World Book Day comes around every year and as an adult it appears to have very little importance. Other than my colleagues who have spent the week trying to find suitably creative costumes for their children to wear to school that day, for many adults World Book Day comes and goes without any significance. I’ve written before about why I think that should change. However, I recently attended a talk given by a number of booksellers on the theme “the books that made me” and in the limited number they discussed, each of them started with a book from childhood. It got me thinking about the books which had had an impact on me throughout my life so far, but particularly the number of children’s books which had helped to lay that groundwork.
It came as no surprise to my family when I finally decided that I wanted to study English Literature at university. I could always be found curled up in a corner with my nose in a book, and I visited the library frequently. From ambushing my mum with piles of books at the bottom of the stairs when I was too young to read myself, to surprising the local librarian by finishing the summer reading challenge in just one week, my family are full of funny stories about my love of books and my insatiable appetite for reading. But what role did World Book Day have to play in all that?
I’ll be honest, my clearest memories of World Book Day involve the dressing up for school. One year I went as Alice in Wonderland because it seemed the natural choice for a child with shoulder length blonde hair and blue eyes (if you’d seen the animated Disney film as many times as I had). Another year I went as Heidi, and spent the whole day having to explain who the character was and that I was actually in fancy dress (apparently having your hair in plaits and wearing hiking books just isn’t enough for some children). However, it was an excuse to discuss books at school, and to buy a new book with the special token we were given each year. If World Book Day didn’t spark my love of books, it certainly didn’t hinder it in any way and I can stem many of my favourite reading memories back to children’s books. So which ones were my favourites?
The children’s books I’ll read to my children
There are some books which I think will always appeal to children as they don’t particularly age. I know there are many new children’s book classics out there but some of my favourites, and the ones I will read to my children if I ever have any, are those which are a little older.
The Faraway Tree – Enid Blyton
I’ve always enjoyed fantasy books with stories that will take to you to another world, so it’s no surprise that The Faraway Tree will always have a place in my heart. I desperately wanted to be friends with Silky, and to go down the slippery-slip. It was lovely being able to talk about these books to my parents, who had also read them growing up, and see their childish delight return with characters like the Saucepan Man.
The Tales of Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter
Growing up near the Lake District it would have been a crime if I hadn’t fallen in love with Peter Rabbit and the other characters brought to life by Beatrix Potter. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hasn’t been charmed by these books and they’ll remain classics for a long time.
Tales from Bramley Hedge – Jill Barklem
The illustrations helped to make these books – I’d spend hours pouring over them and imagining my only little house inside a tree stump. I loved the neighbourhood and sense of community in these books, seeing how all of the animals would come together to help one another.
The children’s books that I couldn’t put down
The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S Lewis
I remember first starting to read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as a class in primary school. I was immediately enchanted and couldn’t wait to tell my parents about it that night. My only frustration (and one that recurred throughout school!) was the fact that it was so slow reading out loud one by one. My dad immediately offered to lend me his copy so that I could continue to read that evening – and I just couldn’t put it down! I think I’d read the entire series by the time that we’d finished the book in class, but I didn’t mind having to go through it so slowly any more because I knew there was plenty more to read at home!
Harry Potter – J K Rowling
I grew up with Harry Potter, so it’s no surprise that this is on my list. I really hope that Harry Potter passes the test of time as I’d love to be able to discuss it with children in the future and find that they have discovered the same magic that I did. I have two very distinct memories related to the Harry Potter books. Firstly, proving that age doesn’t matter when it comes to books and chatting away to someone much older than me on holiday because we were both reading books in the series. And secondly, finding a copy in my parents’ bedroom and being horrified that my Dad had dared to read it before me. That didn’t happen again…
Animal Ark – Lucy Daniels
I’ve always been an animal lover, and as a child I had hoped to be a vet, so Lucy Daniel’s Animal Ark books were right up my street. I desperately wanted to be Mandy, or at least be friends with her and help her to save all the animals that she came across. I particularly enjoyed the ones which were set abroad and could re-read the series again and again.
The children’s books which made me think
Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman
This is the first book I remember reading and noticing the obvious social issues, issues with race and coming across terrorism in a novel. Even as a child it made me consider my place in the world, including the privilege which came with that such as being able to buy plasters that are the right skin colour. It’s a really powerful book and one I think that all children should read.
The Breadwinner – Deborah Ellis
This is the first book I remember reading which was set in a completely different part of the world to what I was familiar with. It made me question what was happening elsewhere in the world, and brought to my attention a lot of what I took for granted. I read it as part of a reading club towards the end of primary school and whilst I couldn’t tell you any of the other books we read as part of it, this book made a lasting impression.
My Story series
The My Story books are a series of historical novels published by Scholastic UK. I had an interest in history so found these to be really interesting as they allowed me to learn about different time periods in a more natural way. They also made me aware of parts of history that I hadn’t come across or been taught in school. The Suffragette book had a particular impact on me and I’ve been interested in feminism ever since.
Writing this list has made me realise just how many children’s books I still think of fondly, and how many I could add to this list, which is no means exhaustive! Perhaps next year I’ll be organised enough to arrange a World Book Day celebration for those of us who are too old to dress up as their favourite character to school…
Which books are your childhood favourites?