The Books that had the Biggest Influence on Me as a Child
I read a lot as a child – books were a huge part of my early life and I can credit both of my parents for getting me into reading at a very young age. Reading is still one of my biggest passions – due in large part to the many wonderful books I read in my youth. These books shaped my reading habits and formed the genre preferences that I still have to this day.
Thinking back on some of the most inspiring books for me was a difficult task – I read so many novels and to some degree they have all been influential, but narrowing down the list proved to be a huge challenge. However, looking over some of my most beloved books it soon became quite clear to me which books belonged on this list, so without any further ado, here are my Top 10 favourite childhood reads:
10. The Sly Fox and the Little Red Hen by Vera Southgate: This may seem like an odd choice but this book was the very first book I learned to read on my own. I had a lot of the Well-Loved Tales series (published by Ladybird from 1964 to the early 1990s) but this one was my personal favourite.
I used to beg my mum to read this to me over and over again. I soon moved on to following the words in the book as they were being read out to me and this led to me eventually memorizing all of the words in the book. I would then ‘read’ the book myself but in my head I could hear my mum’s voice. To this day I can still remember her speaking the words. I have a lot of personal attachment to this book so while it is not a pinnacle of literature by any means; it is one of the most meaningful books on my list.
9. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: I must confess I absolutely adored the 1985 televised version of Anne of Green Gables starring Megan Follows as Anne Shirley, everyone’s favourite troublesome redhead (I also enjoyed the follow-on series The Road to Avonlea).
This adaptation was what inspired me to seek out the book. I have read most of the series but this one remains my favourite. My favourite part is when Anne tries to dye her hair raven-black and it turns green and she has to get it cut out as the colour cannot be stripped (I had a similar mishap once upon a time but not as extreme luckily!). I have fond memories of both the books and the series (though of course the books are much more timeless) so Anne and her cohorts easily find a spot on my list.
8. The Witches by Roald Dahl: I remember reading a lot of Roald Dahl books (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Danny Champion of the World, The Twits and so on) but the one that clearly sticks in my head the most was The Witches (and not only because of its relatively downbeat ending). This book used to scare me a lot (and was probably the reason why I ended up loving horror novels so much in my teens).
The film version was equally terrifying – I mean the bit when the witches pull off their wigs during the conference and showed their toe-less feet, how scary was that? Even more frightening was the fact that most of the time they looked just like everybody else – had ordinary jobs and lived ordinary lives. Except for the fact that they hated children and would do everything in their power to dispose of them, usually in horrific ways. This book scared me. And I liked it – that feeling of being scared. I will always remember that discomfiting sense of foreboding and fear that this book managed to instil in me. For that, it most certainly deserves a place of my list.
7. First Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton: I adored Enid Blyton books when I was a kid and had many adventures with the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. I was shocked by the antics of the Naughtiest Girl and wanted to join in the fun with Mr Galliano’s Circus. However, my favourite Enid Blyton series has to be Malory Towers.
I have always had a great love for boarding school stories and I can credit this as being the first I really got hooked into (I also loved the St. Clare’s series). Darrell Rivers was my hero because she wasn’t in the least bit perfect – she made mistakes and quite often let her temper get the better of her but she was a loyal and true friend and showed a lot of character growth throughout the series. I loved the whole series (all six books) but the first one was my favourite.
6. The Princess of the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer: The third book in The Chalet School series and the first one I actually ever read (I very soon went back and read the two previous instalments). I got this as a Christmas present from one of my aunties when I was about 7 years old (yikes that was a long time ago!). I actually still have this book though I gave away the rest of the series to my younger cousin when she was old enough to read them. Another boarding school series, there were almost 60 books in total and I must have read them all dozens of times.
The Princess of the Chalet School was the most memorable for me mainly because it was the first book I read in the series which then inspired me to seek out the rest. This was a tremendously fun series right through to the end (though I much preferred the earlier books where Joey and her pals took centre-stage. Although these books were written many years ago (the first was published in 1925) they still felt very relevant to me and dealt with a lot of issues which are still common-place today. It was also notable for having incredibly strong and capable female characters at the heart of it.
5. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald: This is not a very well-known book which is a shame because it is an incredibly charming tale. Originally published in 1872, this is the story of a young princess called Irene who lives in a castle surrounded by mountains. She is a lonely but curious child and her explorations of the castle uncover many glorious and wonderful secrets. Yet many dangers abound, especially from the hobgoblins that live under the mountain.
This brave and resourceful young princess, along with her friend Curdie (a young peasant boy), discover a great plot the goblins have concocted to overthrow the kingdom and it is up to them to save everyone they love. This is a truly magical story, with elements of fairytale and mythology wound together to make this a true classic in every sense of the word. The sequel The Princess and Curdie is another beautiful and wondrous book – well worth checking out. I have a great love of fantasy and this book was one of the best I read as a child.
4. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: This one was a bit of a no-brainer really. I loved the Narnia books when I was little and this one was my favourite (I also loved the BBC adaptation from the 1980s even though now it looks very dated and almost like a drama school production – though I do think it retains a little of its earlier charm – even with the actors decked out in costume pretending to be animals!).
As a child, I missed most of the Christian allegories that permeate the entire series (looking back I wonder how – it really was quite obvious when reading with an adult’s perspective). These books may have lost a little of their innocence and wonder for me, nevertheless they are still dear to my heart. The magic of Narnia will always live on for me – I will forever be searching for a particular wardrobe that will lead me to a magical land where animals can talk and there are many wondrous adventures to be had. I may not agree with some of the underlying dogma, sexism and indeed the often negative representation of people of colour but I can accept that a lot of this was due to the times and C.S. Lewis’s individual beliefs and I try not to let these things take away what I have always loved about the series.
3. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: A gem of a book and one of my all-time favourites. I was first encouraged to read the book after viewing the Hallmark Hall of Fame TV film adaptation which was made in 1987. I loved this adaptation but looking back some of it was a bit cringe-worthy (an American Mary and Dickon – what were they thinking?!) although there was a excellent supporting cast including Derek Jacobi, Michael Hordern, Billie Whitelaw and a very youthful-looking Colin Firth!
I read the book and fell completely in love with the characters and the setting (the moor seemed like a character in-and-of itself!). I loved the fact that the main character Mary was such a disagreeable and surly little thing to begin with but she really changed throughout the book. I adored Dickon and all of his animals. I loved Martha, Dickon’s older sister who is Mary’s maid – I loved them all. If I had any criticism of the book it is that a great deal of the latter half seems to be entirely focused on Colin, Mary’s seemingly invalided cousin, but I still adored the book overall.
2. Watership Down by Richard Adams: Oh Watership Down, you break my heart into teeny, tiny, little pieces every single time. I was a huge fan of the animated film that was made in 1978. The beginning of the film scared the life out of me as a child and I still have trouble watching the other animals slaughtering the rabbits – and don’t even get me started on Fiver’s vision! The film was terrifying to me – yet it was one of my favourites (that whole love-to-be-scared thing again!). The book of course, far surpasses the scope of the film. It is a truly remarkable piece of literature. It was less scary than the film but definitely more thoughtful and intense.
Even as a child I could pick up some of its deeper messages about society and totalitarian states though I did not really appreciate these themes until I got a little older. This book has really stayed with me and it is one I have read many times. I can still see myself picking this book up again every few years. It is definitely a timeless classic that can be enjoyed time and time again as there is so much you can miss first time around. It really benefits from multiple reads and gets my brain in gear every single time I read it.
1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: There is little I could say about this book that hasn’t been said before save that it has remained my favourite book of all time – ever since I first read it when I was 9 years old. I loved the Ralph Bakshi animated adaptation of this film as a kid (despite its flaws) but I really hated how it cut-off half-way through the story. I just had to read the book to find out what happened. Although I was a voracious reader by this point, this book was still a little daunting considering that I read my mum’s copy (from the 1960’s!) which was the anthology edition containing all three books: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, and was well over 1000 pages long!
Still, I was determined and once I started I just couldn’t put it down – for about 3 year’s straight (no it didn’t take me 3 years – I read it for the first time inside of a week – it was more that I just kept going back to it even though I had plenty of other books to read). I honestly couldn’t even begin to contemplate just how many times I read this book – I found myself going back to it over and over again. It captured both my imagination and my heart and I never really looked back. I love the fantasy genre – I read many different types of books but I still always have a hankering to go back to fantasy when I feel a little low and need cheered up. This book, despite the fact that I have not read it in many years, is still the standard to which other fantasy series have to compare. I love the Peter Jackson films too. The Lord of the Rings has played a huge part in my life and I think it always will. That is why it is my number 1 childhood read.
Well, this ended up being a little bit longer than I intended (I guess I can always wax lyrical about my favourite books!). If you made it to the end thank you very much for bearing with me. I had a lot of fun reminiscing about my favourite childhood reads. I also realised while writing this that I was generally inspired to read most of these books by first watching either the movie or television adaptations. This is a vast contrast to how I am now – I always prefer to read the book first before watching the movie or television version if I can help it – how things change!
Some absolute classics here but I have never heard of The Princess and the Goblin – I’ll definitely have to seek that one out!
I would highly recommend the Princess and the Goblin – it is an amazing book. It’s just a pity it is not more well-known. George MacDonald was apparently an inspiration for C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien which I found really interesting to learn many years after reading his works!!