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Children's Books Of The 1960s & 1970s

Entertainment | November 5, 2021

One of the many books to come out of the groovy era. Source: (YouTube).

Children in the 1960s & 1970s had quite a range of literature to choose from. In the 1960s, Roald Dahl began writing his novels, Peggy Parish entered the literary scene with Amelia Bedelia, her delightful, linguistically inept creation, and Donald J. Sobol introduced the world to Encyclopedia Brown. The 1970s brought more greats, from John Bellairs' gothic fantasy books for middle readers, to Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, to Ellen Raskin’s Westing Game. Of course, this doesn’t even include the picture books that were released during these two decades. Perhaps one of the things that unite all of these books is their staying power. What follows is a mere sample of the children’s classics that came out of the groovy era.

Island Of The Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins was published in 1960 by Scott O’Dell and won the Newbery Medal in 1961. It is the story of a 12-year-old girl named Karana, stranded on an island off the coast of California. It was based on the true story of Juana Maria, a 19th century Nicoleño Native American girl who was stranded for 18 years on San Nicolas Island.

In the story, Karana boards a ship with white missionaries, and she urges the captain to wait for her brother, who has not boarded. They refuse, and Karana jumps overboard and swims to shore. She and her brother, Ramo are left alone on the island, but Ramo is killed by feral dogs. She vows revenge and kills some of the dogs, but tames the leader of the pack, who she names Rontu, a name which means “Fox Eyes” in her language. She does what she must to survive alone on the island. The Aleuts come to the island, and Karana meets an Aleutian girl named Tutok and the encounter helps Karana to realize her loneliness. Unfortunately, Tutok leaves with her people. Eventually, a boat arrives and takes Karana to the mainland, where they give her a new dress, which she does not like, but accepts that it is part of her new life.

The book was adapted into a movie in 1964, and O’Dell wrote a sequel, Zia, which he published in 1976.


The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase

Joan Aiken published The Wolves of Willoughby Chase in 1962. This book, the first in the Wolves Chronicles, draws on an alternative history of England under the reign James III in the early 19th century. In the story, wolves have migrated from Europe and Russia through an underground “channel tunnel”. Once in Britain, they terrorize people. These wolves are always present, although not central to the plot of the novel. The story is set at Willoughby Chase, at the home of Bonnie Green, who is under the care of her distant cousin, Letitia Slighcarp. Bonnie’s orphan cousin Sylvia arrives to keep Bonnie company. Bonnie and Sylvia become fast friends, and join forces to combat Miss Slighcarp, who, it turns out, is plotting against them and sends the girls to an orphanage run by the horrid Mrs. Brisket. The girls escape from the orphanage and head to London, where they find Aunt Jane who is near-death. Eventually, Bonnie’s parents return, and gradually, all of the wrongs are righted. In 1989, the book was adapted into a film of the same title.

The Pigman

Paul Zindel published The Pigman in 1968, and it was considered one of the first YA books to portray teenagers in a more realistic way. The story is narrated by the two main characters, John Conlan and Lorraine Jensen, two high school sophomores. When they are bored, they make prank phone calls with Norton Kelly and Dennis Kobin. Their goal is to see who can stay on the phone the longest. Lorraine wins the game when she calls Mr. Pignati, claiming to be calling from a charity. Lorraine and John go to collect the money and a friendship begins between the teenagers and the widower, who starts to become a parental figure for them. Unfortunately, they betray his trust, and in the end, the death of Mr. Pignati leaves them contemplating the fragility of life and thinking he would have been better off if they had not come into his life.

Zindel published a sequel, The Pigman’s Legacy, in 1980. Zindel also wrote a screenplay, but it has not been taken by a filmmaker. The book is still taught in many schools, but it has also been banned because of language and sexual themes.


A Wrinkle In Time

In 1962, Madeleine L’Engle published the first book in the time quartet, A Wrinkle in Time. In the novel, the main characters, Meg Murry, Charles Murry, and Calvin O’Keefe travel from galaxy to galaxy, moving through space and time to save the Murry’s father. Meg Murry meets her new neighbor, Mrs. Whatsit, who talks about something called a tesseract, which was a concept Mr. Murry had been working on before he disappeared. She then visits Mrs. Whatsit’s home with her brother and Calvin, and they meet Mrs. Who and hear the voice of Mrs. Which. The three women promise to help them find Mr. Murry. They help the children travel through space and time, and they learn that the universe is under attack by The Black Thing, which is the personification of evil. Their quest expands to not only saving their father but also the entire universe.

She finished the book in 1960, but at least 26 publishers rejected it before it was published. Once it was published, it won the Newbery Medal. It was also adapted for film twice, both by Disney.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret

Judy Blume published a number of books throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s and beyond. She has been both widely acclaimed, and she has been criticized for her use of mature topics. She published Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in 1970. The main character is a sixth-grade girl who is contending with the challenges of growing up. Her mother is Christian and her father is Jewish, and she chooses to study religion as part of a school assignment. At the same time, she befriends a neighbor and, with two other girls, they form a secret group where they discuss their concerns about boys and growing up. The title of the book comes from the beginnings of her prayers to God, which she says in her own words, and which express her concerns. She is not, however, comfortable with her lack of religious affiliation until the end of the novel, after she briefly rejects religion altogether.

The Summer Of The Swans

In Betsy Byars’ 1971 children’s book, Sara Godfrey’s younger brother, Charlie, was struck with a fever, which left him brain damaged. Charlie can’t speak, but he does understand language and can make sounds. Sara is a bit obsessed with the way things look, especially her own appearance. When Charlie goes missing, Sara must rely on Joe, a boy she has despised for a long time, to help her find him.

The book won the Newbery Medal in 1971, and was adapted for TV in 1974.  

Bridge To Terabithia

In 1978, Katherine Patterson won the Newbery Medal for Bridge to Terabithia. The story, which is a tale of friendship, understanding, and the power of the imagination, is one that has been challenged many times for its content. In the book, Jess befriends Leslie, who helps him to become courageous and his life is transformed by his friendship with Leslie. The two create an imaginary kingdom, Terabithia. Unfortunately tragedy strikes, and Jess eventually invites his sister, May Belle to come to Terabithia and be the new queen of the imaginary land, telling her to keep an open mind.

Tags: A Wrinkle In Time | Judy Blume | Shel Silverstein

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Linda Speckhals

Writer

When she’s not out walking her dog, or taking in a baseball game, Linda loves learning about history, science, and philosophy. She will travel wherever the wind may blow, and happily loses herself in a book, whenever she can. At heart, she is a music loving tree-hugger.