FROM YOUR EDITORS The Duchess’s Bookshelves

Words & Pictures’ Co-editor, Claire Watts, browses through the titles on the Duchess of Cornwall’s children’s bookshelves. 

In honour of Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall’s 70th birthday celebrations this month, the National Literacy Trust,  one of the charities the Duchess is patron of, has donated sets of 70 books complete with bookshelves to 70 primary schools. Children from schools all over the UK were asked to recommend their favourite books to be included on the Duchess’s bookshelves. The books  include modern favourites such as Liz Pichon, David Walliams and Andy Stanton, picture books such as The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, and Gorilla by Anthony Browne, classics including Ballet Shoes by Noel Stretfeild and A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond illustrated by Peggy Fortnum, as well as poetry and nonfiction. The Duchess loves reading and sharing children’s books, and is the patron of several other organisations which promote and support literacy, including BeanstalkBookTrustFirst StoryRoaldDahl .com, and Wicked Young Writer Awards.

Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, said: “We hope pupils at the 70 schools who receive the bookshelves will be inspired to enjoy reading and read more widely, which our research shows has a significant impact on their attainment.”

The list

You can read the complete list here.  It’s an intriguing read. I don’t suppose there’s a person involved in the world of children’s books that wouldn’t look at it and think, “Why this one?” “Why not that one?” Personally, I felt that there were too many books on the shelves that schools were likely to have already (the first Harry Potter? the Gruffalo? anything at all by David Walliams?) and there didn’t seem enough picture books. Possibly just because my own children’s primary school was well-stocked with books, I’m forgetting that many schools have none at all. Perhaps all the books here that are the first of a series will be the first step on a reading journey for many children and the first step in building a school library children will love.

Searching for ‘classics’

What this list brought to my mind more than anything was one of my favourite childhood books, Henrietta’s House by Elizabeth Gouge.
From Henrietta's House by Elizabeth Gouge, illustrated by Lorna R. Steele

Henrietta chooses a library of twenty books for a girl of her age – eleven. The book is set around the turn of the twentieth century and here’s what she picked: The Water Babies, Alice in Wonderland, Undine, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Jackanapes, Little Women, The Fairchild Family, A Flat Iron for a Farthing, The Back of the North Wind, The Princess and Curdie, Uncle Remus, Hans Andersen, The Swiss Family Robinson, Andrew Lang’s Blue, Red and Green Fairy Books, Mary’s Meadow, Lob-lie-by-the-Fire, The Wind in the Willows and The Cock-Olly Bird.

It turns out I own 10 of the books from the list in Henrietta's House!

The book was written in the 1950s, but presumably Elizabeth Gouge felt that this was a perfect snapshot of children’s literature at the time she was writing about in the same way that the Duchess’s list is intended to be. Gouge must also have believed the books on the list were books children still knew about in the fifties, perhaps that they were still reading. I imagine that she considered them ‘classics’. But how many of these are familiar to you another half century on? What makes a book stick in the public consciousness and become a ‘classic’? How many of the books on the Duchess’s bookshelves do you think will still be read in 50 years time? And if you had to pick a library of 20 children’s books to represent this moment in time, what would you pick?

Claire Watts is Co-editor of Words & Pictures. You can contact her on

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