World Book Day – which books influenced you as a child?

I love books. I am a book person through and through and I’m not afraid to admit it, even if it does banish me from the cool kids’ gang. I love buying them, I love stroking them, smelling them and of course arranging them on their shelves. Sometimes in colour order, sometimes alphabetically, depending on my frame of mind. And it may be wrong, but I always judge a book by its cover.

I am however rather flighty, and after too much internet and not enough concentrating on Serious Things, I have noticed myself losing the ability to focus on a book for any length of time. That old friend Parental Guilt could also be to blame. As a child, I could lose myself in a book for hours, unaware of the passing of time. Now other things seem to intrude, and it is much harder to switch off, to silence that nagging voice in my head saying unhelpful things like ‘those dishes are not going to do themselves you know.’

In 2008, ashamed of the piles of barely read books by my bed, I set myself the challenge of reading 100 books in the year. All the way through. Right to the end. I managed 104. I completely lost touch with current affairs though…

Although I love buying books, I do try and limit myself. I love the look of floor to ceiling bookcases, and do cut out pictures of libraries and studies from magazines to stick on the wall, but I’ve found I have a tipping point with books. Not enough and I feel lost, too many and I start to panic – I calculate how many books I can reasonably read in the rest of my life and it doesn’t seem enough, there isn’t enough time, there is too much to be done. When I have too many piles of books they seem to taunt me every time I walk past. ‘You’ll never have time to read us you know,’ they whisper mockingly, ‘you’ll die before you can read 1% of us.’

I love to see my children reading, because I know how amazing it feels as a child to be consumed by a fantastic book. When I was younger I loved all the usual suspects – Secret Seven, Famous Five – proper escapism. As an adult, I still enjoy reading children’s books and have a particular fondness for the titian-haired girl detective Nancy Drew. Despite coming of age in the 1930s, Nancy is a role model for adventurous young girls everywhere. She is independent, fearless and never attempts to solve a mystery without a matching hat and gloves. If I find myself in a difficult or scary situation I often think to myself ‘what would Nancy do?’.

As well a Nancy Drew mysteries, I have some old favourites from my childhood that I will reread now for comfort – Winnie the Pooh and Adrian Mole in particular are guaranteed to sooth an overactive brain after a hard day – and I want to encourage my children to read not just for pleasure, but also as a useful coping strategy. When times are tough, a good book is a powerful weapon. Books can comfort us, inspire us, or simply provide us with the opportunity to escape from real life into a simpler world, a world of adventure, endless blue skies and lashing of ginger beer.

So I’m interested to know which books you enjoyed reading as a child. Are there any that have stayed with you, old favourites you turn to when you want to be whisked back, albeit temporarily, to a different time or place? And how do you find the time now to read with so many other aspects of life clamouring for your attention?

Amazing photo that I’m so jealous of: chotda



  1. Rin
    4 March, 2010 / 2:30 pm

    Oh my gosh, you are me! LOVED Famous Five (as you’ve already discovered) and Secret Seven, and I desperately wanted to be Nancy Drew. Did you ever read the Adventures books with Kiki the parrot too? I particularly loved The River of Adventure.

    Other favourites included the Baby Sitters Club books (I used to try and emulate Claudia’s funky dress sense) and Sweet Valley High, but also less trashy books like Roald Dahl (I’d still happily read George’s Marvellous Medicine, Danny Champion of the World, The Fantastic Mr Fox and The Witches) and Tolkein.

    Ah happy days…

    • 5 March, 2010 / 6:48 am

      I still DO want to be Nancy Drew! I love Roald Dahl too and am so pleased that now Belle reads them all too. I never read any with Kiki the parrot though, but now I want to!

  2. 4 March, 2010 / 2:47 pm

    Great post. So much after my own heart. With me, as a kid, it was books and records – now cd’s sadly, which aren’t as much fun.

    How shall we arrange them: by author, genre, colour, date of purchase? I sound a bit like Nick Hornby.

    I used to love the Famous Five and the Hardy Boys. Then got into sci-fi and fantasy and even now go back to Tolkein, Wyndham, Sheckley, Vonnegut, Asimov, Heinlein, etc. Memorable was Door Into Summer by Heinlein and The Unpleasant profession of Jonathan Hoag, by Sheckley as well as The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, of course.

    Something that happened to me late 70’s/early 80’s was the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Awesome. I say happened, because the books and tv series (missed it on radio and the recent film can’t compare) have always stayed with me. I still quote from them now and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the books and they still make me laugh. Douglas Adams imagination and warmth are alive in those books.

    Teens were also about discovery and developing ideas. Books and plays that rocked my world at this time include Catcher in the Rye (naturally), Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, The Crucible, Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf, World According to Garp, Streetcar Named Desire and, eventually, the master himself, Shakespear.

    Now I read lots of different stuff: historic, economic, business, political, various fiction and still fantasy and sci-fi and lots more Vonnegut, who doesn’t fall into any category. Harry Potter recently has kept me entertained.

    And yet, like music, I rarely get that same intensive sense of awakening and heart-thumping discovery as I did when I was younger. Occasionally new discoveries make me sing, dance or cry (sometimes all three).

    But I still have to listen to/read that old literature and music to remind me of my youth. Those feelings of excitement, pain, joy, ideas and meaning dizzying your head, the innocence, the idealism, the strange intensity tat hormones bring to your life. Sometimes, I miss them. So, every now and again, I let a book take me back there.

    • 5 March, 2010 / 6:53 am

      Ooh I love Nick Hornby! It is a dilemma though. At the moment I have fiction in one room in ABC and non-fiction in another by category…

      I read Hitchhickers Guide a few years ago with high hopes, but it didn’t really do it for me. I think I expect too much from books sometimes. Like Catcher in the Rye – so many people had told me how amazing it was that when I finally read it it could never live up to its reputation and it just seemed mediocre to me.

    • 5 March, 2010 / 6:54 am

      P.S. LOVE the Hardy Boys though, especially when they have adventures with Nancy…

  3. 4 March, 2010 / 3:01 pm

    As a child, I always had my head in a book. Nothing’s changed really. I read a lot of Noel Streatfield, Nina Bawden, The Narnia books, E Nesbit. Ones that I return to, even now, are The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, The Borrowers.

    Of course now time is squeezed but I usually have something on the go. Lorrie Moore is a fave, Julie Myerson (although less so lately), Rachel Cusk, Zadie Smith, Ali Smith (big time), Ian McEwan…. I could go on and on. It was such a joy to me when my son, age 10, began to get really absorbed by readinga nd I hope my daughter age 2 will be the same. And I’ve kept all my books for them!

    • 5 March, 2010 / 6:55 am

      Of course – how could I have not mentioned the Narnia books? Every few years I like to read them all through, they are amazing! Anne of Green Gables has a special place in my heart too, as I must have read it when I was just starting out with reading. I can remember sitting with it and concentrating so hard, then going to find my mum to tell her I had read three whole pages :-)

  4. 4 March, 2010 / 3:37 pm

    Growing up, I hated to read, so mine would be a short list. However, now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for boys, that I would have enjoyed reading as a child.

    Books For Boys Blog (# 1 on Google)

    • 5 March, 2010 / 6:56 am

      Well that’s one way round it! Can’t find a book you like? Write it yourself :-)

  5. 4 March, 2010 / 5:21 pm

    I read a lot as kid, Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Sweet Valley High, The Worst Witch, oh and I loved Carrie’s War. I was put off though in secondary school, i hated that a book couldnt jst be taken at face value but had to be picked apart and essays written about why the author wrote in that way. So I didn’t read for years after, in fact I have only really in the last year begun to read again – in fact I blogged about it recently!!! I am now completely hooked on vampire fiction!!!

    • 5 March, 2010 / 6:57 am

      I think the whole ‘set book’ thing at secondary school does put people off if it’s not taught well, as reading becomes a chore. Nothing is fun when it’s homework is it? Glad you’ve got back into it though, plenty to catch up on now!

  6. 4 March, 2010 / 9:27 pm

    Enid Blyton’s “Mallory Towers” series, Judy Blume, Agatha Christie and my all time love ‘The Great Gatsby’. I never get/make time to read anymore and it’s not good enough. But what can you do? If I read more books I write less, or speak less to the boy, or see less of friends, or sleep less. Must try harder.

    • 5 March, 2010 / 7:00 am

      Judy Blume! Ahhh – that takes me back. I really tried to get my teen to like Judy Blume but it never seemed to strike a chord with her. I suspect she was too confident already at that age :-)

    • 5 March, 2010 / 7:03 am

      Great minds clearly think alike! Great post – I love the sound of your Grandmother and all her ‘damaged stock’. My Gran was a teacher and she always had a spare room full of old exercise books, squared paper and maths equipment, which was complete heaven to me, as I was also a bit of a fan of stationary as a child.

  7. 5 March, 2010 / 1:35 pm

    The book that totally woke me up to reading as a child was Jennie by Paul Gallico (who, weirdly wrote The Poseidon Adventure…). About a boy who turns into a cat.

    Then, when I was older, Pet Cemetery by Stephen King. I know, I know – but the dude can write. He made me want to write more than anything else.

    Recently, the best thing that I have read is One Day by David Nicholls. Un-put-down-able. Men, women, kids, dogs, fish – everyone loves this book. Like Brothers & Sisters set in North London.

    • 7 March, 2010 / 2:30 pm

      Ooh yeah – Stephen King! I loved a bit of Stephen King as a teenager, and James Herbert. I really loved a book about a man who turns into a dog – ‘Fluke’ I think it was called?

      • 8 March, 2010 / 9:29 pm

        Ah, James Herbert. I always pictured be some chiseled Marlboro man; all square jawed and…stuff. He would also make me blush with his unnecessary and overlong sex scenes. So, he was a ladies man as well, I surmised. Imagine my reaction when he looks like the kind of bloke you see emerging from Forbidden Planet.

        Gave me hope, it did.

  8. 6 March, 2010 / 10:24 pm

    I always judge a book by its cover too! …and it hasn’t let me down yet! x

  9. 7 March, 2010 / 7:32 pm

    Books are such a delight. I grew up loving Tuesdays, because that was the day that the Book Moblie came to the mall in Ames Iowa. It was a library on wheels and they had ALL the Hardy Boys books. I have more books than book shelves, and they are all loved, even the ones in boxes, who are patiently waiting for the day they get their own shelves.

    Harry Potter was a delight. Douglas Adams still gets pulled out for a read, now and again. Fahrenheit 452, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Call of the Wild, are all books everyone has read, but I just got to them last year, at age 42. Somehow I missed them in my youth and reading them now, makes it clear why these are still published and purchased today.

    The latest book I have finished is by Hugh Laurie, ‘The Gun Seller’, and it was a delight. I don’t know if he will ever write another mystery, but I hope so. Perhaps after he gets done being ‘House’.

    I love your blog. You always entertain. Thanks.

  10. 20 March, 2010 / 3:46 am

    Did anybody else read the “Cherry Ames, Student Nurse” books? I loved those!

    By the way, I should tell you that I saw “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole” when I was in London in 1984 … laughed myself silly!

    • 20 March, 2010 / 8:12 am

      No I haven’t read those. I’m very jealous about Adrian Mole though! I saw it performed a few years ago by a local school drama class and it was absolutely dire!

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