I saw By Singing Light used this theme this week (originally from the Broke and the Bookish) and it made me start thinking about what my favourite books were in childhood (well, between the ages of 8 and 12). Took me a while to think of some of them as I haven’t reread most of them in a long time, and my favourite kids books now aren’t necessarily those I loved then. I’ve tried to go for specific books that stood out for me rather than an entire series (e.g. the Redwall books, which I loved and still own), but there are still a few authors that I can’t narrow down to just one example of their ouevre. For example:
The Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones: I still like the Chrestomanci books but I probably like DWJ’s older works more now. They’re still fun to read, though — some seriously awful (but realistically evil) characters and some incredibly funny moments (such as one of the witches making an escape on an old mop in Witch Week). I have some questions now — for example, why is the Chrestomanci always white, male and British? — but I would still recommend them to anyone who likes fun fantasy books with some dark bits in.
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome: I loved these books so much I made my family traipse around the Lake District looking at the knickerbockerbreaker and Lake Windermere. These are getting a bit dated now (still uncomfortable reading Missee Lee, and it’s the only one I don’t own), but the everyday adventures of camping alone and sailing on the lakes (or at sea, or in Norfolk) still appeal to me. Alas, my enthusiasm for sailing is restricted to the literary variety, as I seem to get horribly seasick on smaller vessels.
The Moomintroll series by Tove Jansson: Maybe an acquired taste? I adore the Moomins but my sister has never been able to understand the love. They’ve been reprinted recently though so hopefully there will be a new generation of Moomin fans. I think Snufkin is my favourite.
The Boggart by Susan Cooper: I haven’t read this recently but I remember it being more light-hearted than the Dark is Rising series. Set in Scotland, with ghosties and friends and castles.
The Owl Service by Alan Garner: I read this the same year I was living in England. I don’t know if it was being in another country, or the first onset of puberty, or if it was just being in a familiar literary landscape — either way, I read a lot of books that year that have strong memories for me. Memories that aren’t necessarily in the books. The Owl Service isn’t quite how I remember reading it then, but it still has that sense of the other, the slow creep of mist over the hills. I wish I had flower/owl pottery.
The Summer Birds by Penelope Farmer: Another emotional read. Everyone dreams of flying, right? The characters in this book get to realise that dream, and it’s great and lots of fun (e.g. landing like a duck on the lake), but then there’s the suckerpunch of an ending which made me cry every time. I only recently realised that it was part of a loose trilogy — I enjoyed Charlotte Sometimes (Emma in Winter not so much), but I haven’t yet read her other books.
The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye: Used to be one of my favourite comfort reads. I loved the cover image, and the storyline is very peaceful and everything works out wonderfully at the end. Plus at the time it seemed incredibly subversive to have an ordinary princess.
Ronia the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren: I have a memory of my mother reading this to me in German, but she doesn’t remember. I remember loving Trina Schart Hyman’s cover illustration (still love it!), and how self-sufficient Ronia is, and the awfulness of the divide between Ronia’s family and Birk’s family. It’s a very wry book, funny in parts, but dark in many ways.
The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White: Funny and interesting and full of animals and the characters are all wonderful. I remember wishing so hard to be able to turn into a fish, or a bird, or any animal really. And King Pellinore and the Questing Beast are my favourites. The rest of the series (it’s all published together in The Once and Future King) gets darker and darker with the inevitable depressing end. I have the same problem with the fabulous Squire’s Tales series by Gerald Morris: fantastically funny, and then horribly depressing. Stupid King Arthur, ruining everything by dying.
Winter of Fire by Sherryl Jordan: I’m not sure when I read this. Probably earlier than I should have? Led to lots of thinking about sexism and slavery and also to the belief that I could just think myself warm. (Spoiler: I can’t.) It’s interesting because Elsha is such a strong character, and a lot of the book is raising questions about how women are treated (albeit in a future society), but she is battling sexism while being surrounded by men. There are very few ladies in this book. On a completely different note, I think I picked this up because I thought the lady on the cover looked like me. This is why diversity in and on books is important, people!
Oh and it’s definitely over ten now but I just realised I haven’t mentioned the Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce! I was probably too young when I first read them but the sex was unobtrusive and mostly went right over my head. Plus no one’s too young for a sensible attitude to contraception and loving more than one person, right? Definitely one of my favourite childhood series, despite some hmmm moments when reading them now.