Top 10: Favourite Childhood Books

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.

13 thoughts on “Top 10: Favourite Childhood Books”

  1. Oh, how you’ve taken me down memory lane. I devoured Enid Blyton, especially Famous Five and Secret Seven – and I’d forgotten about Mallory Towers and St Clares until you mentioned them. I remember reading second hand copies of Little House on the Prairie and Heidi so am wondering whether they’d belonged to my mother before me.

    1. It was so much fun to adventure vicariously with the Famous 5 and Secret 7. In reality, those situations would have scared the bejeezus out of me! How lovely to have books handed down. I’m sure Harper won’t want any of mine, except perhaps The Hobbit.

  2. Oh Annabel! Children’s books are just the BEST! Just thinking of the books I read at this age reignites my excitement for reading again. I’ve never felt quite the same intense hunger for books as an adult as I did when I was at school. Some of my favourites were Toms Midnight Garden, the Great Gilly Hopkins, Penny Pollards Diaries, Harriet the Spy, and the Trixie Belden books. I also loved the Borrowers stories. And Nancy Drew. I loved loved loved Mallory Towers too. I always thought it sounded so exotic that they would sneak tins of sardines(!) from the school kitchen and eat them in midnight feasts!
    When I read my first Harry Potter book as an adult it gave me the same childhood thrill that I felt like I was ten years old and reading under the doona with a torch again. I just don’t get that feeling from grown up books.

    1. So lovely to hear from you, Lisa. I still occasionally get consumed by a book, but as you say, nowhere near as much as I did as a child. I too felt that thrill again when reading the Harry Potter books. I recently had it reading an Isobelle Carmody series with Harper, the first of which was called The Red Wind. I completely forgot Nancy Drew! I read squillions of those. I’m sure I would find them dreadfully formulaic now. I had also forgotten Tom’s Midnight Garden, which was wonderful, and The Borrowers – so sweet! Nice to be reminded of these.

  3. The Magician’s Nephew was my favourite too, and I think the wood between the worlds – all those ponds leading to different realities – deeply shaped how I think and how I write. My main memory of first reading The Secret Garden was finding out about cholera. Her parents died so suddenly! I asked my mum all about what cholera did and how you get it and if we might get it. This set a pattern for the rest of my life.

    1. Yes, a lot of fan fiction opportunities there! We only ever got to see Charn & Narnia but what about all those other ponds? When you say it shaped how you think and write – do you mean that when you write it’s as though you are jumping into one of those ponds?

  4. I loved reading in my childhood! I’m trying to recall now what I read… I do remember reading The Famous Five, and loving it, I also read a few Biggles adventures, and then a whole pile of standalone novels too. I remember reading The Great Train Robbery when I was about 11…

    I’m loving your new-look blog, too!

  5. I too loved Famous Five, Secret Seven and anything else with adventure: Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson and children’s versions of Robinson Crusoe and the stories of Robin Hood. Then there were what were called ‘bumper annuals’ but the only title I recall was The Gala Book for Boys – full of yarns about chaps in public schools finding secret tunnels and foiling the plans of villains. Biggles loomed large; I seem to remember that a lot of the baddies had accents or swarthy skin. I also liked some of my sister’s books with illustrations by Arthur Rackam.

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