As a child I was a voracious reader, going to the library at least once a week and often reading by torchlight under my duvet late into the night (hmm, perhaps that’s where my sleeping problems started?!). My mum would often bribe me to do things I didn’t want to do with the promise of a trip to the local bookshop in Wetherby where I grew up, a lovely little shop filled from floor to ceiling with an excellent edit of books which is sadly no longer there.
My favourite characters became like best friends (with hindsight they were, without exception, excellent role models, strong female characters one and all). I would gulp down whole series and then go back and read them all again. Sometimes the books I read reflected my interests at the time. When I took ballet classes (not for very long, I was not a particularly graceful child) I loved Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, the story of three adopted sisters: talented actress Pauline, tomboy Petrova and brilliant ballerina Posy. Later when ponies became my thing I devoured the Jill’s Gymkhana series and dreamt of owning my own pony, going to Pony Club, which sounded like the best thing ever, and winning a clutch of red rosettes.
I adored the Anne Of Green Gables series. The Anne in question was an orphan mistakenly adopted by ageing brother and sister Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert who’d intended to adopt a boy to help them on their farm. Anne’s highly imaginative, talkative (and then some) and lots of fun. She wins Matthew over almost immediately and, eventually, despite herself, Marilla too. Gilbert Blythe, Anne’s bitter rival for much of book one, was probably my first crush.
I read all the well known classics as well as lesser known novels by classic authors. Contrary as Mary Lennox herself The Secret Garden wasn’t my favourite book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. That spot is reserved for A Little Princess, the story of Sara Crewe – a bright and pampered but not spoilt little girl who is sent to school in London by her wealthy father who lives in India. When he dies she’s left destitute, going from star pupil to servant girl overnight. Her plucky spirit and vivid imagination help her survive and, well, I’m not going to spoil it, suffice to say if you haven’t read it you should.
However, if I absolutely had to pick my very favourite childhood book (and it’s a close run thing) I would go for Little Women, the story of four sisters, Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth. I know it so well that the opening line (“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents”) has won me a point in many a pub quiz. Like almost every girl who dreamed of becoming a writer my favourite character was Jo, a tomboy with a heart of gold. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it and, even though I know it’s going to happen, I always cry when SPOILER ALERT Beth dies. One of the best presents I’ve ever received is an old edition of the book (the one in the picture above). The inscription on the flyleaf (dated 25/12/32) reads “Best wishes and love from Mum & Dad to Sheila.” Every time I read it I wonder what Sheila was like and if she loved the book as much as I do, I hope so.
Over to you. What’s your favourite children’s book? Have you reread any of your favourite childhood books as an adult? Did you enjoy it as much? And who’s your favourite character? You know the score, leave a comment below. And don’t forget that our next book club read is To Kill A Mockingbird, expect a post the first week of April!