Childhood Books Beloved of Authors
‘You are what you eat,’ it has commonly been said. But, I’d argue, you are also what you read. During our childhoods when we are discovering new worlds for the first time, we read with our entire bodies, minds and senses. We literally become those characters and live those experiences, our whole beings absorbed into the magical pages of those books we are drawn to as children.
According to the fabulous writer Maya Angelou, ‘You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there.’ In the same way, every book we have ever read becomes part of us; the stories live on inside us, even if we cannot remember them. An invisible force that is lodged in a small cavern of our memories guides us, influencing our actions, emotions and speech.
With this in mind, I decided to run a survey amongst writers to identify the most beloved of their childhood reads. I was staggered by the response – dozens replied to me, creating conversations and invoking memories of books long forgotten. The replies I received have also enabled me to look up books I have never heard of and discover some wonderful new literature for children that I would like to introduce to my own three.
Do reading tastes change as the years go by? Of course there are some incredible modern writers for children out there right now, but at the end of the day whether we are talking about a child sixty years ago or a child of today, they all want the same thing from a book: a terrific story, compellingly told. So thinking of the results of my survey, of course these favourite childhood books are dependent on the age of the writer, where they come from and the sex (most, but not all who took part were women). Far too many people responded to be able to include everything I’m afraid, but every book that was mentioned more than once you will see below. For many of these writers, these beloved childhood books have even been a driving force behind their current work. Perhaps it is the element of mystery, suspense, adventure, a particularly memorable character. Whatever it is, I know most writers would agree with me when I go so far as to say one of the reasons we became writers in the first place was because of the imprint impressionable books have left on our minds for years. There were also some surprises (for example, Roald Dahl only being mentioned twice and the extreme popularity of a certain writer cited below).
All these books do stand the test of time, they can and should be enjoyed today and many certainly are. So come on, let’s brush off those childhood favourites and let the children in our lives enjoy these classics. All without exception are readily available and just waiting to be discovered.
So, here we go…
The books mentioned twice
Mary Poppins by PL Travers
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Chalet School Series by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Asterix by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo
Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliffe
The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy
Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dabb
Roald Dahl books
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
The books mentioned three times
I am David by Anne Holm
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Just William books by Richard Crompton
Hans Christian Andersen stories
The Books mentioned four times
Winnie the Pooh by A A Milne
The Books mentioned five times
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
The Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene
Little House on the Praries series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Book mentioned six times
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Books mentioned seven times
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge
The Books mentioned eight times
The Anne of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery
The Books mentioned UMPTEENTH times!
The Wishing Chair
The Naughtiest Girl series
The St Clare’s Series
The Mallory Towers series
The Secret Seven series
The Famous Five series
The Magic Faraway Tree series
Oh my word. I knew that Enid Blyton has been popular through the generations, but I had never imagined quite how popular. Our friend Enid has been simultaneously celebrated and lambasted as being revoltingly un-PC and classist (not to mention completely incapable of relating to her own children.) Her books today still fly off the shelves and generations of school children the world over have dreamed of ginger beer, dogs called Timmy and changing lands at the top of magical trees. The most popular of the above list were Famous Five and The Magic Faraway Tree – they just came up again and again and again to the point of predictability.
It did get me thinking though – what is it about Enid Blyton that has both delighted children and incensed critics over the years? I’ve decided it will be fascinating to delve a little into the life of this enigmatic writer to find out more about her, what made her tick and how her life influenced her writing. I will be posting this blog next week so stay tuned…(Sign up for my blog updates to ensure you don’t miss it.) See you then!
ps Ooooh, I nearly forgot – I want to share MY favourite childhood book. As numerous writers found, this is SO, SO difficult, to pinpoint it to a single book But if I were forced to chose, it would have to be Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I wanted to be a spy just like Harriet – and in fact, did become one, sitting up trees and in cupboards for hours on end scribbling my observations on all the ‘strange’ goings on in my household and beyond.)
Fascinating post, Rebecca. The Magic Faraway Tree books were the ones that fired my imagination and made me want to write . . . but I have read and reread Laura Ingalls Wilder too (and still pick one up occasionally). I could totally immerse myself in the world she described and just wanted to BE there. I can’t believe I’ve never read Mary Poppins. After seeing the film Saving Mr Banks, I really feel I ought to get to it sometime!
Thanks so much Helen for subscribing to my blog Helen! Yes I know exactly what you mean about Mary Poppins & Saving Mr Banks – it was such great film wasn’t it, I can’t believe how little I knew how against the film version the writer was. Believe it or not I have never read Laura Ingalls Wilder – I really need to. Never too late!
Love this fascinating post! I also grew up on a diet of Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys and wanted nothing more than to be a sleuth. Thanks for this post – i have discovered books I had read and loved and forgotten about, most notably The Borrowers.
Thanks so much for your comment! Yes, it was fascinating being a sleuth and remembering so many of these wonderful books. I recently rediscovered The Borrowers when my nine year old daughter read it.
I don’t know if I’m too late to post this comment, but for those coming late to the idea of reading P L Travers – you MUST! And I recommend “Mary Poppins, She wrote” by Valerie Lawson, which is a fascinating read about the rather enigmatic writer. It goes a lot deeper than Saving Mr Banks, which I also loved…
Never too late to comment! 🙂 will have to look up Mary Poppins, She wrote…I really enjoyed Saving Mr Banks but it sounds like the book goes to another level.