This list of my favourite childhood books is inspired by Kate Forsyth, who celebrated her 50th birthday by writing a list of 50 writers who shaped her.
I began reading novels to myself at age six. Mum took me and my brothers to the library every week and I withdrew as many books as my card would hold. I often began reading them the minute I got home. I read every night before bed and sometimes on weekends and holidays I read all day too. I had a special spot on the floor between the bed and the radiator which was warm and private and I would lie there for hours, finishing one book and immediately starting another.
I often received books as gifts in my sack from ‘Santa’. My mum was big on the classics so I had beautiful hardcover illustrated editions of Heidi and Alice in Wonderland and The Hobbit, which I still have today. I loved the details of lives in different places and times gone by, especially in the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories which begin with Little House in the Big Woods, and in Anne of Green Gables, whose passionate outbursts were reassuringly relatable. I often reenacted episodes from the stories I read with my dolls, even after I was supposedly ‘too old’ to play with dolls.
At seven I was given my first box set: Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree Collection. Thus began one of the greatest passions of my life! I must have read more than 100 of Blyton’s books including all the Famous Five and Secret Seven books but my particular favourites were the novels of St Clares and Mallory Towers, the private girls’ schools which were, in many ways, so like the school I went to myself, (though we never, alas, had midnight feasts beside a swimming pool cut out of a cliff!).
I vividly remember having The Magician’s Nephew read to me which may be why, of all the Narnia books, this one is my favourite. The Secret Garden is a book I have appreciated more in hindsight; the joy and healing in the restoration of something which has been forsaken is such a powerful metaphor which I’m certain was lost on me the first time around.
Of the contemporary books I chose for myself from the school library, two stand out in particular: One is Robert C O’Brien’s Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, an electrifying story of adventure and grave peril, and the other is Natalie Babbit’s Tuck Everlasting, a beautiful exploration of a question often-pondered in childhood: would you want to live forever?
My childhood reading ended when at age twelve, I read my very first adult book: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Oh, the heartbreak! The terrible cruelty of the world!
My next list will be the books I loved as a teenager, a hilariously random collection which reaches from Sweet Valley High to Ernest Hemingway! In the meantime, I hope you’ll share your favourite childhood books in the comments.