Everybody has memories of those books that shaped them as a reader. When I was younger, let’s just say that I read a fair few books (slight understatement). These are a just a small selection of some of those that stand out even 15 or so years later. They are books that introduced me to something new, books that I read and reread compulsively, books that made me understand what reading could be. I still remember the way I felt as I was reading them, perhaps more so than the stories themselves. Some of them are quite old, but they are all well worth seeking out. Happy reading!
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
I’ll just get the obvious one out of the way before moving onto anything else! Yes, the Harry Potter series was (still is) a set of books that made me understand the power of printed words on a page. I was as obsessed as everyone else my age, suffering the regular torture of waiting for the next instalment to be out. I have chosen The Goblet of Fire in particular because I will literally never forget the day I read it. I picked up this book in the morning and I did not stop (that is to say, I stopped only reluctantly and for a few minutes at a time when my Mum forced me to sit down to eat) until I had finished it late at night. It was a book that had the incredible ability to stop time, to make everything disappear except me, the turning pages and the world captured within them.
- North Child by Edith Pattou
This was one of my absolute favourites EVER. Do I even need to say that I reread it a ridiculous amount of times? Rose is born facing North and, according to tradition, this means that she will be a wanderer and journey far from home. Indeed, her journey first takes her on the back of a polar bear to a huge castle, and then on to the barren, icy lands ruled over by the beautiful Troll Queen in an attempt to recover what she has lost.
When I was a child, I was fascinated by myths and legends – a book of Greek myths was one of the most thumbed through books I owned. This book was based on traditional Scandinavian folklore, and its origins were evident in the lyrical beauty of the writing and the cast of magical characters. It had everything: mystery, discovery, beauty and betrayal, all set in a stunningly portrayed, snow-covered landscape where anything seemed possible and everything was believable.
- Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism by Georgia Byng
Molly Moon grows up in a grim orphanage under the iron rule of Miss Adderstone, until she finds a book in the local library that teaches her the art of hypnotism. Using her new-found gift, she’s catapulted to fame, fortune and stardom in New York. But a villain wants to use her powers for his own ends.
Seriously, there are three books in this series and I’ve lost count of the amount of times I read them. Something about them just absolutely gripped me. As well as being drawn in by the glitz and glamour of New York, I think I just adored the idea of a child calling the shots and telling the grown-ups what to do, especially when it made them look silly. The writing style was right up my street, a blend of real humour (I spent a lot of time giggling if I remember rightly) and a fast-paced, increasingly tense plot. I have truly fond memories of these books.
- The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson
Another one that I reread an embarrassing number of times. It tells the story of Annika, a foundling child taken in by a professor and raised in the kitchens and back rooms of his house by the servants. She dreams of her mother one day coming to claim her – will her dream come true?
What really stood out for me when I read this was its wealth of historical detail. It vividly evoked early 20th century Viennese society, and Austria was a country I’d never read about in books before. I relished learning about the world-famous Lipizzaner stallions, the background of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and life behind the scenes as a servant. This was a book that sparked my love of historical fiction. The plot is also excellent, full of mystery and intrigue, with wonderful characters and an exciting and satisfying ending.
- Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian
Set in the Second World War, the book is about a little boy, William, who is evacuated to the countryside. Tom, an old and seemingly rather unpleasant man, is forced to take him in. Initially resentful of William’s presence, Tom soon realises that William has been seriously abused by his mother. Under his care, William flourishes and Tom feels himself beginning to heal from his own past tragedy. But when William has to go back to London, the fragile peace is shattered.
This book. My goodness. It just made me feel all of the feels. I laughed, I cried, I smiled, I cried some more. I remember sitting reading this and feeling the weight of the emotions deep in my chest. I think it was one of the first novels I had read that dealt with such serious issues – death, grief, war and abuse – and I was absolutely transfixed by it. The growing trust and love between Tom and William, the way that they began to heal one another of their deep emotional and psychological scars, was achingly beautiful. I recommend this with almost boring regularity at work, but it’s something I think all children (and adults) should read.
- Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
The story follows a dragon called Firebrand who goes in search of an ancient, forgotten city where his ancestors used to live to save his family from being discovered and destroyed by humans. On the way, he meets a young human boy and they venture out together to find the city, not knowing that they are being followed by an evil being who wants to destroy the dragons himself.
One of my first forays into fantasy, I will always remember the sense of discovery that this book gave me, of something clicking into place. As an adult, fantasy is one of my favourite genres to read and Dragon Rider is special to me for being one of the first books to have sparked that. It was the first time I had even heard of some of the magical creatures that appeared in the book – djinns, basilisks, brownies, dwarves, dragons and more all feature in the adventure.