Best Older Kids’ Lit 1963
February 7, 2016
A version of this post was first published, in June 2013, at the website for the UNBORED series family activity guides co-authored by Joshua Glenn.
What I enjoy so much about older kids’ lit from this era is how they anticipate certain progressive Sixties themes, while still retaining a Fifties-ish sweetness and innocence. The year 1963, in particular, is a transitional moment between — in a socio-cultural, rather than a strictly calendrical sense — the Fifties (1954–63) and the Sixties (1964–73).
In no particular order, here are 10 of my favorite 1963 books for older kids and young adults.
- Clive King’s STIG OF THE DUMP. Long before the cheesy Brendan Fraser/Pauly Shore movie Encino Man, there was this fun collection of stories about Barney and his secret friend, Stig the caveman. Stig has an amazing den (in the US, we’d call it a fort) in a chalk pit where people throw away unwanted junk — much of which Stig finds clever uses for. Fun facts: The book is illustrated by one of the greatest children’s book illustrators of all time, Edward Ardizzone. Note that Robert Arthur’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series, which was launched the following year, is also set in a sweet junkyard fort. In those days, it was a meme.
- Hergé’s THE CASTAFIORE EMERALD. A famous opera singer’s prized emerald goes missing — are the gypsies camped nearby to blame? The lesson that peripatetic Eastern Europeans who camp in the countryside are unfairly maligned was a 1963 meme. It pops up in Enid Blyton’s FIVE ARE TOGETHER AGAIN, the final installment in a long (21 volumes) series of adventures about siblings Julian, Dick, and Anne, their tomboy cousin George, and George’s dog Timmy. A scientist’s secret papers go missing — are the circus folks camped nearby to blame? Fun fact: The story was first serialized in the francophone Tintin Magazine in 1961–62; it was published in English, in book form, in 1963. PPS:
- Keith Robertson’s HENRY REED’S JOURNEY. The second in a series of books narrated by Henry Reed, who spends each summer having adventures with Midge, his tomboy business partner (another meme!) in the firm HENRY REED, INC. (“pure and applied research”). In this funny installment, he and Midge drive across the United States with Midge’s parents. Fun facts: Illustrated by another of my favorite children’s book illustrators and authors, Robert McCloskey. PPS: Cross-country camping trips are another 1963 meme; in Madeleine L’Engle’s THE MOON BY NIGHT, the second installment in L’Engle’s Austin Family series of Christian-themed YA novels, Vicky Austin and her family go on a cross-country camping trip (another meme!).
- Shel Silverstein’s LAFCADIO: THE LION WHO SHOT BACK. Grmmff is an African lion whose curiosity about big-game hunters leads him to eat one of them; he also learns how to fire the hunter’ gun. Like Babar the elephant and Curious George before him, Grmmff is then tempted to leave the jungle and live in the city — where he earns his keep as a marksman in a circus. Unlike Babar and Curious George, however, Grmmff never forgets that he is a wild animal. When he goes on a hunting trip — to shoot lions! — he suffers an identity crisis. Fun fact: A much better-known, but in my opinion less enjoyable 1963 novel featuring a feline is Emily Cheney Neville’s IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT.
- Sid Fleischman’s BY THE GREAT HORN SPOON! During the California Gold Rush of 1848–55, 12-year-old Jack runs away to seek his fortune, because his once-wealthy family has fallen on hard times; his butler, Praiseworthy, tags along. Together, the partners stow away aboard a steam packet, foil the plots of con artists and highwaymen, prove their worthiness to the grizzled miners of California, and prospect for gold.
- Joan Aiken’s THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE. After her parents are lost in a shipwreck, Bonnie Green escapes from the orphanage where she was sent by Miss Slighcarp, a sinister con-artist masquerading as her governess, and embarks on a long journey by foot to London. Accompanied by her orphaned cousin and Sylvie, and aided by Simon, a young goose-herder and beekeeper, Bonnie eventually triumphs. Fun fact: Like Edward Gorey’s THE GASHLYCRUMB TINIES, published the same year, Aiken’s book (the first in an excellent series) is a fairy tale — in the old-fashioned (terrible-things-happen-to-children) sense of the term. The following year, Roald Dahl would publish another fairy tale: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
- Clifford B. Hicks’s ALVIN’S SECRET CODE. Hicks’s Alvin Fernald series (1960–2009) recount the adventures of a talented middle-school inventor. This one is my favorite; I read it literally to pieces. A former spy teaches Alvin the history and basics of writing and cracking coded messages. Soon, Alvin must crack a 100-year-old code that leads to treasure. Fun fact: Clifford B. Hicks was an editor of Popular Mechanics; he wrote the magazine’s Do-It-Yourself Materials Guide and also edited the Do-It-Yourself Encyclopedia.
- Robert Heinlein’s PODKAYNE OF MARS. Podkayne, a teenager who grew up on Mars, and her brilliant little brother, Clark, are traveling to Earth when they’re kidnapped by terrorists. When a nuclear bomb is set to go off, Podkayne must rescue a “fairy” (alien) baby from Venus. Fun facts: Though his best-known sci-fi books are for grownups, Heinlein also published classic sci-fi novels for kids and teens. You might enjoy the can-do spirit that animates these older Heinlein novels: Rocket Ship Galileo (1947), Space Cadet (1948), Red Planet (1949), The Rolling Stones (1952), Starman Jones (1953), and Have Space Suit — Will Travel (1958).
- Alan Garner’s THE MOON OF GOMRATH. This is the sequel to the fantasy novel The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, in which siblings Colin and Susan are hunted by the minions of the dark spirit Nastrond who, centuries before, had been defeated by a powerful king; the novel is set in the real landscape of Cheshire (England). In The Moon of Gomrath, we learn more about the source and nature of the ancient magic about which the author writes with uncanny authority. Garner, who has been justly compared to J.R.R. Tolkien, wrote several other excellent novels in which ordinary British landscapes are imbued with eldritch significance, including 1967’s The Owl Service.
- René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s ASTERIX AND CLEOPATRA. When the beautiful queen of Egypt makes a bet with Roman emperor Julius Caesar that she can build a new palace in six months, her bumbling architect enlists the help of Asterix, Obelix, and Getafix… who get locked into a pyramid, only to be rescued by Dogmatix. One of the best Asterix books! Fun fact: Other fun Franco-Belgian comics published in 1963: ASTERIX AND THE GOTHS, plus two of Morris and Goscinny’s Lucky Luke stories: THE BLACK HILLS and THE DALTONS IN THE BLIZZARD.
Please let me know what 1963 books for older kids I’ve missed!
BEST SIXTIES YA & YYA SERIES: Best YA & YYA Lit 1963 | Best YA & YYA Lit 1964 | Best YA & YYA Lit 1965 | Best YA & YYA Lit 1966 | Best YA & YYA Lit 1967 | Best YA & YYA Lit 1968 | Best YA & YYA Lit 1969 | Best YA & YYA Lit 1970 | Best YA & YYA Lit 1971 | Best YA & YYA Lit 1972 | Best YA & YYA Lit 1973. ALSO: Best YA Sci-Fi.
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