Rowan Oakwing fluttered through my door during the summer. With the picture of the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament in the background, I knew this would be a book firmly rooted in a London setting. And I was not wrong. I always knew there was magic in London’s parks – those breaths of fresh air and greenery in the heart of a busy, bustling city, but EJ Clarke makes them come alive, as inside each park he has set the homes of tiny, winged creatures. When Rowan, an ordinary girl, cries herself to sleep in Hyde Park, she wakes up to find that she’s been transformed into a fairy. Her new size may be tiny, but Rowan is a fierce, feisty heroine and she takes on her quest to find her missing parent and rejoin the human world with strength and determination. This girl has grit!
With a setting that’s tangible, a host of admirable characters facing the danger of roaming urban foxes and malicious fairies, as well as a dash of nature and magic, this is a tightly-plotted read. Reminiscent of the flying fairies of Peter Pan, and the ‘Wizard of Oz‘ feeling of wishing to go home, Rowan Oakwing brings fairies into contemporary London. EJ Clarke has kindly shared with us his own recommendations for a children’s literary London adventure.
Every day I arrive at Kings Cross on my way to work and pass by ‘Platform 9¾’. No matter what time of day it is, there always seems to be a large queue of Harry Potter fans waiting to have their picture taken pushing their luggage trolley ‘through’ the wall.
This of course speaks to the enduring appeal of Potter, but also to one of the aspects of JK Rowling’s fabulous series that always grabbed me personally.
Namely that the world of Harry Potter is not a remote fantasy universe that has no connection with our own, but rather it exists in parallel, accessible from one of London’s busiest train stations, if you only know the right way in.
As Platform 9¾ shows, there’s nothing more delicious for a mind in thrall to a book than to be able to physically stand in the place where your hero has stood and project yourself into their story.
When I was writing my first children’s novel, Rowan Oakwing – a story where an ordinary girl becomes a fairy in Hyde Park and has to make a perilous journey across London – I knew I wanted all the locations that my heroine visits to be places you could go to in real life. Because whilst fantasy can transport you to whole other universes, it’s all the more exciting to know that magic could exist right beneath your feet if only you know where to look.
London itself provided me with inspiration, but so too have many wonderful children’s books that all lend a sense of the magical to our capital city. Here’s my top ten pieces of London-set children’s literature:
- Peter Pan and Wendy by JM Barrie. In earlier incarnations, Peter Pan meets the fairies of Kensington Gardens (where a statue of him stands today), but this is the classic version of his story where Wendy Darling begins her adventure to Neverland from her family home in Bloomsbury.
- Mary Poppins by PL Travers. Though 17 Cherry Tree Lane where Mr & Mrs Banks live is an entirely fictional address, the series of novels and iconic film that resulted again use London as a springboard into a magical imaginary world.
- A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond. Before Platform 9¾ was even a twinkle in JK Rowling’s eye, a homeless talking bear was made synonymous with another of London’s grand railway stations.
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling. Kings Cross provides the iconic portal into Rowling’s world of magic, but the Potter series effortlessly weave the extraordinary into the fabric of London. Not least my favourite, Diagon Alley, accessed through the ‘Leaky Cauldron’ pub on Charing Cross Road.
- The Wombles by Elizabeth Beresford. So named because the author’s daughter mispronounced Wimbledon Common, all the eco aware creatures living secretly in a London park were inspired by members of Beresford’s own family.
- The Borribles by Michael de Larrabeiti. A YA adventure that is the dark mirror to The Wombles, the elfin-eared Borribles live in Battersea Park and have to undertake a dangerous journey across London to defeat their enemies, the Rumbles.
- The BFG by Roald Dahl. In which Sophie’s imaginative plan to defeat the BFG’s tormentors is to enlist the help of the Queen herself, by bringing the giant BFG to meet her at Buckingham Palace.
- The Ruby in the Smoke by Phillip Pullman. Whilst the fabulous His Dark Materials trilogy contains scenes in London, it’s hard to claim the books for the capital when they are so steeped in all things Oxford. Not so The Ruby in the Smoke however, where another strong female protagonist goes on an adventure in Victorian London to search for clues to her father’s mysterious death.
- The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit. Edwardian London this time, as five children living in Camden find a talking Phoenix in a magic carpet that takes them on many adventures, including one memorable scene where the Phoenix accidentally sets fire to the Garrick Theatre during a production of The Water Babies.
- Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield. The three adopted heroines live on the Cromwell Road in the Kensington of the 1930s, from where they often venture out to look at the dolls houses at the V&A. But this is not a book to put little girls in their place. Instead it’s very much an inspirational story about finding your vocation, which is exactly what the girls do at the ‘Children’s Academy’ near Russell Square.
With thanks to EJ Clarke for his enlightening and inspiring London post. Perhaps during half term you might partake in your own literary tour. In the meantime, you can buy Rowan Oakwing here.