Books for children and young people

By Jan Thomas

We have found books in various categories but there does not appear to be one really appropriate book about our canals. Stories about narrow boats can give some idea of some of the lifestyle, but it was different with trows.  Stories about water and wildlife offer other relevant aspects. Selections from stories can offer inspiration for talking and writing and for offering the excitement of canals.


Muddy Waters by Dan Clacher, Windlass from £2.99, 2009


Muddy Waters is the central character, a narrow boat, in these books for young children.  Based on the Oxford Canal (part of the Cotswold Ring), adventures include Jolly Boatman’s Lesson and Poppy at the Boat Show.

There is a ladybird to look for on each page and there is a glossary of waterways terms.

Take a look at the Canal Shop if you are looking for a copy.

Bert and Betty by Marion Kelly, from £2.99


Stories for 5’s to 8’s, about a boat couple who lived on England’s canals in the 19th century.  Also a series for the under fives which includes opportunities to learn numbers, colours etc.  Hopes to inspire interest and enthusiasm for the canals.

Go to the Bert and Betty website for more.

Tuggy and Friends by Shelagh Morley, £3.99

These are stories based on a tugboat on a river, with aspects of wildlife, for children aged 2 to 5.

Take a look at the Tuggy Land web site.

Rosie and Jim by John Cunliffe


ITV children’s programme in the 1990’s, not shown since 2004 but various free downloads available.  Books and other spin offs.  Based in the Midlands and an imaginative series of adventures by the two rag dolls who live on a narrow boat.  Google for all sorts of websites.

The Little Grey Men by BB and Down the Bright Stream by BB


These are books about gnomes living in a millstream and having to move when the miller redirects the water.  It has lovely descriptions of the wildlife.  My copies were from the 70s (although LGM was first published in 1942) and I had my doubts about modern usage but I have just been into the Stroud Bookshop and there was a modern edition on the shelf and a member of staff who had thoroughly enjoyed it with his 11 year old daughter.  They are delightfully illustrated with pen and ink line drawings by Denys Watkins Pitchford (who has also illustrated LTC Rolt’s Narrow Boat).  These drawings could be an inspiration for the same or for prints.  The Folly Brook Song in LGM has nine verses about the stream.

Little Grey Men


‘Here and there a tangle of gnats were weaving about in clouds just above the surface of the water and white-tailed moorhens jerked amongst the lily pads’.  p52


‘Away over the water meadows the sun had long dipped down and the bats were out, hawking over the willow swamps.  Sedge warblers chattered unceasingly and there was a lovely smell of wet waterweed and fish.’ p54


‘The bridge must have been very old for the stone was weathered and covered with moss and one or two of the balustrades were missing . . . .  The bridge drew nearer.  They saw a stone shield over the central arch with an incised monogram SC and 1732 in quaint figures . . . .  Ivy creeper was draped in long festoons on the far side of the arch and a wagtail’s nest was built among the hairy cables of the main ivy stem.’

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame


Again – a traditional story with inspirational elements about the river.


‘Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as messing about in boats.  Simple messing,’ he went on dreamily: ‘messing – about – in – boats; messing –‘.  p12


‘And when stood on their heads suddenly, as ducks will, he would dive down and tickle their necks, just under where their necks would be if ducks had chins, till they were forced to come to the surface again in a hurry, spluttering and shaking their feather at him, for it is impossible to say quite all you feel when your head is under water’.


This leads into the DUCKS’ DITTY which is famous, ‘All along the backwater, through the rushes tall, Ducks are a-dabbling, Up tails all . . . . Chapter 2


How do feeding habits of ducks and swans, and coots and moorhens differ?

The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher and the Tale of Jemima Puddleduck by Beatrix Potter


Old fashioned tales but with details of wild life which still make them interesting.  The term ‘pulling’ is the name given to ducks and swans when they use their feet in the mud to disturb food and bring it to the surface.  Puddling is also the term used for lining a canal bed with clay.  These books are delightfully illustrated with watercolours, which may also be a source of inspiration.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Books for children and young people' page
The Butty Boy by Jill Paton Walsh

is about life on the canals in the 1800s.  We have devoted a whole section (Section 6) to this book. 

Whistling Jack by Linda Newbery published by Collins

is about a dog living on the canal. 


Saul Stories by Gwilym Branch published by Clockwork Circus

is set locally in the 1960s.


We will be adding to this section, as and when we (or you) find new books to read and consider.


Some adults’ novels such as the Flower if Gloster by E Temple Thurston published in 1911 have some passages, which are good for reading aloud and for creative inspiration.

This page was added by Iris Capps on 18/05/2010.

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