This April we decided to take a trip down memory lane, inspired by book about '100 Essential Children's Books' which started some gorgeous conversations about our childhood reading memories. What books we loved, where we read, our trips to the library and the school book fair.
Whether you loved to be absorbed in a magical wonderland with The Dragon Rider, take on adventures with The Famous Five, have tea with an infamous tiger or snuggle up Where the Wild Things are, I think we can all agree that our favourite childhood books will have a place in our hearts forever…
With no surprise we discovered the team at Willoughby shared a love for childhood favourites, with a number of mutual top picks such as Little Women, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and Jacqueline Wilson all being firm favourites!
If we are lucky enough to grow up surrounded by books it's easy to forget that not all children are as lucky. Children's reading and literacy are suffering in our country and around the world, which is why it's so important to us to donate a book for each and every subscription that is purchased from The Willoughby Book Club to Book Aid International. Your generosity in choosing us helps us to help others into a lifelong love of books.
What are your childhood reading memories? What were your favourite titles?
I was lucky enough to be born into a home filled with books, and encouraged to read from earlier than I can remember, with regular trips to the local library. I was given free reign with reading, left to roam unsupervised in worlds of magic, wonder and adventure.
When I was quite young I particularly loved a collection of Ladybird Classics that were kept at my grandparents house, and still find myself thinking of the illustrations even now. How did the pancake keep rolling? What would it be like if the magic porridge pot never stopped making porridge? Has it informed my ambivalence to porridge in my adult life? How did Cinderella dance on glass slippers without lacerating her feet? I recently read a fantastic newsletter from author Tom Cox about how the illustrations in the old Ladybird Classics may have informed a generation of lovers of folk horror, and I feel that he was talking directly to me.
Of course the Ladybird books were just one part of my reading memories. I loved listening to Rudyard Kipling stories read by my grandad. I devoured fairy stories, and have built a good working knowledge of how to foil attacks by piseogs and outrun witches. I pored over the DK book of Ghosts, and I longed to come across a kitten that needed a home like Gobbolino the Witches Cat.
I also remember falling off the wall outside the library and scraping my knee, and being looked after by the librarian who would become my first boss when I became a library assistant at 16.
If books and reading are couched in memories of love and nurturing, you'll surely create lifelong readers.
When I was around eight years old, I won a copy of Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom. I won by answering the question: ‘What would you take with you to a desert island?’. My answers: A machete and my Harry Potter collection.
It was the first Morpurgo that I had read and I was completely taken with the story. A young boy, Michael, has his life completely altered when his parents decide to up sticks and sail the family and their loyal sheepdog, Stella Artois, around the world. One day, however, Michael is left stranded on a remote Pacific Island after a storm throws him and Stella from the yacht. As a child, I was fascinated with potential solo adventure, so Michael’s plight was utterly gripping. What would I take with me? How would I cope? Most importantly, what would I eat? After some time, Michael realises that he is not the only person on the desert island. Kensuke, an old, mysterious Japanese man also resides there and soon, a friendship flourishes between them, as each discover the importance of hope and friendship. This a book of personal struggle, adventure, found family, and empathy. I’ll always remember how Morpurgo was able to conjure such a vivid and magical story. He manages to discuss truly profound issues, whilst never talking down to his young readers and I will always recommend this one, for its timelessness and its heart.
Reading has always been a part of my life. Some of my most vivid memories involve books in some way. I can remember the picture book box at my local library, relishing the funny, original stories I found inside, such as Funnybones, Not Now, Bernard and Five Minutes Peace. When I could read myself, I was a magpie, picking up books like The Worst Witch, The Princess Diaries, Artemis Fowl, and Milkweed. The day of the school book fair was my highlight of the year!
The English Roses by Madonna (which sits lovingly in a box under my bed) was a firm favourite in my household growing up. I fell in love with everything, from the funky illustrations to the girls me and my sister wished we could be friends with.
As grew older I fell in love with all things Jacqueline Wilson and Cathy Cassidy, Cathy’s Chocolate Box Girls took over my life… starting with Cherry Crush I followed the sisters in their 6-book series as they found their way through life, each with their own story, problems and love interests. The way Cassidy could weave real social issues such as anorexia, into her fictious world of teen romance has influenced my choice in fiction to this day.
Growing up, I learnt to love books and reading through school book fairs and many, many trips to the library every week! I remember being read to before bed most nights with books I could definitely not read at the time, but still enjoyed listening to. As I was soon able to read by myself, you could find me with a book anywhere and everywhere.
Thinking back, I loved reading anything by Jacqueline Wilson and still would! She knows exactly how to speak to a younger audience without speaking down to them. I loved them for how real and relatable the characters were. Some of my favourites include The Lottie Project, Midnight and we can’t forget The Story of Tracy Beaker.
Another favourite growing up was the Mr Majeika book series by Humphrey Carpenter, all about a wizard turned schoolteacher. They were a lot of fun and were passed around the class when we got them in the school library.
And I can’t forget The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. We used to have an old illustrated edition of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe that I would flick through very often and for my 11th birthday, my parents gave me the whole boxset of books! I still have these books and like to re-read them every now and then. My absolute favourite of the series is The Voyage of The Dawn Treader, it’s just so magical and a really fun adventure.
I wasn’t a natural born reader, and it took me quite a while to find my place with reading. Though I do have lots of fond memories of my primary school teachers reading aloud to us all the quintessential Irish children’s books like Under the Hawthorn Tree and Run with the Wind. I can confidently say that those books have stuck with me for life. My first real endeavours into reading by myself were the Horrible Histories and Horrid Henry books (well… mostly looking and the pictures and comics) and I remember absolutely devouring them in the school library.
When I truly started my reading journey, I took the lead from my brothers and some of my favourite childhood books were ones they recommended to me (or ones that I just nicked from their shelves). Because of that I fell in love with so many books and genres. I really struggle now to narrow it down but ultimately, I think my favourite childhood books can be summed up in three series that I still absolutely adore and learned so much from. For me, they really cemented my love of reading.
And those are -
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.
It follows the narrator, Lemony Snicket as he tells us the tales of the Baudelaire orphans and the seemly never-ending tragic events the befall them. I love the dark humour throughout the books and seeing Violet, Klaus and Sonny overcome each and every obstacle, uncovering the mysteries that surround them but never truly figuring them all out. This leaves a bit of an open ending that has you asking far more questions than it answers.
The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls.
These books were given to me by mum who have grown up watching the show. It’s about Laura Ingalls growing up in the 1800’s and though we may have grown up over a hundred years apart its remarkable easy to relate to Laura and all her childhood stories and mischief.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan.
Though Rick Riordan has gone onto write so many sequels and diverging tales, the original series will always be my favourite. I loved how funny Percy could be and I always wanted to jump straight into the books and experience the epic tales and adventures he went out. I remember swapping these books with my friends and eagerly awaiting each release.