I spent many hours when I was younger, greedily turning the pages of whatever book I was reading at the time. I’d get through numerous books a month and read the same classics over and over.
Books back then fed my imagination and active childhood brain so much that I believed my pet dog was really a human being (Woof), and that I could move objects with my mind (Matilda), and even walk through my wardrobe into a magical land which was just waiting to be discovered (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). I found no greater joy than reading (asides maybe from writing my own stories on anything that would withstand ink!).
I thought World Book Day this year would be a great time to reflect on those books (and authors) which filled my childhood and had an impact on me even to this very day. There is nothing like being able to talk about and share a book with someone, so I hope some of those on my list will have an impact on others the way they have me.
The following are in no particular order but they are books that I remember the most and which inspire me still as an adult reader and writer.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – by C.S. Lewis
(for ages 7 upwards)
I read this book so much that it now barely resembles a book, but rather worn, creased (but very much-loved) pages. The wonder and tingle I would get each time I read Lucy Pevensie walking through into snow-covered Narnia is a feeling that is hard to replicate. This book is the first in a seven-set collection of magical, mythical fiction.
The book features four siblings, Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter as they escape wartime Britain by travelling to the country and staying with the eccentric Professor Kirke. It isn’t long before Lucy discovers the magical gateway to Narnia, a faraway land and one which holds a talking Faun, a remarkable Lion and an evil White Witch.
There has been a TV mini-series adaptation of the book which aired on BBC in the late 80’s and more recently Walt Disney’s film versions have ensured that C.S. Lewis’ worlds stay in the hearts (and minds) of those who treasure his imagination, as well as finding new readers and fans. If you’ve worked your way through all the books, radio/TV series’ and film adaptations then don’t fear – in 2018 news came of Netflix teaming up with The C.S. Lewis Company to produce multiple film and series projects based on all seven books – this is something that hasn’t been done before and means that some of the later books which haven’t yet been adapted get their chance on screen. Exciting stuff!
NB: First published in 1950. Sold over 100 million copies of all seven Narnia books (combined).
Woof – by Allan Ahlberg
(for ages 7 upwards)
Woof is one of those children’s books that created such a delightful story out of one boy’s ordinary life that it made me believe anything was possible. Woof is about a boy called Eric who one day begins to feel a strange tingling in his body, and within seconds is transformed into a dog. With no rhyme or reason for the change he and his best friend set out to find out how and why this has happened.
Allan Ahlberg, author of Woof, has had over one hundred children’s books published as well as creating award-winning books with his late wife, Janet. His stories enthralled readers of many ages and were often tales based around ordinary people and lives. Having had many jobs throughout his life, such as a teacher, postman, grave digger and plumber’s mate, it’s no wonder he was able to create such vivid, joyful stories by drawing on his own life experience – the best kind they say for writers!
NB: Other great mentions of Ahlberg’s books are: Funnybones, The Jolly Postman, Please Mrs Butler and Burglar Bill.
His Dark Materials – by Philip Pullman
(for ages 11 upwards)
I read this trilogy when I was pre-teen, going into teenage years and the characters and world-building Pullman creates is something that will never leave me. I have always thought Philip Pullman’s writing style is akin to a fingerprint – perfectly unique.
It is so distinctive that one might argue reading them to begin with is a little like learning to read all over again. If you persist however, you will not be disappointed. The richness that Pullman creates with his worlds is something that I think any reader, avid or not, can admire.
His Dark Materials is an epic trilogy of fantasy novels which include Northern Lights (1995), The Subtle Knife (1997), and The Amber Spyglass (2000). Set in a series of parallel universes, His Dark Materials follows coming of age, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, along with Lyra’s daemon, Pantalaimon (Pan), as they embark on dangerous journeys to discover the mysteries of alternate worlds.
Whilst the novels include many fantasy elements, they also involve ideas around religion, philosophy and physics. The trilogy and individual books have won numerous awards making Philip Pullman one of today’s best-selling children’s authors.
NB: BBC’s recent adaptation entitled His Dark Materials was received well and has been commissioned for a second series. You can also delve more into Lyra’s world by reading Pullman’s The Book of Dust series: La Belle Sauvage (a prequel to His Dark Materials) and the sequel The Secret Commonwealth.
Matilda and The BFG – by Roald Dahl
(for ages 7 upwards)
There are so many amazing books by Roald Dahl that it’s hard to just pick one, so I’ve opted for two of my favourites! Matilda and The BFG. Dahl’s brilliantly wild imagination delights and amazes children and adults alike and there can’t be many an adult that hasn’t read one of his books. Dahl and Blake (illustrator) are the perfect coupling and I spent many an hour poring over the words and drawings, the stories coming to life and filling my room and the world beyond.
Matilda (1988): Matilda Wormwood believes she’s just an ordinary girl living a very ordinary life, but what she doesn’t realise is she holds the key to some very special abilities and if she only believes in herself a little more, she can unlock these powers and change her life, forever.
The BFG (1982): The BFG (The Big Friendly Giant) is unlike any other giant. Hunting down good dreams and sharing them with children is his purpose in life. One night an orphan girl named Sophie spies him releasing the dreams and ends up travelling back with him to Giant Country.
NB: Approximately 1,000,000 Roald Dahl books are sold worldwide each year! Making him an unforgettable children’s author.
Other notable mentions of classic children’s authors that I read a lot when I was younger (and still read now(!)) are:
Written by Rebecca Perkin