A Summary and Analysis of Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Widow and the Parrot’

‘The Widow and the Parrot’ is not one of Virginia Woolf’s best-known works. But then how many people familiar with The Waves or Mrs Dalloway are even aware that Woolf wrote a short story for children? Woolf wrote ‘The Widow and the Parrot’ in the early 1920s for  the family newspaper edited by her nephews Quentin and Julian Bell (who, amazingly, nearly rejected it for publication because of its strong ‘Victorian’ moral message).

Read more

A Summary and Analysis of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, published in 1950, was the first of the seven Chronicles of Narnia to be published. The book became an almost instant classic, although its author, C. S. Lewis, reportedly destroyed the first draft after he received harsh criticism on it from his friends and fellow fantasy writers, including J. R. R. Tolkien.

Read more

8 of the Best Works by Lewis Carroll

Along with his contemporary, the great painter and poet Edward Lear (1812-88), Lewis Carroll, who was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-98), is one of the greatest Victorian purveyors of nonsense literature. Unlike Lear, Carroll poured his nonsense into fiction as well as some of the most famous and best-loved poems in the English language, so below we introduce eight of Lewis Carroll’s best novels and poems, to be enjoyed by ‘children of all ages’.

Read more

Edwardian Values: Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reviews a glorious edition of the bestselling scouts’ manual

Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship has become one of a select subset of books: the bestseller which hardly anybody has read. If, as Mark Twain had it, a classic was a book everybody praises and nobody reads, Scouting for Boys is the book everybody buys but (virtually) nobody reads – at least, not these days. Yet the book is, along with the akela (the title lifted by Robert Baden-Powell from The Jungle Book by Kipling, a writer the Scout-founder admired), as synonymous with the Boy Scouts as the famous woggle. Indeed, Baden-Powell’s manual for his new movement, published in 1908, is reckoned to be the second biggest-selling English-language book of the twentieth century: until the post-war period, sales were exceeded only by those of the Bible in the English-speaking world.

Of course, unlike other

Read more

‘I will make sweet for you the little cheeses’: A History of Children’s Books in 100 Books

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle goes down the rabbit-hole in this enthralling history of children’s books of all kinds

Around £2.2 billion is spent on books in the UK each year, and about one-fifth of this is spent on children’s books. The publishing industry is big business, and it can be very big business where a younger readership is concerned. Some of the bestselling authors of the last hundred years, such as Dr Seuss, Enid Blyton, and J. K. Rowling, have sold in huge numbers; indeed, those three names alone have probably clocked up over 1.6 billion books when their sales are combined. But when was the first children’s novel published? And how have successive generations and eras sought to edify, and entertain, their children through the written word? A History of Children’s Books in 100 Books (British Library), by Roderick Cave and Sara Ayad, explores the history of all sorts of books written for children, from the purely entertaining to the strictly educational, from the ancient to the modern, from the inventive to the downright bizarre.

A History of Children’s Books in 100 Books is the kind of book the British Library do so well: an expansive coffee-table book, with large pages and high-quality paper, making the

Read more