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Five Favorite Fictional Towns from Children's Literature

Posted by Jen Robinson on September 28, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Recommendations
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Charlie.jpgLast fall, inspired by a post at Charlotte's Library, I wrote about my Five Favorite Fictional Rooms from Children's Literature. That post remains one of my favorites, because it makes me happy just thinking about these favorite fictional rooms (like the chocolate room from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

This weekend, I got to thinking about some of favorite fictional towns from children's literature. These are towns described so perfectly on the page that they feel real. Town that stand out in my memory, and that my childhood self would have loved to visit. Some of my favorites are realistic towns. The only magic that you'll find there is the magic of community. Others are clearly fantastic, from a town for wizards to an underground city to a city in the clouds. But they're all special, in one way or another. Here are my personal top five fictional towns from children's literature, with a couple of honorable mentions at the end.

anneshirleyboxedset.jpg#1: Avonlea, Price Edward Island, Canada. Avonlea is home, of course, of Anne Shirley of Green Gables. Avonlea is a fictional community, albeit one closely based on the towns of L. M. Montgomery's childhood (or so Wikipedia says). Avonlea features Green Gables, Mrs. Rachel Lynde's farm, the school where Anne was first pupil then teacher, and Marilla's church. Avonlea really shines in Anne of Avonlea, as you might expect. Remember the village improvement society, and their mishap with the wrong color paint? I think that my fondness for Avonlea is a side effect of my general fondness for Anne, Marilla, Matthew, Diana, and, of course, Gilbert. When I started thinking about favorite towns from literature, Avonlea was the first to come to mind.

#2: Gone-Away from Elizabeth Enright's Gone-Away Lake books. I wrote about the second Gone-Away book, Return to Gone-Away, recently at Booklights, and also reviewed it here. Gone-Away is a former summer community, located on the shores of a lake degenerated into a swamp, populated by two elderly residents. Here is the reader's first glimpse of Gone-Away: "They both climbed up on the little hulk and looked out over the tops of the reeds, a sea of reeds, beyond which, and around, grew the dark woods. But that was not all. Portia and Julian drew in a breath of surprise at exactly the same instant, because at the northeast end of the swamp, between the reeds and the woods, and quite near to them, they saw a row of wrecked old houses. There were perhaps a dozen of them; all large and shabby, though once they must have been quite elaborate, adorned as they were with balconies, turrets, widows' walks, and lacy wooden trimming. But now the balconies were sagging and the turrets tipsy; the shutters were crooked or gone, and large sections of wooden trimming had broken off. There was a tree sticking out of one of the windows, not into it but out of it. And everything was as still as death." (Chapter 2, Gone-Away Lake). Of course the children learn that Gone-Away is far less forbidding than it first appears. Gone-Away epitomizes summer for me. It will always have a special place in my heart.

All Harry Potter books.jpg#3: Hogsmeade from the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Hogsmeade is a magic-filled town, located adjacent to Hogwarts. It includes the Three Broomsticks pub, Honeydukes sweetshop, Madam Puddifoot's tearoom, and, of course, the Shrieking Shack. Hogswarts students aren't allowed to visit Hogwarts until their third year, and even then they need permission from a parent or guardian (a sore spot indeed for a boy with toxic guardians). Millions of children around the world would go to the same lengths Harry does, if it meant that they could drink some butterbeer, or pick up magic tricks at Zonko's joke shop. Happily, they'll have a chance to visit a theme park version of Hogsmeade at Universal Studios next spring. I'm sure that's going to be a huge hit. Though me, I always picture Hogsmeade in the snow.

#4: Ember from Jeanne DuPrau's The City of Ember (with an honorable mention for Sparks, location of the second book in the series). Ember is an underground city, built as a last-ditch effort to protect humanity from a nuclear holocaust. The people living in Ember don't know that there ever was an outside world, and are completely dependent on light bulbs. Here's the opening description of Ember: "In the city of Ember, the sky was always dark. The only light came from great flood lamps mounted on the buildings and at the top of poles in the middle of the larger squares. When the lights were on, they cast a yellowish glow over the streets; people walking by threw long shadows that shortened and then stretched out again. When the lights were off, as they were between nine at night and six in the morning, the city was so dark that people might as well have been wearing blindfolds." (Chapter 1, The City of Ember) Who could read that, and not want to know more about Ember?

BelowTheRoot.jpg#5: Green Sky from the Green Sky Trilogy by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Green Sky is a city build high up in the branches of an enormous forest. The people there wear "shubas", which are garments with wide, wing-like panels. The shubas allow them to glide gently downward in Green Sky's heavy atmosphere (they use ladders and stairways to climb back up). Here's a hint of what Green Sky is like: "He stood on the narrow grundbranch, looking down hundreds of feet, through vast open spaces softly lit by filtering rays of greenish light, bordered and intersected by enormous branches, festooned with curtains of graceful Wissenvine. Shaking out the wing panels of his shuba, the long silken robe worn by all except the youngest infants, he launched himself downward into space." (Chapter 1, Below the Root) I've never forgotten Green Sky, first encountered when I was probably 10 years old. I reviewed the Green Sky Trilogy here.

And finally, here are a few honorable mentions: L. Frank Baum's Emerald City, Astrid Lindgren's Noisy Village, and Laini Taylor's Dreamdark. My fondness for these fictional towns is a testament to the power of literature.

How about you? What are your favorite fictional towns from children's literature? What other "favorites" should we discuss here at Booklights?


J. L. Bell writes...

What, no Centerburg, Ohio?!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I must confess to never having "visited" Centerburg, Ohio, J.L. Clearly an omission that I need to rectify.

Kate writes...

I can't believe you're a fan of Below the Root--I thought I was the only person who had ever heard of it, let alone had it in their library! Anyway, not sure if I'd want to go there, but James Kennedy's Eldritch City from The Order of Oddfish is certainly memorable. And how about Dictionopolis in The Phantom Tollbooth?

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

The Green Sky books are among my all-time favorites, Kate. I read them over and over again as a kid, and was thrilled when they were reprinted a few years back. Glad to hear from a fellow fan! I haven't read The Order of Oddfish. But I think that any city that you can name off the top of your head deserves some mention for being memorable. I wasn't a huge Phantom Tollbooth fan, but Dictionopolis is memorable, too. Thanks for stopping in.

Lynn writes...

When I read you first mention fictional towns, I thought right away of Green Gables / Avonlea. These days, we're reading for a younger age around here, so I'll add the pint-sized view, and mention Richard Scarry's Busy Town, and also Susanne Rotraut-Berner's In the Town All Year 'Round. You did well to come up with those, my mind is drawing a blank as I try to think of others.

Lynn, Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

It's hard not to think of Avonlea, isn't it, Lynn? I'm glad we share that. Busy Town and In the Town All Year Round sound like good suggestions, too. And of course, there's always Whoville! Thanks for taking time to think about this.

Rasco from RIF writes...

I love this post, Jen. Like Lynn in her note above, I immediately wrote down Avonlea as my number 1 when I saw your first "tweet" this morning about the post's title. And while in PEI a few summers ago, I felt so many places were the real Avonlea!
2. Misselthwaite Manor THE SECRET GARDEN.
3. River Heights where Nancy Drew lived.
4. Lakeport, home of the Bobbsey twins.
5. I may be wrong on this but I seem to remember HANS BRINKER is not set in a named Dutch town...I sure loved that area after reading that book!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for sharing your 5 favorites, Carol. I'm glad that we had one in common. And of course I remember fondly all of the other places that you mentioned, too. Though I couldn't have named Lakeport... Now I want to go and re-read Hans Brinker AND the Secret Garden.

I'm with you Jen and Carol about Avonlea, New Moon etc. But I have a couple of others that immediately sprang to mind.

I gained a wonderful sense of "place" about Naomi, Florida, in DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie.

I have incredibly vivid memories of Enid Blyton's The Faraway Tree, and the lands that rotated around the top of it. Okay, fictional, but more a "place" than a town.

PS If we were talking non-fiction, there's a town called Vashon and indeed a whole island I'd love to visit, Vashon Island near Seattle, because of Betty MacDonald's Onions in the Stew!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Avonlea has remarkable staying power, doesn't it, Susan? But I do agree with you about Naomi, FL. I didn't read the Faraway Tree stories as a kid, so I don't share those (though Kirrin Island from the 5 books did come to mind for me). And nonfictional towns, well, that opens a whole host of ideas. I have to give props there to Forks, WA from the Twilight books - I thought that Meyer did a great job of making it feel real and familiar.

Erin writes...

Deep Valley, Minnesota from the Betsy-Tacy books. Loved, loved, loved it! And still do...

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Erin, I have to confess that I have never read the Betsy-Tacy books. But I have been thinking about it, since reading Liz Burns' posts abut the books at Tea Cozy. So many books...

Terry D writes...

I'd go with Carol on River Heights, and also add the city of Twilight and Nevery's castle, Heartsease from Sarah Prineas' The Magic Thief series. I confess I've never read - or don't remember reading - Anne of Green Gables. One day!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Oh, Heartsease is a good one, Terry. I love those books!

But Terry, really? You never read Anne of Green Gables? Now, that's just tragic. Or, maybe you're lucky, because you still have it ahead of you. I'm not sure...

TerryAuthor Profile Page writes...

I'm looking at the glass half full ... I still have it ahead of me AND I will enjoy it with Catherine!

Erin writes...

It seems amzing to me that anyone might not have read Anne of Green Gables! I think she's lucky to have all those wonderful adventures still ahead. And Jen, you should really squeeze in the Betsy-Tacy books. They are pure delight!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I agree, Erin. Terry and her daughter are lucky to have Anne to share together.

And yes, I will have to check out the Betsy-Tacy books one of these days. I know that they retain legions of dedicated fans. Not sure how I missed them growing up...

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