We all have our little things we like to do if we feel cruddy or just need a day off-- I really like to go to the library and check out a huge stack of "kid's" novels and snuggle up to read them. Plus, not like time off ever needs a justification, but I can always call this "research" for my future career of children's librarian extrordinaire.
This summer I went through a huge list of books that kind of point to the turning point in books targeted at kids-- though I have a lot of opinions about the genre in general. Anyway, I'll save that for my master's thesis.
Starting with the more well known books that were scattered about from the forties and fifties like the ubiquitous Catcher in the Rye and John Knowles' A Separate Peace to books from the sixties onwards that chronicled the shift in young readers and their sensibilities like Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack, The Chocolate War, and Maniac Magee, Stargirl, and anything by E.L. Konigsburg (whose books I love to an almost addictive point), I've been looking at stories that have a hard steel thread running though them. But now the weather is turning, it's almost Halloween, and I've been steering more towards children's novels that have a more classical structure of good vs. evil, orphaned kids, mysterious doors that lead to more mysterious mansion secrets. Think Secret Garden type stuff.
These led me to "The Wolves Chronicles," by Joan Aiken. I found them by accident at the local library-- I saw the title Black Hearts in Battersea (cuz you can't ignore a title like that), and pulled it off the shelf. The version I found had the front cover illustrated by Edward Gorey, whose work points towards the atmosphere I want to dive into this time of year. I read the first one, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, in a couple of hours-- these books are divine. They are dark and slightly gothic, set in Wuthering Heights-type rambling moors, and cobblestoned, sooty city streets, with relief in a picturesque English countryside where nobody pronounces their " 'atches." They chronicle the adventures of several British children attempting to overcome evil-- usually in the form of tyrannical adults, orphanhood, and poverty, and remind me of several other books I have read recently that I wouldn't be surprised if the authors took some inspiration from.
These all have steampunkish elements to them, where precocious children don't take no smack from dictator-ish adults, using a lot of trains and boats to do it, like some more recent books: The Mysterious Benedict Society series, by Trenton Lee Stewart, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which is written to read like a silent movie, and Here be Monsters (which is called Volume I of the Ratbridge Chronicles and was published in 2005, so I've been checking bookstore and library shelves forever waiting for the next one).