Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Days When I Was Young(er)

I was inspired by Josette over at Books Love Me to look back on the books I read as a child.  These are the books that made me – my reading journey from toddling steps to teenager. Oh how things have changed – but how they have also in many ways, stayed the same.

The earliest books I remember reading contained only one word. I remember sitting on the floor by the dinning room table looking through one with my mum. Words and writing fascinated me. I used to fill up pages and pages of scrap paper with all the letters I knew and imagine they were words.

I can’t remember much of my old picture books. My mum tells me I liked one that started off with “The dark, dark house in the dark dark…” She said I liked anything dark. I wonder what that says about me now?

The first book I really remember reading by myself was Spot the Dog, between the ages of 5-6.
I loved these books because it was about a dog – and as a child I was mad on dogs! I have never owned a dog – ironically I’m quite allergic to them.

I loved that these books had flaps in them to look under. It is strange what you find interesting as a young child. And of course there was the children’s cartoon on TV, which I’ve only just remembered. (Hah this takes me back!)


After Spot I remember a lot of those really short Ladybird books but I can’t remember specific ones. I remember one about horses that could fly and ate magic moss…

My first set of real books I remember reading were by Enid Blyton, something my mum passed on down to me. My favourites were The Magic Faraway Tree, Mr Pink Whistle and The Wishing Chair. I read these over and over again.

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So many people start their reading off with Enid Blyton she is such an important childhood figure. Somehow she just managed to get down into your innate imagination – that kind of fantasy otherworldly escapist fiction that comes so natural to you when you’re young.

Then I moved on to Roald Dahl with Fantastic Mr Fox, Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, The BFG oh and so many of his others. I don’t think I ever read The Twits, Boy (completely) Going Solo or George’s Marvellous Medicine. I probably read these between the ages of about seven to eleven.

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory fantastic-mr-fox-novel-author-roald-dahl-the-idea-girl-says

Like Blyton, I think Dahl played a large part in the fabric of childhood literature. They were very popular when I was young, we read quite a few of them in school too.

School played a part in helping me discover books. Funnily, my Mum always encouraged me to read but she never spent a lot of time helping me choose books and I was never much of an adventurer. I re-read a lot of books rather then find new ones.

I remember reading a lot of junk as well – one I remember being about puke. Lovely!

In year four of junior school, when I would have been between the ages of eight and nine our teacher introduced me to a couple of book series.

Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry – we read the first one in class and then I think I devoured most of the rest of the series over and over again. They were told from Anastasia’s point of view and she felt like a very different person to anyone I knew. I think the awful 80’s glasses she wore on the front cover of the book also fascinated me.
During this year I read my first Joan Aiken – although I did not know this back then. I did not for some reason pay very much attention to the author’s name, seeing them as rather irrelevant to the story itself.

arabels raven
Arabel’s Raven became a favourite of mine – I love anything to do with animals and I thought the drawings by Quentin Blake were so cute. I think I paid more attention to the illustrators then I did the authors! This book has stuck with me and I have always referred to raven's and crows as ‘Mortimers’.

At the moment I have this book out from the library, waiting eagerly to be re-read.

During this year I discovered what it was like to love a book. I reviewed The Time of the Ghost earlier on and mentioned this book. Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones.

I read this over and over and over and over again for years. I absolutely adored this book. However once again I didn’t pay much attention to the author because I never remembered her name again until much, much later when I came across another of her books in secondary school.

In fact, this is still one of my absolute favourite books to this very day, I probably could go on talking about how awesome this book is, but I won’t bore you with such details.

Moving onto year five, between the ages of nine and ten.

The Railway Children was probably my first classic – although at the time I wasn’t really bothered about that. I remember liking the old movie and then discovering it was actually a book too. It became another favourite. I read it quite a few times over a couple of years. I would like to re-read it now as it must be a good 15 years since the last time.


Beyond the Wall by Christa Laird is actually the second book – the first being Shadow of the Wall which I only read a couple of years ago after finding it on e-bay.

Shadow of the Wall told Misha’s story when he and his family were trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto and how they survived. It also featured Janusz Korczak, a real person who existed in the ghetto. He ran an orphanage at the time, for the children who had lost their parents – and despite being offered his freedom he stayed alongside the children until the end.

Beyond the Wall follows on from the first book, telling the story of freedom fighters who lived within the forests who fought against the Nazis. I remember it being a really sad, but powerful book. Before then we had not really learnt very much about the holocaust – keeping to less grim subjects such as the evacuation of the children.

Christa Laird seems to have only written three books, the third being The Forgotten Son which is about Helpise and Abelard’s son they had together. I have not read this one yet, although of course it is on my TBR. It is sad that such a good children’s author only published three – I cannot find the reason why maybe she just stopped writing.

My greatest find of all at this age, was on a rainy day after a traumatic dentist appointment. My dad took me to the local bookshop (since closed down) and there among all those books I found Martin the Warrior by Brian Jacques. The first in a long line of books from The Redwall series.

I read this series pretty much until I was about fifteen or sixteen years old and then finally I out-grew them. I don’t think I ever got through Lord Brocktree – the last I ever read was The Long Patrol.

I adored this series – and yes I read them over and over again. Martin the Warrior was my favourite and by the time I gave the book away to charity the cover was practically falling off.

Redwall has such a mix of everything – from calm peaceful abbey life with its delicious descriptions of food – to romance and war. I loved the hares with their bally this and that and wot wot wot! They are rather simple stories – for the most part mice, voles, moles, badgers etc were good and all the ‘vermin’ type animals like rats, foxes, stoats were evil. They were always such good exciting adventures and as a kid, I loved that kind of escapism.

In the same year I discovered my second set of Joan Aiken books, the Felix trilogy. They are historical adventure books set in Spain, England and France and tell the story of Felix who was orphaned at a young age and lives with his grandparents in Spain – who hate him and whom he hates in return. One day he flees from them and so begins his adventure.

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It’s a series I definitely want to explore again. I went on to read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase which is probably her best known of all books.

After the Felix trilogy I must have been still quite into the adventurous stage because I went on to become obsessed with Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. I was in year six then between the ages of 10 and 11 years.

I remember the book I was reading looked quite thick and to my young mind I thought I was reading this massive tome! Since acquiring another copy I can see that it is not at all very long.

I can’t remember what other books I enjoyed this year. I think there were a lot of Point Horrors or maybe they came later. I remember reading loads of them but don’t ask me what they were called, who they were by or what they were about.

Somewhere between this time Dogsbody had disappeared from the school library so my constant re-reads of that stopped.

Onwards and upwards to secondary school, where I shall (try to) be brief as of course this is another five years of my life and quite a few books.

I discovered two more Diana Wynne Jones books (and rediscovered Dogsbody which reappeared in the school library. It looked like the exact same book Iused to read in Junior school too. A strange coincidence?)

The Crown of Dalemark which is the last in the Dalemark Quartet and Drowned Ammet, the second. I could not find the first or the third until a lot later when I discovered Amazon and online shopping. Back at the time I first read these books of course I do not think Amazon existed and the internet was not the thing we all have now.

From the town library I discovered Deepwater Black by Ken Catran which I can’t remember too much of. Looking back now they sound kind of rubbish.

After those I can’t I can’t really remember what books I read exactly – probably re-read a lot of my favourites and other books influenced by school.

Sometime around this era I must have discovered the Making out series by Katherine Applegate.
Now these were quite trashy and a bit like a soap opera – I was probably around 12 years old when I started reading this series and read the first 10 or so before I got bored of the characters. I guess it was the whole older-teenager thing that really attracted me – trying to find out what that was like because it sounded a lot more interesting then being 12!

Then the big moment, the life-changing book discovery moment. At the age of 13  I first read… Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone about a month before the second book came out.

I wasn’t a very with-it child I had never heard of the Harry Potter series – back then they were still quite new and the bandwagon had only just started to roll. It was my old Dad who bought the first one for himself to read and I got hold of it afterwards – and ten years later – I read the last book and a whole era of my life ended. I remember thinking at the beginning: When would it ever end? I desperately wanted to find out how it all ended. Had you told me I’d be 23 by the time I finished the series I think I’d have died on the spot.

The last book I remember which was really important to me as a child happened when I was 14, in English class.

Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian is still one of my absolute favourite books. We were instructed to only read the prescribed amount of pages a week – well of course I don’t think I even lasted until the weekend before I finished it. I couldn’t put the book down.

It’s a lovely story about a war time evacuee who goes to live with a grumpy old man in Yorkshire. It’s such a heart warming story about friendship between a young boy and a lonely old man – but it is so, so much more.

After this period, I cannot remember beyond the books we read for English – a mix of good and okay books. School always had a good way of killing a perfectly decent book, which is unfortunate. There was Of Mice of Men by Steinbeck, which I did enjoy and I am Cheese by Robert Cromier.
I would like to re-discover many of these books – in particular Joan Aiken, Swallows and Amazons, The Railway Children and Shadow of the Wall.

I already tried re-discovering the Redwall series but found myself feeling a little disappointed after re-reading Martin the Warrior a few years ago and finding it a little dull. I wonder perhaps if I should leave old childhood favourites alone and keep the good memories of a good book rather then discover you no longer like it?

I still read a lot of young adult to children’s books now as an adult. There are many really good, new, authors out there and it isn’t all fantasy or vampire fiction if that isn’t your thing.

You read books very differently during different periods of your life. I have read some books recently that I have enjoyed more and appreciated for different reasons, then I would have had I read them as a child. So I think that it is important to keep on reading books meant for children and young adults.

And that concludes my literary journey from tot to teenager.


  1. What's funny, or sad (depending on your point of view) is that so many of your chosen books are one's I read to my son or my third grade class! I love Dahl...Charlie and The Chocolate Factory was published when I was in fifth grade, and every year the kids so respond to his work. Especially The BFG. The best thing about Harry Potter, to me, is how that series encouraged nonreaders to become readers more than any other book I've ever seen. I'll always love Rowling for that.

  2. Hey there! Wow, I've just been introduced to so many new-to-me books from your post. :)

    You read a lot of Roald Dahl...I wish I had read them sooner! And oh, The Railway Children has a movie?? Gonna check it out. I don't remember reading this book but I know I read The Story of the Treasure Seekers. The "Generous Benefactor" phrase was etched in my brain ever since.

    I'd like to read Goodnight Mr Tom too. I love heartwarming stories. :)

    Great post!!!

  3. Hey there!

    It is awesome that you were introduced to Dahl's at a very young age. I only got to it when I was about 14?lol But I love them all!

    Nice post!

  4. Bellezza: I'm silly I didn't mention The BFG and it was my favourite. I forgot to mention it is probably the one by him I want to re-read. Lots of fond memories of that book.

    I think the thing about Blyton, Dahl and JKR is that they tap into your innate imagination. They don't mess around they just get into this core part and take you to a place, introduce you to characters that are people you want to believe exists. Who doesn't want to know the BFG? Who doesn't want to be in Hogwarts school? Who doesn't want to find the magic faraway tree? I do, still!

    Books, especially for children shouldn't be about what it will teach them or some high-flung literary idea. Books for children are and should be about READING and taking you away into a whole world of imagination because being able to read and imagine something beyond yourself is sooo important.

    I know I sound like I'm preaching but it's just how I feel. Books are amazing, all books are, every book. If a book doesn't spark your imagination it may as well be a dead stone.

    Josette: As far as I know there are two movies to The Railway Children. One old one and one new and they are both really good. Oddly... the girl who played Roberta in the old one played the mother in the new one.

    Ruzbookshelves: Roald Dahl is good at any age he's one of those really magical authors. I think that those who grew up with him will probably introduce them to their children. That's probably what happened with Blyton's books (as it did with me). And what will happen with Harry Potter books if it isn't happening already of course!

  5. Oh and Josette: You will love Goodnight Mr Tom! It doesn't fail.

  6. Oh I'm bookmarking this post! Anastasia I totally forgot about her. I just loved those books!!! So many fabulous books from my childhood are mentioned here!!



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