Today I read about a great scheme started up by The National Literacy Trust called ‘Books about Town’ which aims to use the power of London’s literary landscape to motivate children to read for pleasure outside of the classroom. One element of the project is the design of book-shaped benches in various parts of the capital in order to celebrate stories linked to London and to promote reading for enjoyment. I’m excited to see them being unveiled from this July!
The scheme got me thinking about my favourite books for children with a London setting. The great thing about these stories is that they show the city in a refreshing and exciting light. As an adult, it’s all too easy to become disenchanted with the daily commute, the busy nature of the London streets and the usually bad weather. But I only need to re-read one of the below to regain a little bit of the enchantment that I had when walking around the streets of London as a child.
Mary Poppins – P.L. Travers (17 Cherry Tree Lane, London)
Mary Poppins, the magical nanny is blown by the East wind to Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, London, and into the Banks’ household to care for their children. Encounters with chimney sweeps, shopkeepers and various adventures follow until Mary Poppins abruptly leaves, i.e., “pops-out”.
The BFG – Roald Dahl (Buckingham Palace)
The heroine, Sophie, persuades her friend, the BFG to approach the Queen of England with the aim of capturing dangerous man-eating giants. To this end, the BFG creates a nightmare, introducing knowledge of these giants to the Queen and leaves Sophie in the Queen’s bedroom to confirm it true. After considerable effort by the palace staff to create a table, chair, and cutlery of appropriate size for him to use, the BFG is given a lavish breakfast, and the Queen forms a plan to capture the other giants.
The Wombles – Elizabeth Beresford (Wimbledon)
The Wombles, fictional pointy-nosed, furry creatures aim to help the environment by collecting and recycling rubbish in creative ways. Although they supposedly live in every country in the world, Beresford’s stories are concerned with the lives of the inhabitants of the burrow on Wimbledon Common in London. The Womble motto is “Make Good Use of Bad Rubbish”. This environmentally friendly message was a reflection of the growing environmental movement of the 1970s.
Paddington Bear – Michael Bond (Paddington Station)
Paddington is found at Paddington Railway Station in London by the Brown family, sitting on his suitcase with a note attached to his coat which reads “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” He arrives as a stowaway coming from Peru, sent by his Aunt Lucy who has gone to live in the Home for Retired Bears in Lima. He claims, “I came all the way in a lifeboat, and ate marmalade. Bears like marmalade.” He tells them that no one can understand his Peruvian name, so the Browns decide to call him Paddington after the railway station in which he was found. They take him home to 32 Windsor Gardens, off Harrow Road.
Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night time – Mark Haddon (Willesden underground station)
Christopher Boone, the autistic 15-year-old autistic narrator is falsely accused of the crime of killing his neighbour’s dog and decides that track down the killer. As the mystery leads him to the secrets of his parents’ broken marriage, he runs away from home and travels independently on the train to London to see his mother who lives in Willesden.