Last week a local plea went out online for a copy of Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War. I immediately pictured my Puffin version from 1974 with the cover photo from the BBC teatime series, and sure enough, there it was in the little collection of books I have treasured since childhood.
I sank into a reverie of book lover’s nostalgia. There was no need to ponder a list of my favourites –here were twenty-seven browned paperbacks that I had loved enough to keep. Fascinated, I searched through them...
Books Off the Telly
I was surprised to find that this was such a large category – but then I come from a telly-devoted generation, brought up in front of an array of brilliant 1970s children’s series – and clearly they encouraged my reading. Carrie’s War was one of these – I have fond memories of the TV version from when I was nine.
I also found A Pair of Jesus-Boots, a 1974 Puffin that I bought after seeing the series Rocky O’Rourke, about a slum-dwelling Liverpool lad. Already I liked my fiction on the gritty side. I discovered The Secret Garden through a teatime adaptation, and Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians, written in 1894, was brought to life for me by the BBC in 1973.
In 1979 I found the TV version of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy funny, if a bit irritating, but I enjoyed Douglas Adams’ book much more.
A haunting BBC series of Tom’s Midnight Garden was the taster that led me to the book. A few years later, Philippa Pearce did a talk at our school. She said that being a writer was like having English homework every night of the week. ‘Don’t do it if you don’t have to,’ she said. ‘But if you have to – good luck.’ I already knew that I had to. I never forgot.
At around the time of Carrie’s War, our teacher, Mrs Skett, read The White Horse Gang aloud to us, and I became hooked on Nina Bawden. She was the kind of writer I wanted to be: her child characters were vivid and believable, their adventures rooted in the real world. My collection includes The Peppermint Pig, The Runaway Summer, On the Run, The Secret Passage, Squib and The White Horse Gang. I read others from the library.
Stig of the Dump appealed to my fascination with the idea of the primitive within us, and of a life ‘in the wild’. I must have overcome my fear of dogs to love The Incredible Journey – though there was also the cat character to draw me in.
I had forgotten Barbara Sleigh’s Carbonel and The Kingdom of Carbonel, but memories rushed back of these wonderful tales of a night-time world of cats on the rooftops. There was a potion that allowed a little girl to understand the cats’ language, found in those oversized bottles that used to advertise chemist’s shops. I remember peering at the one in Boots... The Winter of Enchantment by Victoria Walker had a similar theme of a child escaping an unpleasant reality to discover a world of magic.
A Mixed Bag
The final four show how my taste was varied, then as now – there’s I am David, about a Jewish boy who escapes from a concentration camp. I am still willing to be challenged and disturbed by what I read. But there’s also Flicka, the story of a Wyoming ranch boy and his beloved horse – I remember relishing the horsey sentimentality and scenes of Mom making doughnuts. There’s early teen fare: Freaky Friday, about a thirteen-year-old who swaps places with her mother, but also Eleanor Atkinson’s Greyfriars Bobby which was hard work, but worth it, with a lot of pages spent in a graveyard and a Scottish dialect to grapple with, which may have prepared me for A Clockwork Orange.
But now we’re getting onto teenage reading, which is a whole other subject…
I’d love to hear from you if you remember any of these books or series, or if you have a treasured collection of your own? What books were landmarks in your childhood reading journey?