Just stumbled across this post on RED MOON AND BLACK MOUNTAIN by Joy Chant, a book I had totally forgotten about but probably still have around somewhere.
And the author of the post (Scott Cupp at Missions Unknown) is absolutely right: this was a really good book a zillion years ago and it does hold up well. I mean, I’m positive I read it again not so very many years ago and really enjoyed it.
What a great idea for a series of posts — this forgotten book idea, I mean, of course. My pick for an old book that nobody knows about but everybody should? Um . . . you know what, I’m going to go with THE PUSHCART WAR by Jean Merrill
THE PUSHCART WAR is a kid’s book, and it’s not genre, but it IS really good! The initial search I did on Amazon made it look like it’s totally unavailable at any sane price, but the link I put on the title above should take you to a different page (still at Amazon) where you can find used copies for just pocket change. It’s so worth finding a copy!
Here’s the description of the story:
“The pushcarts have declared war! New York City’s streets are clogged with huge, rude trucks that park where they want, hold up traffic, and bulldoze into anything that is in their way, and the pushcart peddlers are determined to get rid of them. But the trucks are just as determined to get rid of the pushcarts, and chaos results in the city.
The pushcarts have come up with a brilliant strategy that will surely let the hot air out of their enemies. The secret weapon–a peashooter armed with a pin; the target–the vulnerable truck tires. Once the source of the flat tires is discovered, the children of the city joyfully join in with their own pin peashooters. The pushcarts have won one battle, but can they win the war against a corrupt mayor who taxes the pins and prohibits the sale of dried peas?”
This is quite accurate but doesn’t really capture the zany humor of the whole story. If you’ve got a kid who’s ’round about twelve or so and who likes to read, you should grab a copy.
And, hey, now that I think of it, here’s a YA that I loved when I was a teenager and then went to some trouble to track down ten years ago or so: AN ALIEN MUSIC by Annabel and Edgar Johnson.
This book is so good! It’s SF, and it would count as post-apocalyptic except that almost the whole story takes place on a ship heading for Mars, not on the Earth. Where, see, everything dried up after it quit raining, and with our weather lately this is very easy to imagine, let me tell you. Anyway, the characterization makes this story! It’s first person — the protagonist has a fabulous voice, but all the secondary characters are beautifully drawn, too. The writing is just really excellent all the way through and the story is beautifully put together.
This is definitely one that adults as well as kids would love, but it doesn’t look like it’s super-easy to find. I know I paid a pretty penny for my copy, when I found one a decade ago.
Anybody else got a book in mind that would be a contender for a list of great but forgotten books?
3 thoughts on “Oh, hey, look, a blast from the past —”
I loved THE PUSHCART WAR, enough to get my own copy. Unfortunately the daughter didn’t. Oh, well. I still enjoy it. Never ran across AN ALIEN MUSIC, although I read others by the Johnsons.
RED MOON & BLACK MOUNTAIN has some really good stuff in it, although I’ve had for years a niggling thought about it that the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
Umm… unjustly neglected, great but forgotten books…. EXCALIBUR by Sanders Ann Laubenthal. Another in the Ballantine Fantasy Series edited by Carter, like RM&BM. Arthurian fantasy set in modern (well, late ’60s) Mobile, Alabama. The author was mostly a poet and it shows in her use of language. Yes, the Tolkien influence is visible. Also Charles Williams (which I recognized much later after reading Williams) – but it is excellent and still reads to me as different from the usual run of modern Arthurians. I reread it fairly recently and it held up just fine. A modern writer would have made at least a trilogy out of it, with one volume covering the ‘way back when’ of Morgan, Morgause, and Arthur; another the ‘not quite so far back’ of Prince Madoc and then the modern. And it wouldn’t have packed nearly the punch. Like HOUSE OF SHADOWS it has enough to imply loads more and the reader fills it in. Sometimes more detail or expansion hurts the book.
Another: Meredith Ann Pierce’s DARKANGEL & GATHERING OF GARGOYLES. yes, the heroine is a bit dim, but the story and writing are really good. There was a third that had some good points but also quite a lot of not so good points.
Lastly: DRUJIENNA’s HARP by Ellen Kindt McKenzie. Portal fantasy, like RM&BM, but otherwise totally different from anything else, even though it has prophecies, a villain, three Ages of the world, a promised prince and a princess. It’s dark and disjointed and if it works for you parts of it linger for years. None of them are what you’d expect, the kids from San Francisco are separated immediately, and the world itself is unique. For example, there’s not a sun, but a Hephara, which is always high in the sky and changes color to mark time. Midnight is something like the ‘very black of the high purple’ and you don’t want to be out on the moors during it; noon is the very white of the high yellow and also dangerous to be out in. The world seems to be flat and is broken up into discreet areas. I think if the author weren’t a local to me I’d never have seen it, but local stores carried it due to the author being local. I’ve never found any one from elsewhere who knew of it, except once on Book Stumpers.
That “the author was mostly a poet” is the sort of thing that makes me want to take a look. And that great world in DRUJIENNA’S HARP sounds really interesting!
Can’t believe your daughter didn’t like THE PUSHCART WAR. Too old for it, maybe? Or too few dragons?
Shrug. It was a while ago. She’s not big on ‘war’, so the title may have put her off. Wrong age, wrong timing… who knows? It’s a shame, but it’s still on the shelves, so she may yet discover it.
Laubenthal I hadn’t realized was a poet until, after I reread it not all that long ago, I went looking for information about her, or anything else she’d written.
Oh, hey, another couple often neglected writers (translation *I* don’t hear people talking about them) Joan Aiken and Nicholas Stuart Grey. Both Brits, both capable of the combination of humor and feeling that Brits seem to have a knack for.
And the Mushroom Planet books by Eleanor Cameron for neglected classics that people remember for years. Lots of story id requests turn out to be them: little green man… boy building spaceship because of an ad…. chicken taken to space and left….