Turning the Pages on Some of the Best Books About Cornwall for Children and Adults

Heading to Cornwall? This beautiful county on the southwestern tip of England is all about wild moorlands, towering cliffs, sandy beaches, and picturesque villages attracting visitors worldwide.

Is it any wonder that Cornwall has inspired numerous authors and some amazing reads? Many of the books about Cornwall are considered masterpieces, and quite a few have been adapted for the small and large screen.

So, if you’re setting off on holiday to the Cornish coast, nothing better than taking along some of the best-loved books on Cornwall for adults as well as kids that have been set against the backdrop of this beautiful and rugged county.

Take your pick from this list of best books set in Cornwall. These books will throw light on the unique culture and the rich history of this beautiful county with a charm all its own.

For the Kids:

1. The Ingo Series by Helen Dunmore

This enchanting book series tells the story of Sapphire Trewhella “Sapphy” who sets out to look for her father who has mysteriously disappeared in the waters off the Cornwall coast.

Her hunt leads her to the mysterious underwater world of Ingo. What follows suit is a thrilling adventure across four books- Ingo, The Tied Knot, The Deep and The Crossing of Ingo. This exciting ocean fantasy will keep kids hooked on its exciting storyline.

2. The Mermaid of Zennor by Charles Causley and Michael Foreman

A popular Cornish folklore, it recounts the story of a beautiful and richly dressed woman with a heavenly sweet voice, who frequented the St. Sanara’s Church in Zennor. Nobody knew where she’d come from but through the years she never seemed to age.

The legend and the book talk about her fascination with local singer Mathey Trewhella and his eventual disappearance.  Different versions of the tale exist including questions like  “Who was she?” and “Where did she go?”. Well, legend has it that she was a mermaid who returned to the sea taking along the singer. This book has been an inspiration for poetry, art, and literature as well.

3. The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber

A delightful tale, with illustrations that tells the story of Tom and his white cat Mowzer, who decide to brave the vicious weather to catch fish to feed their village.

At sea, Tom and Mowzer encounter an enraged storm in the form of a “Storm Cat”. It’s worth reading how Mowzer, with his purring, manages to calm the storm thus helping Tom accomplish the mission they set out to fulfil.

4. Percy Pengelly and The Wibble-Wobble by Jenny Steele Scolding and Andy McPherson

This beautifully illustrated book is the story of daring tight-rope walker Percy Pengelly who has to bid farewell to the circus and hunt for a new job. He finally lands the job of a chimney sweeper and discovers a new life filled with surprises. This book, filled with fun Cornish words and catchy rhymes, is a delight for adults and children alike.

5. Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy

The story of Mrs Large seeking just five minutes of peace is funnily recited by Cornish author Jill. With three energetic and constantly demanding children, all Mrs Large desires are a few minutes of alone time. It’s a great fun story with hilarious incidents both kids and adults can relate to.

6. The White Horse of Zennor and Other Stories by Michael Morpurgo

This book comprises five Cornish Stories set in the enchanting Cornish village of “Zennor”. It explores six mythical and magical stories interlinked with each other, each more exciting than the next.

To summarize them all-The Giant’s Necklace is a spooky tale of ghosts. The White Horse of Zennor is the story of a strange creature that grants wishes to people only if they are kind to it. Gone to Sea tells of a boy who is made fun of due to his disability and how he overcomes it to eventually find happiness.

Milk for the Cat is a tale of unknown creatures who take care of the Farmer’s livestock. When the farmer dies, his son takes over the farm. However, he doesn’t believe in the creatures and suffers as a result.

And lastly, Mad Miss Marney is about a girl who gathers wounded animals from the wild, to form a zoo, all with the help of a “supposed” witch who heals them. This engaging book from start to finish should be on your read list.

7. The Emily Windsnap Series by Liz Kessler

This series follows Emily, a young girl who lives aboard a boat with her mother. At thirteen, Emily learns to swim and also discovers a big secret- that she is semi-mer. In the deep waters, she discovers that her father has been imprisoned by Neptune, Lord of the Sea, as a punishment for marrying a human. Will Emily succeed in rescuing her father? Well, read the book to find out more.

8. Soggy the Bear by Michael Foreman and Philip Moran

Based in St. Ives, Cornwall, this is a story of a teddy bear rescued by a fisherman and his grandson after he was carried out to sea. The story is recounted by the bear himself.

A beautiful write-up accompanied by illustrations, Soggy the Bears is a story that takes adults and kids on an emotional rollercoaster ride.

9. The Skylarks’ War by Hillary McKay

An award-winning historical fiction, it showcases the love and losses of a family during the first World War. Clarry, her older brother Peter, and cousin Rupert love to spend their summers together at their grandparent’s home in Cornwall.

This book talks of Clarry’s longing for her brother and cousin after she’s left to herself. When Rupert sets off to fight in the war, Clarry experiences the sadness of the skylark summers slipping from them. Will they survive the war and the tragedies that come with it? Pick this book to learn more.

10. Words and Your Heart by Kate Jane Neal

This book, through its storyline, delivers a powerful anti-bullying message. A must-read for kids and pre-adolescents, this cleverly illustrated book tells stories of friendship and kindness. And most importantly, how words can either heal or harm. The message is that we need to protect each other’s hearts because it is the heart that makes us unique and special. Reading through these pages will bring about a mix of emotions all eventually making one experience the love it’s trying to convey.

For the Adults:

Adults can indulge in these books to refresh their Cornwall memories or if you’ve not yet been there then maybe these books will capture your mind.

1. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

This novel narrates the story of a naïve young woman, Rebecca, who marries wealthy widower “George Fortescue Maximilal”. Post-marriage, Rebecca and George settle in his mansion in Cornwall.

Here, Rebecca discovers that her husband and his household still hold onto the memories of his late first wife. It’s a thrilling mystery that determines the fate of the American protagonist. This book inspired the movie Rebecca (Academy Award winner for Best Picture) which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It was also adapted numerous times for screens and plays.

2. The Rose Garden by Susan Kearsley

Following the death of her famous movie star sister Katrina, Eva leaves California for Cornwall. Here, she recollects her childhood memories with Katrina as she scatters her dead sister’s ashes. Eva discovers that her childhood home is a haunt for people that lived in the eighteenth century.

Eva can go back centuries and interact with the inhabitants that lived hundreds of years ago.  It is in the past that she ends up falling for a man, Daniel Butler- a man who existed and died long before she was born. Eva is then faced with a  choice – to either live in the times that she currently belongs to or in the past she is drawn towards. What will she choose?

3. Careless in Red by Elizabeth George

Scotland Yard detective superintendent Thomas Lynley retreats to Cornwall after the gruesome murder of his wife. In a bid to escape from his tormenting memories, he distracts himself by exploring the Cornish coastline. When Lynley comes across a dead body, he considers it an accident.

However, as the story progresses, it is apparent that a clever killer is on the loose and Linley becomes not only the prime witness but most possibly the suspect as well.

4. The Lighthouse by P.D James

The 13th book in the Adam Dalgliesh mystery series, this crime fiction revolves around inspector Adam Dagliesh who is brought in to investigate the murder of famous author Nathan Oliver who is found strangled and hanging in a lighthouse on Combe Island off the Cornish Coast.

As more murders come to light, Dalgliesh and his team that includes detective inspector Kate Miskin and sergeant Francis Benton must overcome all odds to find the killer.

5. Penmarric by Susan Howatch

Mark Castallack sets out to achieve two things- the mysterious Jenna and his inheritance, the gothic mansion “Penmarric” – that is set against the starkly beautiful landscape of Cornwall. With Penmarric comes a legacy of conflict, betrayal, infidelity, and envy.

This tale, spanning from the Victorian era to the Second world war, hooks you on with clashes between warring sons, wives, mistresses, and between a house divided against itself.

6. The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

Set in Prideaux Place, the story revolves around Penelope Keeling who has lived a full and varied life and refuses to settle sweetly as an old pensioner.

The daughter of an artist she comes to discover that her prized possession- a painting by her father’s -The Shell Seekers is now worth a fortune. The story follows the independent and fierce decisions that Penelope has to make that will determine the fate of her family.

7. China Court by Rumer Godden

This well-loved book is a tale of five generations of a family who inhabited a country house in Cornwall. An epic tale, it weaves an intriguing tale that seamlessly combines the past and present as it touches on the family’s love, pain, victories, and scandals. This book provides beautiful insights into a succession of Cornish families and a young girl’s effort to save her grandmother’s home.

8. Over Sea Under Stone by Susan Cooper

This mystery fiction for young adults is the first in The Dark Is Rising series. When the Drew siblings come across an ancient map in the attic of their vacation house in Cornwall, they are fascinated by their find and immediately understand that this is no ordinary map.

It is the key to finding the grail- a source of power to fight the forces of evil known as the Dark. And in their search for the grail through this fantasy sequence, the Drews put their very lives at stake.

9. The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins

The story revolves around a deathbed confession of Mrs Treverton of Porthgenna Tower to her maid Susan. It reveals the true parentage of her daughter Rosamund. Susan writes down the secret and hides it away in one of the rooms of Porthgenna Tower. Here, it remains hidden for almost fifteen years, until Rosamund, now the heiress to the estate returns to expose it. The truth may finally be uncovered, but at what cost? What does the revelation hold in store for her and the entire estate? Only the book can tell you that.

10. The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware

This dark and dramatic thriller revolves around Harriet Westaway who mistakenly receives a letter bequeathing her a generous inheritance from her Cornish grandmother. Harriet’s grandparents are long dead and she is aware that the letter was incorrectly sent to her. However as she embarks on a ruse to claim the money using her Tarot reading skills, she realizes that all is not as it appears to be, as she is drawn into a dark web of menace.

We’re sure all these titles set in Cornwall will keep you hooked and determined to know more about this quaint and ancient little county. So, pack your bags and head to Cornwall. Or take your pick from this list of best books set in Cornwall and prepare to be hooked and inspired.

Happy Reading!


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