My parents taught me to read at a relatively young age, and throughout my childhood and teenage years you would quite often find me curled up with a book rather than outside playing. I’m sure I’ve read hundreds of books over the years but there are a few that really stuck with me over the years. I’ve tried to find the covers I can remember having when I was little. Most of them, if not all are still safely stored at my mum’s house until I can afford to buy a house of my own and set up my own personal library – a girl can dream!
Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl. It’s not Matilda, or James and the Giant Peach, but Fantastic Mr Fox is one of the first books I remember having to read to myself. Another being The Magic Finger also by Roald Dahl, I think I’ll always remember the way she turned her next door neighbours switch places with the ducks they hunted. By the time I was seven or so I had quite the collection of Young Puffin books.
I was seven the first time I read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I had become a bit too advanced for the reading books we had at school, although Biff, Chip and Kipper will always have a special place in my heart and my
year two teacher, Miss Dunn, brought her personal copy of this in for me to borrow. It was a fairly big step up from what I had been reading, and at times it was a struggle, especially the parts written in the Yorkshire accent! But I persevered and it paid off, I loved the book, my mum bought me a copy of the movie on video and I went on to read A Little Princess
Every year when I was growing up my family took a two-week holiday together. Nothing fancy just a couple of weeks in a static caravan somewhere in England – we did however get two weeks out of school every year, different times! One year, I must have been 8 or 9 my mother bought me a box set that contained the first 5 books in the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. I remember enjoying them all but Five Go To Smuggler’s Top was my favourite of the five. It was the first series I remember having to complete, Five Go Off To Camp, was the first book I remember buying with my own pocket money.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – I’m sure hundreds of thousands of people over the world will include this in their favourite childhood books. After an aborted attempt by my year six teacher to read us The Hobbit during fruit time he moved onto Harry Potter. This would have been in 1998, so was before the world went completely Harry Potter crazy. We hadn’t quite finished the book on our last day of primary school and I think it says an awful lot about the book that an entire class of children stayed behind after the bell went to listen to the last chapter and a half. My mum got me the second book as a gift for moving up to the big school and my love went from there. I loved the fact the series truly crossed generations – When I was 15 my grandma asked to borrow the first book ‘to see what all the fuss is about’ and she ended up just as hooked as I was, she made her way through the first 4 books that summer, and she ended up with the adult versions of the last 3 books as she wasn’t prepared for me to finish reading my copies.
Around the time I became a teenager Francine Pascal was well-known for her Sweet Valley books, very few of my female friends didn’t follow Jessica and Elizabeth through high school and university. I however discovered the Fearless series and loved it. Yes there was all the teenage angst of completing high school and boys but this had the added advantage of the main character being a girl born without the fear gene, the daughter of a spy, her uncle was in effect the evil twin and in control of his own criminal organisation. Looking back on it now it was probably incredibly cheesy and full of clichéd writing, and who knows what I’d think if I dug out the books and reread them now but at the time I loved it, especially the fact the main character was a girl who was trained in martial arts, and didn’t need rescuing by boys the whole time.
For me the next two books are linked. I’m mixed race, my mum’s family are from England and my dad’s parents emigrated from Barbados in the 1950’s. I grew up in Devon, and I can safely say during the 1990’s and early 2000’s my little part of East Devon was not a hot bed of racial diversity. I went to one of the largest secondary schools in the UK, we had over 2,000 students, there were around 400 students in my year group alone, and in our end of school year group photo it’s pretty easy to pick me out, there were no black students in my year at all, and only one other mixed raced boy. My dad had always been very involved with equality and diversity, he taught me about history from a young age, I was able to quote large portions of MLK’s I Have A Dream Speech from the age of ten. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee was one of the books we had to read as part of my English GCSE, there were a number of different books on the syllabus and our class was the only one in the school to read this book. I remember at first being a bit put out by this fact, it was easily the longest book of the three the school taught. Once I started reading it didn’t take me long to appreciate the book. Looking back I strongly suspect it was no accident my class was the only one to study this. This book taught me a lot about tolerance and understanding, and the true meaning of courage. I remember being fascinated by the world in Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman. A world in which the traditional race hierarchy was reversed. I really identified with Sephy and Callum’s relationship and I remember it striking me that in the not too distant past my parents relationship would have been equally frowned upon, and the fact that truthfully in certain areas of the world it still would be, even now. Books I’d read earlier in my life had certainly taught me things, especially looking back on them, but I think these two books were the first two I remember reading which actually felt culturally important, and as though there was something to learn from them rather than them existing purely for entertainment.
There is a huge list of other books I could probably name from my childhood that I considered some of my favourites growing up. When my god-daughter was christened I got her a box filled with some of my favourite books from when I was a little girl, the Sophie books by Dick King Smith, the My Naughty Little Sister books by Dorothy Edwards, the Mrs Pepperpot books by Alf Prøysen and The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. Her brother was treated to the entire collection of Thomas the Tank Engine books for his first Christmas. I remember scouring the library shelves trying to find ones I hadn’t read when I was little and my parents bought me the anthology when I was probably too old for it. One day it will take pride of place in my library though.
Were any of my childhood books also important to you? Which books from your childhood encouraged your love of reading? Are there any in particular you’re looking forward to passing down to your children, or your nieces and nephews / other small people in your life? Let me know below