Happy World Book Day!

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Yes, March 3rd 2016, is the date of the nineteenth World Book Day, and to help celebrate books and authors, and the transformative power of reading, I thought it might be fun to do a quick poll. So I asked both the family, and our friends over on facebook, and between us we’ve come up with a list of all
our best-loved children’s books…

Every World Book Day is special, because it’s a celebration of something magical; the privilege most of us in the developed world can enjoy – free access, via libraries, to the wonderful world of reading for pleasure. But when I was asked for my thoughts about this particular World Book Day, it occurred to me that in our world – the world of fostering, and of children who face multiple challenges – a book can represent so much more than just a simple distraction. It can provide a refuge, an escape from overwhelming stress or sadness, a chance to travel from one world and enter another kinder one, and an opportunity for a child to understand that they are not alone – that their experiences have been shared by other children too.

A book read for pleasure can also inspire. It can help make a dream or a resolution seem achievable, or, when times are especially dark, make the future seem brighter – there is nothing like seeing a fictional character prevail against terrible odds to make a child believe they might just be stronger than they thought.

But for many children, particularly the vulnerable ones Mike and I see, it’s not just access to books that’s a perennial problem, but, once a child is faced with all the thousands of books out there, it’s also in knowing where on earth to start. That’s even truer if they are anxious, inexperienced, reluctant readers, which, tragically, so many children who have to be placed in care are, having so often been denied the simple, precious pleasure of having a loving parent read to them.

Which is why, with the help of my family and my lovely friends over on facebook, I’ve compiled a short list of our favourite childhood reads. It’s light on familiar classics (though a few certainly appear here) but these are special because they are all books and authors that have been recommended personally; they’ve meant a lot to some child, at some point.

Kieron’s choice: Goosebumps: One Day at Horrorland by R L Stine

Strange as it may seem, given how sensitive he can be, our son Kieron was absolutely obsessed by this series of books as a child, and this particular one has always stood out for him. ‘I was never a big reader,’ he says, ‘but mum always tried to talk us into reading a little bit of something, and I just happened to come across Goosebumps at a book fair at school. It was the brightly-coloured cover designs that first appealed to me, rather than the content, but once I got started I found I loved them.’ He has a warning, however, despite having nagged me to buy him every one of them: ‘Although these books were seriously addictive,’ he remembers, ‘they genuinely scared me, and this one, which is about the Morris family going on a normal family outing, put me off theme parks for quite some time!’

Riley’s: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

When I asked Riley for her choice, her answer was instant. Of Mice and Men, which she studied at school for her English GCSE, had a huge impact on her; she absolutely loved it. It’s about two migrant workers, George and Lennie, who are of very low intellect, and seeking to earn a living during the great depression. ‘It was their relationship that really pulled me in,’ Riley explains, ‘and the way George protected Lennie, who was seriously misunderstood. The ending had me in floods of tears, and it was the first time any book had made me feel that way. I feel emotional even speaking about it now. It quite a shocking read, due to the vocabulary and racist elements of it, but perhaps that’s why it’s a GCSE staple. It’s one of a kind. Such a powerful tale.’

Mike’s and Tyler’s: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Surprisingly, this book was a favourite of both Mike and Tyler. Proof indeed that great stories survive the generations and continue to have an impact. And perhaps that’s what’s loveliest about it, as it was Mike who first introduced Tyler to it. Golding tells the story of a group of British schoolboys stranded on an uninhabited island, and shows how they survive. ‘They do the most mad things!’ Tyler said, ‘and I couldn’t believe how they had to change just to keep going.’ While on reflection, Mike said that he also thought that as a child, but now sees how Golding was actually showing what we would now see as a social experiment on group dynamics. ‘A rather dark version of Big Brother,’ he observed.

Levi and Jackson: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Both Levi and Jackson are currently enjoying this series of books and they really love them. ‘Greg is hilarious!’ Levi said of the main character who is a 6th grader trying his best to become popular and fit in, in a school that doesn’t seem to like him very much. He is a typical young teen who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and despite his best efforts he is always the odd guy out.

Marley Mae: The Adventures of The Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton

This is Marley Mae’s current favourite bedtime story and she reads a chapter a night – although Riley, who also loved this book as a child, often reads an extra one herself! Enid Blyton tells the story of Mollie and Peter, who buy their mother a chair for her birthday from a shop ran by fairies. However, the chair has magic powers and can grow wings to enable it to fly off to faraway lands. With the help of a new friend – Chinky, a Pixie whom they rescue on their first adventure – they all go on some magical and often dangerous adventures. When I asked Marley to comment on the book, she simply said, ‘I love Chinky, and I want a magic chair too.’

(It’s worth a mention also that I did ask little Dee Dee what her favourite stories were and she wants you all to know that Disney Princess books are the best in the whole world, and that there are millions of them! Bless her J )

But that’s enough of our lot. Here are some suggestions from my friends over on facebook…

The Famous Five by Enid Blyton

Reader Kelly agrees with Marley Mae when it comes to one of our best-loved children’s authors; ‘Got to be Famous Five by Enid Blyton. When I was wee,

I always got so lost in their adventures I felt like I was there. Even 25 years later I’m sure I could still remember lots of the adventures like it was yesterday.’ Another reader, Amanda agrees. She still raves about them too, she says, because of their imagination-building. 

Little House in The Big Woods – Laura Ingalls Wilder

The book that spawned the TV series Little House on the Prairie – which is also the sequel to this one – Little House in the Big Woods was one of my childhood favourites, and also, it seems, of two readers, Debi and Michelle. Its strength lies in its ability to take you right away – into the life of a child that was so fascinating and different as Laura (then just 7 or 8, as I was when I read it) lived in a log cabin in the middle of the forests of Wisconsin, with a father who chopped wood, and hunted and fished and, for entertainment (no TV, of course) played on his fiddle. There were also bears in the wood – and more than one scary bear encounter – and it couldn’t have been more different from 1960s Britain, and certainly made me appreciate my warm bed!

The Boxcar Children – Gertrude Chandler Warner

Michelle also recommended this one: ‘The one that stands out to me – that I loved as a child – was the first of The Boxcar Children books. I loved the idea of them living in a boxcar and making use of the things they found that other people threw away. I used to walk home from school and look for useful items. (My poor mother must have loved going through my pockets before washing the clothes!

Make Room for Mandy – Kathleen O’Farrell

Joan recommended this and has this to say: ‘I was about ten and I loved this book so much I bought a secondhand one for my daughter. It’s about a young girl who lost both her parents and had to go to live with her aunt and uncle, who didn’t have a clue about bringing up kids. Then one day Mandy is invited to spend time with a real happy family where the house was a home and there were signs of childhood everywhere – so unlike her aunt and uncle’s house. I just always remember enjoying this book so much and I’m sure others will too.’

Goggle Eyes – Anne Fine

As recommended by Laura: ‘I loved Goggle Eyes. It’s a book about a girl whose mum gets a new older boyfriend, and tells of her journey from hating him to slowly accepting him into their lives. It’s incredibly funny whilst dealing with a difficult issue.’

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Suess

As mentioned by Tracy, no list of children’s favourites would be complete without Dr Suess, would it? And I couldn’t agree more. They are fabulous to read aloud, both as a child and an adult, and the serious messages in the light-as-a-feather poetry are always spot on.

Another reader, Vieve, has a theme going on: ‘I loved the Narnia Chronicles, The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, and Spellhorn by Berlie Doherty. I have always loved escaping into fantasy worlds.’

And reader Shannon also mentioned the collected works – and what a lot of them – of the incomparable Jacqueline Wilson. Her children’s books, which never shy away from distressing situations, have been rightly lauded across the world.

Rebecca, on the other hand, cites The Velveteen Rabbit and The Good Little Christmas Tree as her all-time favourite childhood books, and, because no list in existence can possibly NOT include the amazing J K Rowling, Shyane says she was brought up on Harry Potter. Just a hunch this, but I suspect she’s not alone…

And last but not least – and not even strictly a children’s book – is my own personal choice. Which is;

Roots by Alex Hayley

I actually found this book hidden in my mother’s bedside cabinet. I didn’t think she’d mind me reading it as I always had my nose in a book, and I took it to my room and I think I stayed there for a full weekend. It was such a shocking yet emotional story that it changed the way I saw the world from the moment I read the first chapter. It is a saga depicting the lives of the descendants of Kunta Kinte, a young man sold into slavery in the United States at the age of 17. It was his daughter Kizzy’s story I felt most empathy with; I was genuinely disturbed by all that she went through. I read this book as a young, and very naïve, 13 year old and its morals and themes have stayed with me ever since. Mind you, I did get into a bit of trouble for taking it without asking, not to mention chastised for reading such adult material before I was ready. But who knows? Would I be doing what I do had I not read it? I wonder.

And on that note, Happy World Book Day and, of course, happy reading!

Now I’m off to the library…

Love C xx