Childhood books stay with you
Six of my favourites
1. The Twits by Roald Dahl
It was hard to single out only one of Roald Dahl’s books. He is a colossus of children’s literature. I almost chose the Witches, a book whose downright ghoulishness still haunts me to this day (in a good way). When I think of Mr. and Mrs. Twit, two of the vilest human beings ever committed to the page, I can’t stop a huge smile spreading across my face, so it had to be them. This tale of a couple who take pleasure in making each other miserable and torturing their pet monkeys and the local birds is filled with Dahl’s clear misanthropic tendencies. But it is still incredibly funny and a joy to read. I still laugh at the memory of the pranks these two awful people play on each other.
2. Funny Bones by Allan and Janet Ahlberg
Allan and Janet Ahlberg are the king and queen of picture books and have dozens of titles to their names (a good number of which I owned as a child), but Funny Bones remains supreme amongst them. “In a dark, dark town, there was a dark, dark street and in the dark, dark street, there was a dark, dark house…”. These opening lines will be familiar to thousands of parents and children alike. In spite of this rather spooky opening, this is a hugely entertaining and fun book, perfect for bedtime reading to even very small ones.
3. The Deptford Mice Trilogy by Robin Jarvis
I suppose this is a cheat as it’s three books rather than one, but, oh well. I picked up the first of these books, The Dark Portal, at a book fair at my primary school. I was hooked from the beginning to this tale of the Deptford mice’s struggles against the evil and shadowy Jupiter, a sort of feline Darth Vader as he seemed to my young imagination. These books are scary, action-packed and highly evocative of the underground world which they describe. Great fun.
4. Fred by Posy Simmonds
You probably think of cartoons for adults, or graphic novels as I guess they are these days, such as Gemma Bovery, when you think of Posy Simmonds. I fondly think of her as the author of the fantastic children’s book Fred, which is a heart-warming story of two children whose cat, Fred, dies. They both loved Fred and are obviously sad to lose him, but they’d always thought he was a rather boring and lazy cat. How little they knew. After Fred’s death, they discover that they had him all wrong and that in actual fact he had been a megastar of the feline world who catkind now bitterly mourns. I now realise that Fred unconsciously influenced the cat character in my own upcoming book (click here for more information on this book). Fred is a brilliant creation.
5. Alfie gets in first by Shirley Williams
The Alfie books in general are great fun, always have a good moral and they have fantastic pictures. I’d recommend any of them. The characters are apparently based on Shirley Hughes’ own daughter and grandchildren and this comes through in the genuineness of the characters and the affection with which Hughes so clearly writes of them. In this particular tale, poor Alfie manages to get himself trapped in the house while his mum and little sister are stuck out on the doorstep (following a mishap as Alfie’s mum was struggling with Alfie’s little sister’s pushchair – a pain familiar to many parents, I am sure). All the neighbours club together on the doorstep to free young Alfie, while on the inside our young hero hatches his own scheme.
6. Mr. Stink by David Walliams
I thought I would include a modern title for my final recommendation. David Walliams’ Mr. Stink, though fairly recent, is still a timeless tale that teaches us that there is more than meets the eye to all human beings. Our young heroine, Chloe, befriends a homeless man, Mr. Stink, with an interesting history and a very sad story of how he came to be homeless. This is a humorous tale which still manages to deal sensitively and not at all ‘childishly’ with some relatively grown-up themes.