I used to be a children’s librarian (way back) and I’ve always retained my love of books for all age groups. Many of these are from my own childhood, some from before I was born and a few from more recent times, but all of them stand out as personal favourites.
Monica Edwards: No Going Back
I loved all of Monica Edwards’ Romney Marsh stories when I was a kid. They are very gentle and of their time (written in the 1940s/50s/60s, though remaining in print and ‘current’ for many years.) Ponies, boats, adventures, a cast of interesting characters. The children are central, of coursem but the adults aren’t conveniently shuffled off in unlikely fashion so the kids can have adventures. Choosing a favourite is difficult because there are so many good ones. (Special mention to Storm Ahead based on the Mary Stanford of Rye lifeboat disaster which Monica Edwards experienced as a child waiting on the shore.) No Going Back is the one where the four protagonists are beginning to grow up and a special relationship develops between Tamzin and Meryon. Well, about time, too. Sadly these books are all long out of print, but you can pick some of them up from used bookstores at wildly varying prices.
K. M. Peyton: Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer
Patrick Pennington (known as Penn) is the school’s bad boy, out of control, self destructive, and heading for disaster, but he’s also a musical prodigy – a pianist with huge potential. This book has dated a little, especially the details of Penn’s secondary school (1970s) and the power the teachers had to make a student’s life miserable, but read it as a historical novel. The characterisation is excellent. Penn, despite being everything you should hate, is actually a sympathetic character because, despite all, he has a good heart. This is the first in a series.
J.K.Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
What can I say? The Potter phenomenon was well underway before I was tempted to read the first one and I was hooked. I didn’t enjoy them all equally (Harry was a bit of a brat in Order of the Phoenix, and the final book suffered from the endless camping trip) but I liked them sufficiently to grab the later ones as soon as they were published.
C. S. Lewis: The Horse and His Boy
At the time when I was reading my way through every pony book in the children’s library I stumbled across this. It’s always been my favourite Narnia book. It was my gateway from pony books to fantasy. Lucy had to climb through the wardrobe to get into Narnia, but all I had to do was to open this book.
Alan Garner: Weirdstone of Brisingamen / The Moon of Gomrath
Breathless fiction that sucked me straight in. Visceral writing. A great sense of place. The scene in the tunnels with the backpack gave me nightmares (and still does). My all-time favourite Garner books. Should both be read consecutively.
Rosemary Sutcliff: Eagle of the Ninth
I’ve always enjoyed Rosemary Sutcliff’s writing, but this tale of the Romans in Britain and what might have happened to the lost Ninth Legion which marched north from York, never to be seen again, is fascinating. I recall that the BBC children’s adaptation for television was much better than the recent Hollywood movie ‘Eagle’. Just read the book, it’s better than any screen version!
Marguerite Henry: King of the Wind
A Newberry Medal winner. The fictionalised story of how the Godolphin Arabian (one of the three ‘fathers’ of the English Thoroughbred) came to Britain, told through the viewpoint of Agba, the horse’s mute handler. Whether Agba existed or not, the Godolphin Arabian is real. I adored this book as a child.
Diana Wynne Jones: Dogsbody
The first Diana Wynne Jones book I ever came across. I became a fan of hers immediately and remain one to this day. When Sirius, the Dog Star, makes a mistake he’s sent to earth to rectify it – as a dog. Very neat.
Elyne Mitchell: The Silver Brumby
I loved this book so much during my pony phase that I’m almost scared to try and read it again, though it’s still sitting on my bookshelf. It’s all from the horse’s point of view – about a wild stallion, a brumby in the Australian Outback.
Dodie Smith: The Hundred and One Dalmations
The book from which the Disney movie was adapted, featuring Pongo, Missis and Perdita, the evil Cruella DeVille and missing puppies. Perdita and Missis were rolled into one character for the Disney animation, but in the book they are individuals.
David Henry Wilson: Elephants Don’t Sit on Cars
The hilarious adventures (and misadventures) of Jeremy James, episodic in nature, chapter by chapter. The first chapter (the title story) is a gift to anyone who has to read a story out loud. I dare you to do it without breaking into fits of laughter. It’s about poo (and the elephant on daddy’s car). I bought another copy this Christmas for a small person in my life.
Oh, that’s eleven out of ten already and I haven’t even mentioned Leon Garfield’s The Ghost Downstairs, or Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books, or even Each Peach Pear Plumb by Janet Ahlberg, which I read so often to my kids that I can still remember it word for word and recite it as a poem.