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The Green and Burning Tree: On the Writing and Enjoyment of Children's Books

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A book about writing children's literature by the best-selling author of The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet.

377 pages, Hardcover

First published May 30, 1985

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About the author

Eleanor Cameron

29 books49 followers
Eleanor Frances Butler Cameron (1912 - 1996) was a Canadian children's author who spent most of her life in California. Born in Winnipeg, Canada in 1912, her family then moved to South Charleston, Ohio when she was 3 years old. Her father farmed and her mother ran a hotel. After three years, they moved to Berkeley, California. Her parents divorced a few years later. At 16, she moved with her mother and stepfather to Los Angeles. She credits her English mother's love of story telling for her inspiration to write and make up stories.

She attended UCLA and the Art Center School of Los Angeles. In 1930, she started working at the Los Angeles Public Library and later worked as a research librarian for the Los Angeles Board of Education and two different advertising companies. She married Ian Cameron, a printmaker and publisher, in 1934 and the couple had a son, David, in 1944.

Her first book came out in 1950, based on her experience as a librarian. It was well received by critics, but didn't sell well. She did not start writing children's books until her son asked him to write one starring him as a character. this resulted in her popular series The Mushroom Planet.

With the success of the Mushroom Planet books, Cameron focused on writing for children. Between 1959 and 1988 she produced 12 additional children's novels, including The Court of the Stone Children (1973) and the semi-autobiographical five book Julia Redfern series (1971–1988). She won the National Book Award for Court of the Stone Children in 1973, and was a runner up for To The Green Mountains in 1979.

In addition to her fiction work, Cameron wrote two books of criticism and reflection on children's literature. The first, The Green and Burning Tree, was released in 1969 and led an increased profile for Cameron in the world of children's literature. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s Cameron worked as a traveling speaker and contributor to publications such as The Horn Book Magazine, Wilson Library Bulletin, and Children's Literature in Education. She was also a member of the founding editorial board for the children's magazine Cricket, which debuted in 1973. In 1972 she and Roald Dahl exchanged barbs across three issues of The Horn Book, a magazine devoted to critical discussions of children's and young adult fiction. Her second book of essays, The Seed and the Vision: On the Writing and Appreciation of Children's Books, came out in 1993. It is her final published book.

From late 1967 until her death Cameron made her home in Pebble Beach, California. She died in hospice in Monterey, California on October 11, 1996 at the age of 84.[

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Displaying 1 - 9 of 9 reviews
Profile Image for Sylvester (Taking a break in 2023).
2,041 reviews72 followers
June 8, 2010
"He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods; the reading makes all woods a little enchanted." C.S. Lewis

Just a wonderful book about reading, writing, and writers. I should read this again.
Profile Image for Nikki.
1,939 reviews54 followers
October 27, 2016
I hope I still have this book, as I'd like to read it again some time. Eleanor Cameron wrote several very good children's books but I think this is her masterwork. Anyone who wants to write children's books, study children's literature, or just read to her own children would profit from reading this fine book. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Heather.
705 reviews16 followers
February 28, 2020
This essay collection, whose subtitle is "On the Writing and Enjoyment of Children's Books," is from the 1960s, and while there are aspects of the content and style that feel a bit dated, I still found it to be an interesting and satisfying read now, and came away from it with a whole list of new-to-me kids' books that I now want to read. I like Cameron's evocations of her own childhood, as when she talks in the foreword about going to the library with her mother on Saturday mornings (library trips with my mom were a big part of my childhood too!) or when she talks in the book's final essay about her friendship with her landlady's father when he was in his eighties and she was a child. That final essay is one of my favorites, actually, though it's largely about Eleanor Farjeon, whose work I've never read: I like the way that Cameron brings together a biographical sketch of Farjeon and really pleasing quotes from Farjeon's writing about her childhood and Cameron's own childhood memories.

My absolute favorite piece, though, is the title essay, which is about "time fantasy", from books I've read and loved (like L.M. Boston's Green Knowe books) to books I should have read by now (E. Nesbit's The Story of the Amulet) to books I'd never heard of before. I love bits of writing like this, where Cameron is talking about how she feels like maybe British time fantasy is the best time fantasy because of the sense of history one has across "the whole of the British Isles, as if layers of Time, or innumerable dimensions of Time cutting across one another, were crowded thick with all the centuries that have passed and none of them really lost" (74). Elsewhere, I like how Cameron describes the experience of being a child as including "delight in the simplest, most secret, sometimes the oddest things" and also "sadnesses and fears and terrors one could not or would not explain" and also "a continuing wonder about much that seems drab and familiar to adults" (14). And it's interesting when Cameron (who wrote children's books herself) talks about her own experiences as a writer, particularly in the essay "A Country of the Mind," where she talks about a sense of place as having been central to the successful creation of one of her novels, which she rewrote after being unhappy with how it ended and realizing a lot of her unhappiness was related to the book's setting. From that essay, I love this, when Cameron is talking about Laura Ingalls Wilder's books: "Place moves and breathes within the story; it is not simply background, not a backdrop, never static" (171).

I imagine this book would be extra-interesting to people who write for kids or teach kids or have kids, but even as someone who falls into exactly zero of those categories, I found this book thought-provoking and engaging.

25 reviews
June 16, 2021
This great collection of talks given and essays written in the early to mid 60's on children's literature is divided into four parts: Fantasy, Writing Itself, The Child and the Book, and Vision and Act. The content is quite in depth and probably would require several reading to absorb it all. My motivation for reading this book was to find good quality children's literature from the past for my own reading pleasure but I found so much more.

The two chapters that stood out most to me were "A Country of the Mind" from Part II and "A Number of Instances" from Part IV. The first of these includes Cameron's own struggle with a strange inability to develop a believable, unforced setting for her novel "The Terrible Churnadryne" and how that was resolved on a road trip with a trip down memory lane into her own childhood, and how it worked for other authors in a manner natural and authentic rather than poured into a preconceived setting.

The second chapter that stood out to me, "A Number of Instances," the author retrospectively wrestles with a previously published assertion wondering if she was fooling herself. "Not long ago I woke in the middle of the night and asked myself: what did you mean by a child's cherishing of vision? Do you really suppose children have visions they cherish, or were you deceiving yourself without reflection?" From there she goes on to provide many examples of childhood vision carried on into adulthood by various writers. I found this chapter to be quite magical.

I will read this book again sometime.
Profile Image for Sem.
842 reviews27 followers
January 3, 2016
Although parts of this book failed to engage my attention - and she was far more interested in Hans Andersen than I am - much of it is beautifully written and full of good taste. It's not always my taste but it's good taste nonetheless (and whether I like something or don't like it has nothing whatsoever to do with its worth - either in general, if there is such a thing, or to other readers). Having said that, it's amusing to read this while bearing in mind her spat, via The Horn Book, with Roald Dahl. Had I known about it at the time I'd have abhorred Dahl's response to Cameron but said that I like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory nonetheless. Now I'm inclined to agree with her because while I still enjoy some of Dahl, most of the time it's against my better judgement. I don't know if Cameron's fiction is much read these days, but The Green and Burning Tree is a keeper.
Profile Image for Pat.
Author 20 books5 followers
December 17, 2016
Cameron's discussion of children's literature is readable and invigorating. I first read this book as an undergrad getting a BA in English lit. The book literally changed my life: Cameron made me understand that children's books could be analyzed just as works for adults can be; and I ended up getting a PhD so I could analyze children's books full-time.

Cameron takes children and their books seriously. She's a writer for children, and this informs her discussion of the books. She's able to appreciate--and to make the reader appreciate--how Tove Jansson's books work, for example. And her discussion of fantasy fiction is rich and thoughtful. An essential read for those who take children's books seriously.
Profile Image for Joyce McPherson.
Author 40 books33 followers
December 9, 2016
One of the best books I have ever read on children's literature. Cameron has an unusual sympathy for children and what makes a delightful book. Though the books she discusses are from a generation ago, her insights are timeless.
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