London in children's books

June 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

tiny-st-paulsThere’s a rich tradition of children’s stories set in and about our capital city, and it’s no wonder really, as London has it all. In Operation Robot Storm I’ve shocked the city by casting it into a new ice age, which meant I got to draw all the famous monuments covered in ice. Frankly, the chance to include London in a book was too good to miss. It’s always been close to my heart.

I remember being a tiny boy, wandering around the Natural History Museum in awe. I’d not seen anything like what was contained within its walls, and boy, even the walls were amazing and covered in grotesques. The first time I visited London and was able to remember it, it was bigger and more exciting than anything I’d experienced. Even the public transport was cooler than anywhere else. The Tube went underground?! When I was small, even hot, crowded trains coursing through hot, tight tunnels excited me beyond belief.

The city was magic. It was like entering Narnia, being so far away from my home town of Hereford. Everything I experienced there was different to everyday life (even down to being allowed to eat Cup-a-soups.) My grandparents would tell me about life in the war, my dad would tell me about his CND marches – it was even the place where Tottenham Hotspur played football (I was taken to Tottenham Court Road many times on route to the British Museum, and never once did I understand why I couldn’t see White Hart Lane Stadium.)

And now, as a writer, I can understand why London felt so magic to me all those years ago. It’s the tiny, wonderful details around every corner, which at night are lit up like a theatre stage. It’s the gigantic, stately and imposing buildings looming above you, laughing at your smallness. It’s the threat of dark deeds and nefarious crooks lurking in its tunnels and behind its closed doors, and whether it’s a contemporary London or a historical London, there’s always intrigue to uncover, stories to tell and magic bubbling under its surface.

Children aren’t worn down by its daily grind like us adult commuters. They only see the potential for exciting adventures and discoveries, and that’s why I thought I’d try and find all the children’s books with scenes based in or around London. It seemed like a fascinating way of seeing the city through the eyes of a child.

So here goes… I’ve tried to stick to one book per author, particularly if they’re from a series, but I imagine there are some writers that deserve more mentions. So have a look at the list below, and if you can think of any other titles, please say! Once I have a complete list (if there ever can be such a thing), I’m going to put them on a map. Should be a nice thing to do.

A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett (Seven-year-old Sara Crewe is sent to live at Miss Minchin’s boarding school in London)
Stoneheart – Charlie Fletcher (Scenes all over London, including a finale set upon the Monument)
Darkside – Tom Becker (Bethlem Hospital, and the underworld)
Black Hearts in Battersea – Joan Aiken (Simon enrols at the Marius Rivière Academy of Painting)
Numbers – Rachel Ward (They head to the London Eye, where a fateful occurrence takes place)
The Borribles – Michael de Larrabeiti (A magical ‘alternative’ London, Battersea?)
T.I.M. – Sam Enthoven (Admiralty arch and the Mall)
Operation Robot Storm – Alex Milway (Trafalgar Square)
The Devil’s Kiss – Sarwat Chadda (North London Junk shop)
The Enchanted Castle – E Nesbitt (Crystal Palace Park and dinosaurs)
Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London – Keith Mansfield (The Spirit of London spaceship is in fact the Swiss Re building!)
The Parliament of Blood – Justin Richards (British Museum and the Houses of Parliament are overrun by vampires)
When I was Joe – Keren David (Hackney?)
Un Lun Dun – China Mieville (set in an alternative London – crossover points all over the city)
A Christmas Carol – Dickens (not specifically a children’s book, but needed one Dickens)
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr (move to London at the end)
Mary Poppins – P.L. Travers (
Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane)
Coram Boy – Jamilla Gavin (the foundling hospital)
Archie’s War – Marcia Williams (East London)
The BFG – Roald Dahl (Buckingham Palace!)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis (Pevenseys evacuated from London)
A Dog So Small – Philippa Pearce (Hampstead Heath?)
Peter Pan – JM Barrie (The Darlings live in Bloomsbury, but obviously Kensington Gardens)
Mortal Engines – Phillip Reeve (London on wheels!)
The Wombles – Elizabeth Beresford (Wimbledon!)
The Dark Portal (The Deptford Mice) – Robin Jarvis (Deptford sewers)
Ruby in the Smoke – Philip Pullman (Wapping)
Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night time – Mark Haddon (Willesden underground station)
This is London – Miroslav Sasek (All over, but the Tower of London bit is best!)
The Underground Conspiracy – Catherine Storr (The Underground)
Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild (The Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training)
Paddington Bear – Michael Bond (Paddington Station)
Time Train to the Blitz – Sophie McKenzie (Underground stations + …)
Goodnight Mister Tom – Michelle Magorian (Hackney Road)
The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman (inspired by Highgate Cemetry)
The London Eye Mystery – Siobhan Dowd (London Eye)
The Tall Story – Candy Gourlay
– Anthony Horowitz (West Brompton Cemetery)
– Leon Garfield (newgate prison)
Amulet of Samarkand
– Jonathan Stroud (Hampstead)
– Jeanette Winterson (mammoths on Thames)
Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince
– JK Rowling (10 Downing Street)

And now to find a way of drawing them on a map…

  • Lauren Ace

    I LOVE Ballet Shoes! To my great shame, I didn’t discover it until adulthood, but by the time I read it I was living in London and I loved the fact that I could actually picture them walking along the Old Brompton Road to get to the V&A because I had actually walked the road myself!

  • Pagecrawler

    You should try the Horatio Lyle Books by Catherine Webb The author lives and loves London and the books are filled with beautiful detailed descriptions of the city and its history I’m just finishing the fourth in the seires (The Dream Thief) and it makes me wish I lived in London!

    • oh thanks! I think I’ve seen them in the shops, I’ll take a look. It’s another one for the map!

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