Something about the run-up to Christmas always brings out my inner child, so I’ve been thinking a bit lately about those books that really made my childhood.
My parents are both big readers and our house has always been filled with books, usually stacked three deep on every shelf.
It was a big moment when Poppa Shelf decided I was old enough to borrow from his extensive library, even if it was accompanied by much hooting of “DO NOT BEND THE SPINE! DO NOT FOLD OVER THE CORNERS OF THE PAGE!”
Before that, though, we used to read together often. Here are a few books which have stood the test of time in my memory and which the whole family loved.
1. ‘The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles‘ by Julie Edwards
Pretty much nobody has heard of this book, which is a crime of dastardly proportions. Julie Edwards is the married name of Julie Andrews, of ‘The Sound of Music’ fame, but although she is surely better known for spinning around on mountaintops she also does an excellent line in children’s books. This one tells the story of three siblings who meet a kindly professor at the zoo (stay with me); he introduces them to a magical land called Whangdoodleland, populated by the “imaginary” creatures who used to live in our very own world. The children decide to travel to Whangdoodleland to meet the last remaining Whangdoodle, but are foiled at every turn by the over-protective prime minister of the kingdom. This is the kind of book that lets a child’s imagination run wild. It remains one of my favourites.
2. ‘There’s No Escape’ by Ian Serrailier
Momma Shelf and I nearly came to blows a few months ago when I discovered that she had traitorously thrown away my bedraggled, moth-eaten copy of ‘There’s No Escape’. It was an insult especially because I have inherited my interest in the Second World War from two sources: my mother, and this fantastic book. Peter Howarth, secret agent extraordinaire, is parachuted into enemy territory to protect a brilliant scientist from being captured by the Nazis, who will undoubtedly do nasty things to him to extract his secret discoveries. I remember this as the first book that truly gripped me – I read it at least four times as a child. For me, it was far more swashbuckling and exciting than any other adventure story and it also provides a very good introduction to WWII history. I’m seriously considering buying another copy just to have it.
3. The Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling
I consider myself very fortunate to have grown up during the peak ‘Harry Potter’ generation. Ancient as I now am, some of my friends are now introducing ‘the boy who lived’ to their own children, and it’s usually not because they think their kids will like it but because it’s a good excuse to read them again. For the very, very few of you reading this who haven’t already read Harry Potter, know that it is an outstandingly well-written, ‘evergreen’ story with the fight of good against evil at its heart. It will never not be relevant, and it will never not be comforting and instructive to children on the cusp of adolescence, who are coming into contact with the world’s evils for the first time.
4. ‘Little Wolf’s Book of Badness’ by Ian Whybrow
This is one for younger children of about five to ten. It became something of a cultural phenomenon in my house. Little Wolf is sent off to live with his Uncle Bigbad in Frettnin Forest in order to learn the nine rules of badness which will enable him to be a successful Big Bad Wolf. He spends most of his time writing hilarious letters back to his Mum, Dad and little brother Smellybreff (a name which was adopted into my family). The letters are also peppered with charming illustrations by Tony Ross. My entire family, including aged and wise parents, adored this book, which is as original as it is genuinely hilarious.
5. ‘The House at Pooh Corner‘ by A.A. Milne
Who couldn’t include Winnie-the-Pooh in a list of nostalgic children’s books? As I grow older I come to appreciate that I am not much like Winnie or Piglet but rather more like the grumpier members of the clan, like Eeyore or the nearly hysterical Rabbit. However, all the animals of the Hundred-Acre Wood are delightful and I think they help teach children the value of lots of different types of people. The story of Tigger’s arrival is a particular favourite, featuring the world’s most endearingly awkward entrance:
He got out of bed and opened his front door. ‘hello!’ said Pooh, in case there was anything outside. ‘hello!’ said Whatever-it-was. ‘Oh’, said Pooh, ‘hello!’ ‘hello!’ ‘Oh, there you are!’ said Pooh, ‘hello!’ ‘hello!’ said the strange animal, wondering how long this was going on. Pooh was just going to say ‘hello!’ for the fourth time when he thought that he wouldn’t, so he said, ‘Who is it?’ instead. ‘Me,’ said a voice. ‘Oh!’ said Pooh. ‘Well, come here.’ So Whatever-it-was came here, and in the light of the candle he and Pooh looked at each other. ‘I’m Pooh,’ said Pooh. ‘I’m Tigger,’ said Tigger…
Poppa Shelf and I often greet each other on the phone in this manner even now.
6. ‘The Adventures of Brer Rabbit’ or ‘Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings’ by Joel Chandler Harris
I’m not going to link to an edition here as I can’t find the one I had as a child – hopefully it’s not out of print! However, there are quite a few others available out there. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but Brer Rabbit is actually a character from the folklore of the Southern USA. In the original collection the stories were narrated by a fictional narrator Uncle Remus, and positively drip with good old Southern molasses and sweet tea. Brer Rabbit’s adventures usually pitted him against the cunning Brer Fox, his natural enemy. Brer Rabbit is a folkloric trickster who often gets himself into a bind, but somehow always manages to (rather smugly) get himself out of it. Slightly sharper than other talking animal stories, you end up rooting for Brer Rabbit whilst simultaneously kind of hoping he’ll finally get his comeuppance.
I’m very excited to hear about the books that made your childhood! Comment below and let me know which stories you and your family loved.
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