Authors' Top Five Reads

Here you'll find the top five children's books as recommended by a range of our favourite authors. It's a unique opportunity to find out the books that inspire some of the best names in contemporary children's literature, as well as a chance to find hidden gems and rediscover some forgotten pleasures.

Emma CarrollPhotograph of Emma Carroll

There are so many amazing kids' books nowadays it's impossible to narrow it down. These are ones I've particularly enjoyed:

For Love of a Horse, by Patricia Leitch
My absolute favourite book as a pony-mad child. It's different from other horse books in that it's not all gymkhanas and rosettes. It's about that special bond between person and animal.

Journey to the River Sea, by Eva Ibbotson
I first read this book only a few months ago. The writing and the setting are absolutely magical.

Witch Child, by Celia Rees
Historical fiction writing at its finest. The main character is feisty and resourceful in the face of huge hardships. I loved the descriptions and details of life as an early American settler.

The Ruby in the Smoke, by Philip Pullman
A brilliant take on Victorian sensation fiction. The details are exquisite. I devoured the whole serreis in days.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
I'm not a great fan of dystopian fiction and was talked into reading this by a student. Suffice to say the opening chapter is one of the best I've ever read. Truly gripping.

Photograph of John RiceJohn Rice

One Hundred and One Favourite Poems: Poets pick their favourite poems, edited by John Foster
As well as being a fine poet, John Foster is one of the UK’s most respected editors of children’s poetry. His vision as an editor is far-reaching and in this collection he invited 101 contemporary poets to choose one of their own poems and explain why it is their favourite. The 101 writers’ highly pertinent comments give the reader a sense of ‘added value’ and, in almost all cases, a straight-forward route to valuing the chosen poems. One of my favourite poems in this collection is Diana Hendry’s poem ‘The Cullen Skink’ which is a tasty Scottish dish although Diana imagined it to be a creature! Gerard Benson’s exceptional poem ‘River Song’ is a modern classic.
 
Michael Rosen’s A to Z: The Best Children’s Poetry from Agard to Zephaniah, edited by Michael Rosen (Penguin, 2009)
This collection really is an insight into the range and quality of poetry being written for children early in the 21st century. Mike Rosen has inspired and encouraged many up-and-coming poets and his knowledge of the children’s poetry scene is encyclopaedic. So you’ll find poems by veteran writers such as Robert Hull, Fred Sedgwick, John Fuller, Berlie Doherty, Adrian Mitchell and Richard Edwards alongside less familiar names such as Jared Louche, Adisa and Curtis Watt. This wide-ranging selection confirms Michael Rosen’s truly unique ability to acknowledge heritage, quality, representation and development within the art form.     
 
The Jumble Book: Poems chosen by Roger Stevens (Macmillan Children’s Books, 2009)
A slim paperback collection of poems published with the intention of supporting Dyslexia Action, ‘The Jumble Book’ proved to be quite a major landmark in children’s poetry. Not only did the book sell in huge quantities, it also heralded a ‘new wave’ of poets who were dedicated to writing accessible, high-quality poems for a child audience. Physically the book was different: it had yellow pages (which dyslexic children find it easier to read) and the unfussy, larger-than-usual, sans-serif typeface was not one that readers would normally associate with poetry. In content the collection featured many well-known poets such as Roger McGough, Michael Rosen, John Agard and Jackie Kay. But what was of particular interest was the inclusion of many new and new-ish writers who were associated with Poets Advance, a group of poets drawn from all over England who occasionally came together to share ideas, learn from each other’s experience and support each other through workshop situations. The appearance of several members of Poets Advance in this anthology gave it a unique sense of togetherness and tenderness…as if the closeness of this group of poets brought a warmth and friendliness to support the Editor’s mission.

The result was that ‘The Jumble Book’ proved to be an outstanding success both in literary terms and in commercial terms – an excellent runner in the 2008 National Year of Reading stakes!   
 
Dark as a Midnight Dream – Poetry Collection 2, compiled by Fiona Waters (Evans Brothers Ltd, 1998)
This collection was the follow-up to Footprints on the Page also compiled by Fiona Waters. Both of these books were hugely influential as they combined enduring poetry with more playful pieces, thereby allowing teachers full reign to ‘entertain’ and to ‘teach’. Fiona Waters is, in my estimation, the most accomplished children’s poetry editor in the UK. Her sense of balance and inclusion, her knowledge of the classics and modern works, as well as her sense of adventure all combined to make Dark as a Midnight Dream one of the most inspiring anthologies of the modern era. Physically the book was an ideal shape (almost square!) for a teacher to have lying on her/his desk so that it would be readily available to read a poem that related to a specific learning topic. For ease of access the poems were listed in themes at the beginning of the book (eg Wind & Storms, People, Food, In Love… etc) with relevant page numbers for quick reference. Poets were also listed with the page numbers of their poems. It was obvious that rather than just jam the book with a variety of poems and hoping for the best, someone had actually thought carefully about who and how this book might be used! And as it was widely used in primary schools (during what used to be called ‘literacy hour’) and just as extensively by secondary school English teachers, the book quickly became a classic as it moved into reprint after reprint.     

Green Grass Beads – A Collection of Poems for Girls, chosen by Jacqueline Wilson (Macmillan Children’s Books, 2011)
When a prose writer is invited to edit a collection of poems there’s always a new energy, a new slant, a new perspective. Jacqueline Wilson’s faultless choice of (mainly contemporary) poems makes this collection stand out as one of the best of the past 10 years.

And yes, the editor has certainly chosen poems with a female readership in mind but the poems she has included appeal to both girls and boys. Take, for example, Wes Magee’s excellent poem ‘The Day After’ which is about a child going to school the day after her/his father has died. Now Magee has always been a poet whose work for children has been honest, adventurous and courageous: this poem does not identify the grieving child as being either female or male…it’s a poem for everyone, girl, boy, woman, man. And most of the poems in this anthology are just the same.

The poems are grouped under themes such Friends, Family, School, Clothes, Women, Love and Children etc., with the strongest section being Love, which contains Robert Louis Stevenson’s rarely-anthologised and beautiful poem ‘Romance’.

So hats off to the prose writer whose awareness of heritage and contemporary poets, together with her unique poetic sensibilities, have created a pearl of an anthology that will remain in print for centuries!

Phorograph of Tracey CorderoyTracey Corderoy

Charlotte's Web by E.B, White
A wonderful story about friendship, delicately balanced with the harsh realities of life. Sometimes it's only through empathy that you learn to consider the bigger picture. Life might change but some things will endure . . .

The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr
Children love it when the ordinary becomes the extraordinary, and it certainly does in this story! A normal teatime becomes an adventure when a tiger - yes a real tiger - not only turns up for tea, but eats and drinks you out of house and home - quite literally!

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Here we are taken on a magical journey where danger lurks within beauty. There’s as much to lose as there is to gain. Trust, friendship, ambition, greed – all bubble to the surface and must be acknowledged, and dealt with. And the end of the story is the beginning of so much more.

You're a Bad Man, Mr Gum! by Andy Stanton, illustrated by David Tazzyman
You simply have to read this to experience its unique flavour! It’s brilliantly bonkers and refreshingly original. A very “different” read!

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson
Heartwarming and reassuring – and all was well in the end. As we all hope it always will be...

Image copyright Tony MittonTony Mitton

I could spend aeons deliberating over this. I don’t think I could nominate 5 top reads as an absolute category. What I can do is to give 5 titles and say why I think they’re great children’s books, why I think they can (and have, in my experience as a parent and a teacher) work well as books for children.

I shall pick:

  • A novelty book
  • A picture book
  • A younger short novel or novelette
  • An older, longer novel or prosework
  • A poetry book

That should make a good all round balance.

Novelty book

A Cheese and Tomato Spider by Nick Sharratt

This is a wonderful example of how a book can be a source of hilarious fun. I used to use this book when I taught primary children with literacy difficulties. For such children books and reading can be a laborious process, even when managed sensitively. I am talking about children with specific literacy difficulties who may not manage print as readily as the majority of children. Nick’s book is built on the tops-and-tails games principle. Each page is split half way so that the top of any page can be paired with the bottom of any other page. So you end up with, for example, a cheese and tomato spider which has a slice of pizza for a top and a grinning hairy spider for a bottom. Other variants are ‘Wow! A deep-sea ice cream’ and ‘ ‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello! A police granny’. The fun principle in this book is so strong that all reading stresses drop away as the captions are simple, memorable, and quickly suppliable by an accompanying adult or another group member if the book is being shared. It’s great for group reading nb.

Picture book

Mr Magnolia by Quentin Blake

I love the spry exuberance of this picture book first published in 1980 by Jonathan Cape Ltd. The author-illustrator plays on repeat rhymes with the word ‘boot’ (there are plenty) and this gives him scope for a wonderfully frivolous romp with imaginative possibilities which give free rein to his swift, expressive drawing which has so much energy and movement in it. For me this book is quintessence of Quentin. It really doesn’t matter (are those publishers out there taking note?) that this book has little or no plot. Well, just the whisper of a momentary narrative at the end, perhaps, if you must. But really it’s a piece of light verse taking the shape of a picture book, which of course someone with Quentin Blake’s brio can bring off. With one of my primary classes I once wrote a sequel called Mrs Magnolia, in which.... “Mrs Magnolia has only one shoe...” as we discovered that ‘shoe’ has as many, if not more, viable rhymes than does ‘boot’! The children loved making that book.

Younger short novel

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown

This book was a joy to read aloud to my primary school class back in the early 80’s. Gosh, I see that it was first published in Great Britain in 1968! But it codes to me as an American text and the Tomi Ungerer policemen in it have distinctly American uniforms. But the story unrolls with a strange blend of surreal weirdness and social and emotional truth. You could read it as a rewrite of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, where, instead of Gregor waking up as a giant cockroach and having to cope with that as a reality, Stanley wakes to find he has been squashed flat by a large bulletin board that has fallen on him in the night. In all other respects he can still function normally. The result is a seamlessly written account of his adventures and eventual restoration to normality. This enables Jeff Brown to tease his characters with a wonderful poe-faced satire on the way people behave and ‘are’. Some of the incidental exchanges are a scream, especially when children are exchanging with adults. If you can get hold of a copy of this book, do. It’s a short, joyous read. Try it. Read it to a child, if you have one handy.

An older, longer novel or prosework

The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

This is memoir/autobiography rather than novel, but to an older child it will carry all of the imaginative reward of a good story, albeit mainly, or based on, fact. This is the first of the three main titles of The Little House on the Prairie series which my daughter, between the ages of 5 and 11, absolutely adored and re-read several times at intervals. I think they became comfort reads for her as they evoked a kind of idyllic family life in the past that she could imagine occupying. To this day (she is now 28!) she calls my wife and me ‘Ma and Pa’ rather than ‘Mum and Dad’. I think our titles changed through the influence of the books. This book gives a vivid account of life in the Big Woods, in a log cabin, with all of the excitements and at times dangers that such a life entails. There is even a close encounter with a large bear at night and a panther that grandpa had to shoot in order to save his horse. This is fine, vivid, clear prose making a pioneer way of life imaginatively available to modern young minds.

A poetry book

This choice is my completely selfish and unashamed personal choice. It’s the Collected Poems for Children by Charles Causley and illustrated in pen and ink by John Lawrence. It was Causley’s lyric poetry for children that mainly persuaded me that to write poetry ‘for children’ could be a worthy and rewarding exercise. It’s possible that some of his work may not sing to today’s child so much, but it has to be acknowledged that his work is like a gathering up of earlier writers of poetry for children. There are echoes of Stevenson, de la Mare, A.A. Milne, Eleanor Farjeon and James Reeves. And, like me, he was many years a primary teacher, so knew children’s ways and minds. Some individual poems are classics, gems, as is ‘My Mother Saw a Dancing Bear’, so poignant in its simplicity. While ‘Colonel Fazackerley’ gives us a witty comic ghost story which winks sideways at us and reminds me of another fine (but now forgotten) poet for children E.V.Rieu whose Sir Smashum Uppe this seems to relate to. Causley’s texts are fine and crafted and bear lovely echoes of folk and country lore and idiom. Perhaps not today’s fare for many, but these things have timeless values which will run quietly on and to which the culture will return from time to time, I suspect.

These may not be the 5 best books ever. I didn’t intend my list in that way. But I do think they are all very good reads, tried and tested by me and some others whose judgements I trust, not least my own children and my pupils of the past.

Posted 24 January 2014

DowswellPaul Dowswell

My top five books for the under 11s

The Compleet Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle
Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle’s hilarious and surreal depiction of life in a seedy English prep school of the late 50s, chimed in with my own experience. I read my copies of these books (published now as an anthology) until they fell to pieces. You don’t have to have gone to one of these places to enjoy these. I know American English Majors and 19 year old anarchists who love them.

Matilda by Roald Dahl
Great book. Great film. Learning to read for pleasure is so important to a child’s development. Dahl’s delicious sense of the absurd, and skill in writing for a readership who have only just learned to read on their own, makes this a bookshop perennial. 

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
I want everyone to remember the horror and sacrifices of the First World War and Morpurgo’s harrowing story, pitched so well for the late primary age group, is still widely read. I’m appalled by Michael Gove’s crude attempts to turn this war into a political issue. 
I adore children’s picture books and sharing them with young children is a sure-fire way to develop their interest in reading. Here are two of my favourites:

Dr de Soto by William Stieg
Stieg invented Shrek (although his book is very different from the wonderful film) but this one is his best. Dr de Soto, a mouse dentist, has to decide whether to treat a fox with terrible toothache. Beautifully observed and very funny.

Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper
Exquisitely told and illustrated by Helen Cooper, this tale has a fascinating complexity surprising for its pre-school readership. I taught an adult education course on writing books like this, and one of my students was a philosophy lecturer. She said this book was a brilliant way to start a debate on friendship, sharing, compromise and responsibility.

Posted 22 January 2014

Cross.jpgGillian Cross

Dogger by Shirley Hughes
A perfect picture book, exciting, funny and moving, with real tension - and a little mystery for the reader to solve.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This is full of memorable images; the house with a hundred rooms; the garden that's been shut up for ten years; the mysterious crying in the night. But what really makes it special is its sallow, bad-tempered herione, Mary Lennox.

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
Impossible to forget David's brush with death at the top of the ruined stairs or his flight through the heather with Alan Breck Stewart - one of my favourite characters in fiction.

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley
The best time-slip book I've ever read. I love its dreamy atmosphere, the way it plays around with history and the realistic bustle of the kitchen where the heroine finds herself. It makes time travel seem almost possible . . .

Tulki by Peter Dickinson
Peter Dickinson is an extraordinary writer and I think this is his best book. It has a feistry, unusual heroine and it's sent in the days when Tibet was a mysterious, closed country and travel was a perilous adventure.

Dowswell.jpgPaul Dowswell

Here are my top five books. A very difficult list to compile! Like a top five list of music it probably changes every week. All these books have the magical quality of ‘taking you there’, creating a world you inhabit while you’re reading.

1984 by George Orwell

One of the recurring themes of my historical fiction is ordinary people living in totalitarian regimes. I’m very grateful I live in a country where I’m allowed to ‘think my own thoughts’, and express them too. Orwell’s disturbing novel captures the horror and absurdity of totalitarian regimes, not least Stalin’s Russia, and their corrosive effect on the human soul.

The Great War in Modern Memory by Paul Fussell

I’ve been fascinated by the Great War since I was a student and this is my favourite book on the subject. Fussell, an American university professor who fought in the Second World War, writes about the plight of the soldiers in the trenches with great empathy.

We need to talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver

On the subject of empathy I was astonished to learn that Lionel Shriver has no children herself. This story about an American couple whose son carries out a high school massacre is my favourite novel of the last 10 years and recreates the world of parenting with an acute understanding.

Hells Angels, Hunter S Thompson

Thompson had a unique and wry turn of phrase. I wouldn’t have liked to live next door to him but he makes me laugh out loud. His 1966 study of ‘the motorcycle menace’ – ‘They shoot the hillcrest like a burst of dirty thunder, shoulder length hair streaming from Cro-magnon faces…’ influence a whole generation of writers and conjures the pre-Hippy world of Southern California with great gusto.

The Dark Stuff by Nick Kent

I love all kinds of music and music journalists were my teen heroes, just as much as the rock stars who also caught my attention. Nick Kent, an obvious Hunter S. Thompson disciple, writes about the more ‘interesting’ characters from the golden age of rock, like no other.

Photograph of Pat RyanPat Ryan

Top Five Books for Younger Children

Willy the Wizard by Anthony Brown

Billy the Punk by Jessica Carroll and Craig Smith

What Do You Say Dear? by Sesyle Joslin and Maurice Sendak

The Day the Crayons Quit by Oliver Jeffers

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag

I love all of Anthony Brown’s books but Willy the Wizard is a favourite of many of the coaches and football players I trained on the Kick into Reading project.

Billy the Punk is an Australian picture book I picked up when working there in 1996 and I love it—I can’t imagine why UK publishers do not distribute it. It’s fun to do this book in story times in schools, and to let the children know that their teachers and parents (and these days grandparents) may have dressed like Punks and pogo danced (the teachers and parents who are good sports proudly admit it, and I think get pictures out to prove it—the children love it!).

What Do You Say Dear? was the first book I picked out from the library and read for myself when I was 5 or 6—or it might have been one of Sendak’s Little Bear books, but I’m pretty sure it was this one and it still makes me laugh.

Speaking of laughing, I love Oliver Jeffers’ books, The Incredible Book Eating Boy was very popular with Kick into Reading coaches and players, but his latest one is the funniest book he’s made yet, I think. He has a real Belfast sense of humour and way of looking at things, which I enjoy.

Millions of Cats is another book I remember from early childhood, which I loved and Wanda Gag led me into book-based folklore. She illustrated some very popular editions of Grimm’s’ Fairy Tales, which I found fascinating as they were so similar to traditional Irish stories I heard from my great-aunts, grandmother, and grandmother’s cousins. She definitely hooked me into the 398.2 section from a very early age, which led to decades now of reading folklore collections, folklore histories, and folklore theory which all contributes to my storytelling, writing and academic work.

Top Five Books for Older Children

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Keeper by Mal Peet

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

Two Thousand Leagues Under the Sea or pretty much any other books by Jules Verne

My year 7 teacher, Sister Lois, read aloud A Wrinkle in Time to us, reading a bit each day. It’s such a beautiful and strange story, and she read it so well, that I still go back and re-read it every year. It introduced science fiction, and teenage reality fiction to me when I was 12-13 years old. This book of L’Engle's is science fiction, but prior to that she wrote realistic fiction so Sister Lois and Madeleine L’Engle made me interested in both genres. I don’t care much for adult science fiction now, but I read a lot in my teens, and what I do enjoy now is well-written fantasy and science fiction for children and young adults.

Walk Two Moons is a story by a teacher I used to work with, and her husband was my headteacher, and it was wonderful to know them and then read this wonderful book. I love all of Sharon’s work, she writes well for all ages. I never, ever liked any of J.R.R. Tolkien but I did like C S Lewis, and E Nesbit, and many other British writers of fantasy for children and young people when I was young.

And I’d met Philip Pullman a few times at book conferences and liked him and what he had to say about storytelling and books and reading. So I’d read some of his earlier books, but really was knocked out by his Dark Materials Trilogy and it’s a wonderful representation of the best of classic British fantasy writing for children. Like A Wrinkle in Time, it’s so full of ideas and emotions that I enjoy going back to reread it.

And thinking back, I also remember reading tons of Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea being the first of his I read—but I read it many times, as I did Journey to the Centre of the Earth and From the Earth to the Moon.

And Mal Peet is just about my favourite writer at the moment. When doing the Kick into Reading project, Leeds United FC people gave me an advance copy of Keeper that they’d been ask to read and review. I couldn’t put it down, and it’s led me to read every single book Mal Peet has written. They are all amazing non-stop reads!

Top Five Books for Storytelling

Hibernian Nights by Seumas MacManus

The Great Fairy Tale Tradition from Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, and The Gold Age of Folk and Fairy Tales, from the Brothers Grimm to Andrew Lang, both by Jack Zipes—really one collection in 2 volumes, so cheating a bit

The Ocean of Story by Caroline Ness

The Grammar of Fantasy by Gianni Rodari

English Fairy Tales and More English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs

The MacManus and Jacobs books are favourites from childhood. My great-aunts, who told me so many stories, which were among the first stories I ever re-told, were acquainted with Seumus MacManus. Some of my family came from Donegal, where he was from, and he kept contact when the family moved to Chicago. I often was confused to find my great-aunts stories in his books—or Macmanus’s stories in my great-aunts repertoire. I don’t know to this day if he got them from my family or my family got the stories from him, or both.

Joseph Jacob’s books I liked much better than Andrew Lang’s for some reason (and I still do), but his English Fairy Tales started my interest in England so in a way they brought me to the place I’ve called home for more than 30 years.

Jack Zipes is a very good friend, and a very good teacher, and his books have done much to influence my storytelling. His collections are a good basis in the classics for any one wishing to tell stories, or write stories, or critique literature.

Caroline Ness’s book introduced to me many of the connections between European and Asian traditions of storytelling, which I knew existed from the stories told by friends who had family connections to India, Pakistan, and the Middle East.

And Gianni Rodari’s book is a wonderful inspiration for any teacher who wants to tell stories, teach storytelling, and teach creative writing. Vivian Gussin Paley’s books on storytelling are fantastic too, and she was a teacher who worked at the same school where I trained and she taught me much...but she wrote her books after I’d started storytelling full time, so although they’re great, and although observing her teach when I was a student teacher influenced me in profound ways, I can’t say the books influenced me as much as these 5 have. And I must admit I was tempted to put up Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, as he was a teacher of mine, too, and it is a thought-provoking book, but one I don’t entirely agree with and never did.

Posted 16 January 2014

Lewis.jpgGill Lewis

The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it was None of His Business by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch

Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Di Camillo

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

Posted 15 January 2014

Bowler.jpgTim Bowler

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain by Edward Ardizzone

Posted 14 January 2014

Bradford.jpgChris Bradford

Here are my top 5 action reads.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone
The classic action-adventure where YOU are the hero. This series formed the lifeblood of my reading as a youth.

Tarzan - The Greystoke Legacy by Andy Briggs
A reboot of the iconic jungle hero, befriended by a teenage Jane who proves just as brave and resourceful as her 'savage' friend. A lion's roar of a read.

Artemis Fowl by Eion Colfer
If you like your action mixed with humour, then this anti-hero is for you. Gun-toting fairies, farting dwarfs and a butler for a bodyguard - what's not to love!

The Squad: White Fear by Tom Palmer
Football, terrorists and teenage spies in the deadly and frozen Arctic - a winning combination for any boy reader.

The Enemy by Charlie Higson
A blood-spattered, gore-filled zombie fest about kids fighting off flesh-eating adults. Scary, moving and full of thrills, it's everything you want in an action novel. Not for the faint-hearted!

Chris Bradford's bulletproof new series continues with Bodyguard: Ransom out in paperback on May 1 (£6.99, Puffin)

Posted 13 January 2014

Palmer.jpgTom Palmer

Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Jonny by Jonny Wilkinson

Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

Keeper by Mal Peet

Posted 10 January 2014

Sedgwick.jpgMarcus Sedgwick

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
I think this is one of those books that people underestimate, either because they've forgotten they've read it, or never have. Maybe there's too much Disney in people's memories of it. The original book is powerful, dark, compelling and sinister and I love it.

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
I could just as easily have listed Where the Wild Things Are, but Sendak is on great form in Night Kitchen too - this is a picture book that probably breaks any kind of rule someone might stipulate for what a picture book for young children should be, but one which just proves that very often rules deserve to be ignored. Surreal and anarchic and a lot of fun.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
This is probably the book that, eventually, made me a writer. It's such a wonderful fantasy, cleverly told and full of creeping terror. A true modern classic.

The Changes by Peter Dickinson
The same can be said of this trilogy by another wonderfully imaginative writer. As I read this book I remember thinking, strange, strange, strange, and I have always loved a book that makes you feel that way.

Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
This is on the borderline for a children's book, but if Tolkien is read by young adults, then there's no reason why Peake shouldn't be either. Certainly, I read this aged 14 and it was perfect - dark, epic, very strange (again!) and loaded with masterful characterisation. A forgotten gem.

Posted 9 January 2014

Photograph of Alexis DeaconAlexis Deacon

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, William Steig
This story is pretty much the gold standard as far as I am concerned.  All of William Steig's work is fantastic but this is particularly great.  I don't want to spoil it by analysing what makes it so good.  Suffice to say it is the only time you're likely to be moved to tears by a rock.

Would You Rather..., John Burningham
I agonised over the choices in this book for days on end when I was a child.  I think this is such a good idea for a story that it should be an entire genre of picture books and not just one.

Green Eggs and Ham by Doctor Seuss
I have always loved weird food so I was fascinated by this.  I still to this day want to try Green Eggs and Ham.

Dinner at Alberta's by Russell Hoban, illustrated by James Marshall
What is family life like if you are a sullen crocodile with poor table manners?  This book will tell you.

The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun by Hergé
One of the greatest adventure stories ever drawn!  The mummy, Rascar Capac, scared me silly when I was small but that just made me want to read more!

Posted 8 January 2014

Photograph of Mick ManningMick Manning

For Younger Children

Flea Bag, Helen Stephens
Noggin and the Ice Dragon, Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin
The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My, Tove Jansson
Dolphin Baby, Nicola Davies and Brita Granström (non-fiction)
Peepo, Janet and Allan Ahlberg

For Older Children

The Kin, Peter Dickinson
Watching Wildlife, David Stephen (non-fiction, out of print)
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
Tarka the Otter, Henry Williamson
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

Marcia WilliamsMarcia Williams

I have been putting this choice off for weeks.  I think because every year another favourite is published and I find it impossible to leave the old friend behind.  So, finally, instead of giving the project up, I have decided to choose the five which I loved as a young child and which still hold their value for me.  Not all of these are still in print, but they are all still to be found.

The Pirate Twins, William Nicholson.
Nicholson both wrote and illustrated this book, which was first published in 1929.  It is a delight and the pacing is perfect. I think that Maurice Sendak might have known this book. It reminds me of his wonderful “Where the Wild things Are.”

Frou the Hare
This is from Père Castor’s wild animal series.  Each book is a delight: beautifully illustrated with lithographs and charming, merry tales about the animals.  They may be one of the first series that are nature study books within the context of a story.

Hans Anderson’s Fairy Tales
I had an edition of this with black and white illustrations.  I am not sure which frightened me more the stories or those pictures.  I don’t know who the artist, but they seemed so sinister and took me right into the depths of the deep, dark wood. Definitely the stuff of nightmares - yet I wish I still had a copy!

The Merry Minstrel (poetry anthology), Haydn Perry, Gilbert Dunlop & Mary Kendal Lee
I used to try to learn a poem a week from it - but although I still love the book - I can’t remember the poems!

Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter  
I think the lasting appeal of this book lies in the unfairness of it all.  Poor Peter, who was so adventurous and brave, had this terrible adventure with the terrifying Mr McGregor only to be put to bed with nothing but a dose of chamomile tea: ‘But Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail had bread milk and blackberries for supper.’

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