This week’s Top Ten Tuesday on The Broke and the Bookish is “Top Ten All-Time Favourite Books in X Genre.” I’m picking Children’s Literature. A friend of mine is having a kid soon, and when I asked what she needed for the baby, she said books. Well, obviously – I mean look who she’s talking to! So I started thinking back over the books that meant the most to me as a child – from early books read to me, right up to the books I read at the end of elementary school. And it made me feel pretty nostalgic. I’m even considering an epic re-read sometime this year.
So when this topic came up, it hit me – what better forum to share my nostalgic childhood favourites? Becauase let’s face it, the books we experience as kids hold a special place in our reading histories. So here are some of mine.
1. The Paper Bag Princess and The Boy In the Drawer by Robert Munsch
I loved these books as a kid. I don’t remember them all that clearly – except that The Paper Bag Princess was a total badass, and that I identified deeply with The Boy in the Drawer, whose catch phrase was, “Please go away, you’re bothering me.” (I guess I was an anti-social smartass from a very young age.)
2. Inspector Mouse by Bernard Stone (Illustrated by Ralph Steadman)
I can’t even describe this odd little book, but I loved it when my dad read it to me – voices and all!
3. Matilda, The Witches, and The BFG by Roald Dahl
Despite his reputation for being, well, not the nicest of fellows, Roald Dahl shaped my childhood. His books meant more to me than I could ever convey, and his rich imaginary landscapes and stories opened my mind and helped me learn what humour was. I will forever be grateful for his books, and they’ll always hold a very special place in my memory.
4. A Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Little Princess was the first full-length book I read entirely on my own. It was long, tedious and at times frustrating, but by the end of it I had bonded with the book very deeply. The Secret Garden, while it didn’t hold quite the same place in my heart, was another great children’s book.
5. The Secret Horse by Marion Holland
I have a thing about animals. I just love all of them. I want to save every mistreated creature out there. I want to nurse them back to health, show them that humans can be kind and give them the life they deserve. Of course I can’t save every animal out there, but this story spoke to the part of me that desperately wants to. It’s about two girls who adopt a neglected horse, saving it from being put down. They have to hide the horse in an abandoned barn and spend their summer sneaking away to care for it. I scouted for abandoned barns for like three years after reading this book, just in case.
6. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
I think I had a particular connection with Anne because she reminded me so strongly of my mother – everything from the clumsiness to the stubbornness to the obsession with reading to the firey red hair. She’s how I imagined my mother as a child, and getting to know her was like befriending my mum when she was young. And while I came to love Anne for herself, there was always this extra element for me.
7. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
I grew up in the country, so the story of a family of youngsters who learned to sail and camped out on a small island by themselves really got my imagination going.
8. The Trixie Belden books by Julie Campbell and Kathryn Kenny
Nancy Drew was alright, but Trixie was my true sleuthing heroine. First published in the 1950s, the Trixie Belden series introduced us to a confirmed tomboy whose lack of interest in (or aptitude for) traditionally feminine passtimes and natural curiosity led her on many a dangerous adventure. Headstrong, reckless and determined, Trixie totally won me over. I loved these books and read every single one I could get my hands on.
9. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
You can read my full review of this book here, but in summary it’s the journal of a young girl whose eccentric family live in a tumbling down castle. She writes of her family and the rich brothers who move in nearby, of her free-spirited stepmother and the servant’s son who has grown into a very attractive young man with feelings for her. I can’t make it sound as charming and captivating as it is, but just trust me, this book was wonderful. Oh, and it’s also written by author of 101 Dalmations, and while it’s nothing like it, her knack for characters extends to this work as well.
10. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
I’ve saved the best for last here. Anne… well, she changed everything. Reading her journal broke my heart into pieces that will never really come back together again. Her talent for introspection and unflinching honesty were deeply touching, and everyone knows how her life ended, which makes her story all the more affecting. She taught me about one of the greatest attrocities ever perpetrated by the human race, but she simultaneously taught me of the deep generosity and strength human beings can muster, even in the most dire of circumstances. When I visited her house in Amsterdam I couldn’t breathe – just imagining her living in that tiny room for two years. Her story is one that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, and that will always remind me to be compassionate and kind above all else.
There are so many more. As soon as I thought I’d finished this list I started remembering more and more books that I’d read and loved as a child. There was On Stage Please, The Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series, The Secret World of Og, the Narnia books, The Forbidden City, Underground to Canada, The Root Cellar, Kit Pearson’s books (The Sky Is Falling, A Handful of Time and The Daring Game), The Amelia Bedelia books, Harriet the Spy, The Encyclopedia Brown series, The Cay, Susan Cooper’s books, Le Petit Prince , Where the Wild Things Are and The Alan Garner books. And oh, so many more. There were the Archie comics I passed back and forth with my neighbour, the trashy Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High books I devoured by the bucketful for about a year, then there were the cheesy horror series by Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine that I graduated to by the end of elementary school. Plus all the adult books I read at an inappropriately young age.
And this isn’t even touching on all the books I wish had been around for me to read as a child and young teen – Harry Potter being the most obvious example.
I think what hits me most when I review this list is the wealth of great female role models I managed to find in my books. Everyone from The Paper Bag Princess to Matilda, Sara Crew, Mary Lennox, Anne Shirley, the Walker girls, Nickie and Gail, Trixie Belden, Cassandra Mortmain and, of course, Anne Frank. Each of these girls taught me to be strong and capable, follow my heart with determination, stand out, cause a ruckus, and, most of all, to be brave. I hadn’t realized just how many wonderful girls I grew up with – and how lucky I was. It seems particularly fitting that this post falls so close to International Women’s Day (March 8, in case you missed it)!
So those are my favourite childhood books – what were yours? I’d love some suggestions I can pass on to my friend – or even check out myself! Please share in the comments!
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