As I’m a Young Adult author, this Tuesday I thought I’d share with you my top ten favourite books from my youth. These books go back to the earliest chapter books I remember reading, onwards to books I read as a teenager. They may look like a random mix of books, but they are the ones that have stayed with me the longest.
Published in 1988, when I was 6 years old, Roald Dahl’s Matilda was everything to me. The story of a young girl who is so very different from her family and spends all the time that she possibly can buried in books that she’s taught herself to read, Matilda always resonated strongly with me.
I taught myself to read at an early age, as my mum, if she were alive today would tell you, and I spent much of my youth with my head in a book in order to escape life at home. Sadly though, I never developed Matilda’s strange magical powers, and I had to make do with just enjoying the fictional worlds at my fingertips.
2. The Famous Five
Okay technically this was an entire series that I was obsessed with from a young age. I loved The Famous Five. I was enchanted by the freedom they had, I was thrilled that the kids were two boys and two girls, but that George was a tomboy, and that they had a dog. Their adventures were crazy and exciting, and I always felt like I was a part of them.
These were the kids you wanted as your friends. They accepted and loved each other, and they stood up for each other. Anne was extremely girly but still part of the adventures, and they all loved Timmy. That to me meant everything as animals have always been a major love of mine.
3. The Witches
Another Roald Dahl book that I just couldn’t resist adding to this list. My memories of this book, first published in 1983, when I was a year old, are extremely vivid and coupled with my primary school teacher, Mrs Le Feuvre (who at the time was Miss Burt. She would read Roald Dahl book to us as a class and she had the large nostrils of the witches in the book, so she put on gloves, and heels for the day that she was reading the description in the book, and managed to freak out a class of eight and nine year olds in one swoop.
Looking back it makes me giggle. She was one of the best teachers I had in primary school. And she instilled in me a love of Roald Dahl and reading.
4. The Chronicles of Narnia
Another series that had a huge impact on me and my love of fantasy and magic. The Chronicles of Narnia captured my imagination and filled me with hope for a better world.
I grew up on an island that was occupied in World War Two, so the war time setting of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe resonated with me. It fed my desire to learn about the history of a period in time where the people of my island were treated to some particularly difficult laws and harsh treatment. For me, this collection of stories showed that there is always a silver lining, even when things are at their darkest.
5. To Kill a Mockingbird
The cover picture for this is the exact one that was on the version we studied aged twelve/thirteen in secondary school. Seeing this cover now evokes some major memories of being in Mr Harvey’s English class. This book was my first real understanding of the racial divide in the USA. It broke me and gave me a new view of the world that I hadn’t experienced before. It was the start of a whole new education for me, and it’s why, when creating the character of Freddie, in The Stolen Generation that I had this jotted down on the list of books that she would have read which were now illegal under the GSC. It shows a reality that we shouldn’t hide away from.
6. Carrie’s War
Another WWII book about children being sent off to somewhere safer during the Blitz. Carrie’s War was another school book. The characters within the story go from the realistic, believable Miss Evans who is browbeaten by her brother, Mr. Evans, who is a bully, and the bespectacled Albert Sandwich, to the highly larger than life Hepizbah Green who lives with Mr. Evan’s sister, Mrs Gotobed down in the valley at Druid’s Bottom.
Carrie and her brother Nick have to decide where their loyalties lie in this story about growing up in a strange country (Wales), and they learn a lot about who they are. It’s a coming of age story that rings true with a lot of adolescent girls as they come of age and still sits fondly in my heart.
7. Brave New World
Thus began my love affair with dystopian literature, the day that Mr. Harvey handed me a copy of this book because he said to me that I might get something out of it. I was twelve. Most adolescents don’t tackle this book until later on, but Mr. Harvey had a way of knowing when I was ready for things, and he handed me this book ahead of schedule.
I fell into a world of dystopian fiction and I’ve never fully emerged from it. My political leanings, my views on the world, everything that I am in regards to the way in which I believe that people should be treated has come from the literature I have read, and the books that Mr. Harvey passed me have had a huge part to play in that. It’s why he was the inspiration for Mr. Rawlinson in The Stolen Generation.
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four
Nineteen Eighty-Four was another dystopian novel handed to me by Mr. Harvey. My first Orwell too. This book has stayed with me and been re-read on many occasions. We live in a world now where everything is computerised and everything is monitored. So Big Brother is a very real thing, and something that we are seriously facing. In the mid-nineties when I first read this, it wasn’t as real a possibility but it was beginning to take shape.
We now even have TV shows based on the ideas of Big Brother and Room 101.
9. Animal Farm
My second Orwell, and one in adult life that I’ve actually performed in as Napoleon the Pig in a an amateur dramatic production with Arts Centre Theatre at the Jersey Arts Centre. This book is one I know inside and out. It’s one that taught me more about how we treat each other than hours of Bible study in Sunday School ever did.
Animal Farm was the reason that I learnt we need to teach everyone the way we want to be treated, that politicians will never be trustworthy, and that how we treat each other is more important that what we have individually. Pretty the latter of those things is what I should have learnt in Sunday School, but there I learnt that Christianity is full of mixed messages.
10. The Tempest
I studied this particular one of Shakespeare’s plays for A-Level Theatre Studies, A-Level English Literature, and again at university. It’s one of several that is embedded in my heart as well as my mind. Several of my favourite Shakespearean quotes of all time come from this play, and one of my earlier favourite books gets its title from this play as well.
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!”