The search for excellent books is a lifelong hobby. More books are being published today than ever before, but discovering the gems is nearly as tricky as, well, finding gems is.
One tip I find useful is to collect good authors. When we find a great book, the next thing we crave is something else by that same great writer. I have also found it easier to search through stacks of books at libraries, stores, or used book sales when I have a roster of favorite authors to search for than to wonder at titles or judge books by their covers. I have a book of lists of authors I know and love and am always on the prowl for just one more by any of them.
I discovered Rumer Godden when collecting children’s books for our library. She wrote over 60 books, for children, young people and adults, nonfiction, biographies and two autobiographies. I first read In This House of Breed and was hooked. I immediately read another: Five for Sorrow, Two for Joy. Her characters are rich, plots involved, and, once begun, I can’t put her books down. Recently, I read one of the many books for children I own: Four Dolls, a collection of four stories about dolls and the children who love them. The variety of settings and ideas I have discovered in her stories is impressive and, when you learn about her life, not surprising.
Brought up in India in a family of storytellers, Rumer wrote her first book at age seven. She admits in her autobiography A time to Dance, No Time to Weep, that she cannot recall a time when she was not inventing stories and feeling compelled to write them down. She entertained her family and friends throughout life with her imaginative tellings. It wasn’t until her fifth miserable boarding school that a teacher recognized her talent. (Thank goodness for such insightful teachers!) This schoolmistress honed Rumer’s natural gift by demanding precision of technique and perfecting of style. Rumer rose to the challenge and to her dying day acknowledged the valuable lesson of “the shorter, the plainer, the better,” learned from that perceptive instructor. This stood her in good stead as a struggling single mother in remote Cashmere, India during World War II, when her and her children’s survival depended upon her publication of stories.
The breadth and distinctiveness of her characters and their adventures pales in comparison to Rumer’s own life experience, doubtless the fertile ground from which her active imagination drew. All her life she loved music, was a dance instructor for years, yet her love of the music of language is where she shines.
So, the next time you are prowling for something new for your children, try The Doll’s House, Mouse House, Dragon of Og, The Fu Dog, or, for your older children and yourself: Chinese Puzzle, Black Narcissus, or Gypsy, Gypsy. If one isn’t exactly your cup of tea, try another, because her subjects and plots are widely various. All of them carry a strong moral tone where evil, no matter how threatening, never triumphs. That was her own experience in a life tapestried with beauty and tragedy, and her story weaving will enrich yours.
She also wrote nonfiction titles, such as Bengel Journey, Butterfly Lions: Story of Pekinese in History, Legend and Art, A Biography of Hans Christian Andersen, and The Tale of the Tales, a Beatrix Potter Ballet. Recently, I read her first of two autobiographies, and believe it was more fascinating than any of her fiction books read previously, as her own tale is more unbelievable than fiction.