If there’s one thing I love more than reading books, it’s talking about them. This is why I’d be hopeless in a book group. If somebody didn’t like my choice, I’d get twitchy and overheated, and would probably end up shouting “But how can you not like this? YOU MUST BE MAD.”
So this section of the website is a self-indulgent excuse for me to revisit the children’s and YA books I fell in love with from the age of about three to sixteen, and which have kept me company ever since. That’s why I haven’t included titles that weren’t around when I was a teenager: these are the books I grew up with. I should also mention that a good handful of them were written for adults. However, that doesn’t stop them being a fabulous read for teenagers too. Oh – and who says you have to abandon picture books once you’ve learnt to read?
Every knows and loves Where The Wild Things Are, but I think this one’s in a different league. Ida’s baby sister is stolen by goblins while she’s supposed to be keeping watch. So Ida sets off on a mystical journey into Outside Over there, using the music from her “wonder horn” to save her sister from being turned into a goblin’s bride. Each line of the story is a poem in itself, and the pictures are rich and dreamlike, with an edge of danger that still sends a shiver down my spine.
Tragically, all of Errol Le Cain’s work is out of print, but you can admire his brilliance at www.errollecain.com. Anyway, The Snow Queen is one of my best-loved fairytales and I never get tired of marvelling at Le Cain’s sumptuously intricate illustrations.
Possibly the most enchanting children’s book of all time. Kay goes in search of treasure stolen from his sea-faring great grandfather, only to find a coven of witches is after it too – led by his governess, the fantastically named Sylvia Daisy Pouncer. The writing is beautiful (as you’d expect from a Poet Laureate) and the story is full of humour and magic. The sequel, The Box of Delights, is better known, but I think this one is a little bit more special.
The misadventures of an eleven-year-old schoolboy and his band of friends, “the Outlaws”. Compton’s a comic genius, aided and abetted by her fabulous illustrator, Thomas Henry. I read these whenever I’m in need of cheering up.
Edith Nesbit is one of my heroines. She pretty much invented the children’s adventure story, and was the first to write about realistic, contemporary children rather than the idealised little cherubs of most nineteenth-century kid lit. Ahead of her time in lots of ways, she was a political activist and co-founder of the Fabian Society (the fore-runner of the modern Labour Party). And an innovative and witty writer, too.
Back in my editorial days, I got a rather savage (and public) ticking-off from Philip Pullman for venturing my admiration of this book. The man doesn’t know what he’s missing! Some people find the Christian overtones of the Narnian Chronicles hard to take, but there’s just as much Platonic philosophy and pagan mythology in the mix. I love them all, but I think The Magician’s Nephew is extraordinary.
Sophie Hatter gets on the wrong side of the Wicked Witch of the Waste and takes refuge in the castle of Wizard Howl, who has a fearsome reputation for eating young girls’ hearts... Wynne-Jones is a legend in her own right, and vain, cowardly Howl is one of my favourite heroes.
An eccentric coming-of-age story about a 1930s Bohemian family living in a ramshackle castle. It manages to be the ultimate comfort read while retaining a bittersweet edge.
An ugly duckling story with a difference, about a girl blundering through adolescence in an all-boys’ boarding school (where her father is House Master). Very funny, and unexpectedly moving.
A re-telling of the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur as a historical, rather than fantasy, epic. It combines bloodthirsty action, adventure and romance with an unforgettable vision of the ancient world in all its strangeness and splendour. Renault is a wonderful, deeply serious writer, and I wish she was more widely-known. This isn’t my absolute favourite of her novels (that would probably be The Charioteer, followed by The Mask of Apollo and The Last of the Wine) but it’s the best introduction to her work. Please read it, somebody! Then let me know how you got on…
This is a classic for most American students, but hardly anyone in the UK seems to know about it. Set in an elite New England boarding school in the summer just before World War II, the complex friendship between schoolboys Gene and Phineas is an engrossing tale of love, hate, war and peace.
I gobbled up a lot of the nineteenth-century blockbusters when I was a teenager, and this one was a particular hit. Jane’s quest for personal freedom is full of passion and rebellion, and is a page-turner of the most engrossing kind. Jean Rhys’s “prequel”, Wide Sargasso Sea, is also not to be missed.
The subtitle of the novel is “The Innocent Voyage”, though this disturbing tale of children captured by pirates is anything but. The prose is so seductive, the world it evokes so exotic, you’ll be swept off your feet.
Don’t be fooled by the subject matter – this isn’t one for young children! Rego’s engravings turn traditional nursery rhymes into wickedly outlandish fables about madness, cruelty and sex. They’re frightening and erotic, yet full of fun.
Three collections of short stories that are connected by motifs such as dreams, mirrors, mazes, libraries and time. The philosophical paradoxes are sometimes tricky to follow, but spellbinding to read.