use of cadence’, she confides.

As for Enid Blyton… The real and the fictional Miss Blackwell both scorn her. For Vickers’ part, she enjoyed them, though her parents wouldn’t have them in the house so she associates them with chocolate spread sandwiches on sliced white bread, another contraband treat that was served up at the friend’s where she read about the Famous Five.

Here is the list of ‘Recommended reading from East Mole Library’ in full:

E. Nesbit, The Treasure Seekers

Tove Janson, Comet in Moominland

Ernest Thomas Seton, The Trail of the Sandhill Stag

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island 

Beatrix Potter, collected works

Gwynedd Rae, Mary Plain books

Rudyard Kipling, Just So Stories, Puck of Pook’s Hill 

Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn 

George MacDoland, The Princess and Curdie, At the Back of the North Wind

Erich Kästner, Emil and the Detectives

Eric Linklater, The Wind on the Moon

Munro Leaf, The Story of Ferdinand

Andrew Laing, The Blue, Brown, Olive and Lilac Fairy books

Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons and following stories

Mary Norton, The Borrowers, The Borrowers Afield

P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins Comes Back, Mary Poppins Opens the Door

Norman Lindsay, The Magic Pudding

Norman Hunter, The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm

Leila Berg, Trust Chunky, Little Pete Stories

Philippa Pearce, The Minnow on the Say, Tom’s Midnight Garden

Susan Coolidge, What Katy Did, What Katy Did at School, What Katy Did Next 

C.S. Lewis, the collected Narnia

Jack London, White Fang

Noel Straetfield, Ballet Shoes, White Boots

T.H. White, The Once and Future King 

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There

Geoffrey Trease, Cue for Treason

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle 

Dr Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables series

J.B.S. Haldane, My Friend Mr Leakey 




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