Children's books that changed me

Saturday, 8 July 2017

This is an unashamedly self-indulgent and very pleasurable dip into the books that I read and loved as a child. The recent passing of the great Michael Bond made me think again on the wonderful worlds that have been created by the very best writers for children. I am shying away from some great children’s picture books and concentrating on novels – there are of course many titles that I could mention in that genre – The Tiger that Came to Tea, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, anything written and illustrated by the wonderful Edward Ardizzone, or the Ahlbergs. I love them all and spent many happy evenings reading to my daughter, as rapt as she was.
Similarly, I am not intending to cover old ground with classics – Lewis Carroll, Charles Kingsley, Tolkein, Kenneth Grahame, Roald Dahl, Michael Bond or CS Lewis. Enough has been written in praise of these great works already. I want to concentrate on a few specific books which I remember with fond nostalgia, but which are not seen quite so much these days (This may of course be a factor of my own aging – they may be as popular as ever!)
There is no order to my list, and I am sure that the moment it is posted, I will remember a few more. But these are the ones that came to mind more or less immediately.
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The Guardians by John Christopher
John Christopher is more famous for his books about the tripods – mind controlling aliens who rule the world. But this dystopian novel is for me much more believable and chilling. The division of Britain into Country and Conurbs, each of whom have a healthy disrespect of the other’s way of life could, one feels, easily happen. And alongside his series on the Tripods, I also loved “The Lotus Caves”. These were probably my first venture into science fiction, a genre which I still enjoy forty years on.


https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41zk%2ByYpi-L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe Complete Short Stories Of Saki
A man of whom it was once said “He was incapable of writing a dull sentence”, HH Munro or Saki was a writer of deliciously ferocious short stories, whose life was cut tragically short in WW1 by a German sniper. We had an English teacher, who, if we had behaved, would read us a Saki story at end of the class. We always behaved! Saki has a list of quotes to compare with that of Oscar Wilde, and this is but one example :-

“The revenge of an elder sister may be long in coming, but, like a South-Eastern express, it arrives in its own good time.”
Particularly apt at present, I feel. Just sit back and luxuriate in some of the funniest writing ever.

Stig of the Dump (A Puffin Book) by [King, Clive]
Stig Of The Dump by Clive King
The tale of the cave dwelling Stig is a great adventure, and for years afterwards I went into quarries with half a hope that I would find my own there.  I loved the way that, many years before recycling became the norm, this industrious troglodyte would take items from the dump and re-use them so brilliantly. Clive King creates a totally believable character (with the minimum of conversational ability) and his friendship with the solitary Barney is most touching. I am glad to see that it has recently been republished as a classic.



The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm by [Hunter, Norman]
Professor Branestawm by Norman Hunter
I used to spend hours wondering how Norman Hunter could be both a great and witty novelist and the grim central defender of the all-conquering Leeds United team of the early 70’s. I am glad that the Prof has enjoyed something of a resurrection with Harry Hill’s TV specials, and I think these books compare well to Dr Doolittle. I liked both, and along with an old moth-eaten guide named “How to make Fireworks” which I also possessed, led me into a passion for science which I ended up studying at Cambridge and still love to this day.


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Stop The Train by Geraldine McCaughrean
This is a bit of a cheat in that I only read it a few years ago. I had not realised that it was a children’s book, but a few pages I really ceased to care. It is an engrossing novel about a small township in Oklahoma and the struggles of its inhabitants against the Railroad company. It has echoes of “The Titfield Thunderbolt” for those who enjoyed the Ealing Comedies, and traces of “Little House on the Prairie” for Ingalls Wilder fans. Simply fantastic and I couldn’t resist putting it in.



by Robert Rees
Robert was born in Berkshire and attended Eton College and Trinity Cambridge before pursuing a career in the City of London. After retiring from the City in 2007, Robert divides his time between his house in Kent and Provence writing music, novels, and plays. His book; A Season in the Sun combines cricket, crime and comedy in the beautiful surroundings of a tropical island. Similar in style to PG Wodehouse and William Boyd, it will appeal to fans of suspense and sporting pursuits alike. 
This  post has been kindly written in support of #Rebeccas24HourReadathon. SomeOne Cares is a charity that helps support survivors, young and old, who have suffered of rape or some form of abuse at some point in their life. 

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