Happy World Book Day!
Today marks a worldwide celebration of books and reading; in over 100 countries around the world. Amazing stuff! In the UK and Ireland; the main aim of World Book Day is to encourage young children to pick up a book and learn how much fun reading is. Across the country; hoards of schoolchildren have been sat in class dressed as Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, Mr Twit, The Cat in the Hat and numerous other characters from famous children’s literature.
I thought today would be a good day to look back at the books that I loved as a little girl, and that inspired me while I was growing up and moving on into secondary school. I always had my nose in a book when I was younger. I was probably the one you would have labelled as the ‘loner’ at school – didn’t really have many close friends, very happy to just sit and play and read by myself. Books were my escape and I remember thinking when I was very young that I wanted to be an author when I grew up. Now, here I am; all grown up (though not quite an author yet) and these books still leave a strong imprint on my mind.
Matilda by Roald Dahl
“All the reading she had done had given her a view of life that they had never seen.”
Top of the list has to be this Roald Dahl classic. I loved his books as I was growing up; but this one was always my favourite. The story of a genius little girl, Matilda Wormwood; who loves books; but grows up with a neglectful mother and a car-criminal father. She gets her own back by super glueing her father’s hat to his head; hiding a parrot in the chimney and bleaching her dad’s hair. When she goes to school, she gets to expand her mind even further with the help of her teacher, Miss Honey. Through telekenesis; she manages to scare the evil Miss Trunchbull out of bullying and controlling Miss Honey, who just happens to be her niece; and goes on to live with her as her adopted daughter.
I think the reason I loved this book so much was that I was such a bookworm myself; although I must admit I’ve never been able to move books or chalk with the power of my mind; or work out 6 figure sums in my head. But it did make me want to read more and more and fuelled my love of big comfy sofas and long beautiful books.
The Witches by Roald Dahl
“It is most unlikely. But – here comes the big “but” – not impossible.”
Number 2 is another Roald Dahl creation. This is the story of the little boy who goes to live with his Norwegian grandmother after his parents die in a car crash. On returning to England; they discover a meeting of witches, including the Grand High Witch, in the hotel they stay in on holiday. The narrator, although he manages to get himself turned into a mouse; saves the day by turning the whole coven into mice as well. At the end of the book; they plot to take out all of the witches in the world, before they can die together.
The Witches was a lot shorter than Matilda, but I remember loving the descriptions and being able to really picture the evil witches with their bald, itchy heads and their toe-less feet. Of course; the illustrations by Quentin Blake were as much a part of Dahl’s books as the stories themselves. I was surprised to learn that ‘The Witches’ was at number 22 of the American Library Association’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books (1990-1999). I suppose that you don’t question the subject of books when you’re young – or I didn’t, anyway – but I find this discovery utterly mad.
Peter Rabbit and Friends by Beatrix Potter
“Once upon a time, there were four rabbits, and their names were: Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.”
Who could fail to fall for the stories of Peter Rabbit and Friends? I loved these books as much for the beautiful illustrations as for the stories themselves (I also wanted to be a famous artist when I grew up. Indeed, I still want to be a famous artist….when I grow up). My parents bought me and my sister the whole set of books, and I absolutely loved them. Unfortunately, some of them fell foul to typical sibling spats; and they are sadly in less than pristine condition now. A couple of weekends back, while in Bowness-on-Windermere; I came across a very similar set of books in the Beatrix Potter shop and my eyes watered at how much they cost. Possibly the most guilty I’ve felt in a long while….sorry Mam and Dad.
Though of course I had a soft spot for Peter Rabbit; my favourite book was The Tale of Tom Kitten – at heart; I am nothing more than a crazy cat lady 🙂
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
“She did not shut it properly, because she knew that it is very silly to shut oneself into a wardrobe, even if it is not a magic one.”
The first of the Chronicles of Narnia books I read; and by far my favourite. I was desperate for a big old house in the country, with a magic wardrobe that would take me to a land where fauns gave you tea and cake; and talking lions were nothing out of the ordinary. I think at one point I wanted Aslan as a pet…. not entirely advisable! When I first read this book; I didn’t know that it was part of a series of 7. I didn’t read them all (though we did have all of them in the house) – I read Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; before deciding that it was time to move on to other things. Maybe the rest of the chronicles should make their way back onto my reading list….
The Famous Five by Enid Blyton
“It wasn’t a bit of good fighting grown ups. They could do exactly as they liked.”
When I was little, about 6 or 7; I used to get £1 pocket money a week. This, without fail; went on a book from a local bookshop (amazing that you could buy new books for £1 once upon a time!). I bought the entire series of the ‘Famous Five’ books and was entirely addicted to the stories. I was so obsessed, in fact; that one summer I had to get my hair re-styled because I had tried to cut it short to be like George… ah, to be young and naive again!
Looking at these books again now; they were published a good 30 or so years before I was even born, so no wonder I found the language a little strange. But, they were very easy to read and I loved all the adventures. Not sure I could read them again…. I think I will keep them preserved in my memory, as they are; without the judgement of passing years to taint them.
The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
“There are some things you can’t share without liking each other; and knocking out a twelve foot mountain troll is one of them.”
Last, but certainly not least; are the wonderful books of the Harry Potter series. Technically; these are straying into my teenage years – although I was 10 when the Philosopher’s Stone was released; I didn’t pick up my first HP book until I was 12 or 13. My parents bought them for my sister; and I remember stating, very clearly and with absolute certainty; that those books were for kids. Oh, young Stephanie of 2001; how wrong thou art. I opened the first book out of curiosity, was hooked by the end of page 2; and devoured the whole series with the greedy glee of someone who has stumbled upon something wonderful. They accompanied me through secondary school; through Sixth Form; and into university; where I cried over Dumbledore’s demise in the Half Blood Prince and veritably sobbed at Snape’s fate in the Deathly Hallows. Those books were with me at some of the most important points of my life; and I am so glad that I didn’t continue to turn my nose up at them. J.K. Rowling is an absolute wizard of words; and I have no doubt that I will continue to love the Harry Potter series for many more years to come.
These are but a snippet of what my bookcase looked like in the early years…. who had a similar list? Which books take you back?