Sorry for the delayed post guys – I’ve been doing a lot of writing but unfortunately just not on here. My bad!
A few weeks ago it was International Children’s Day and it got me thinking. Writers, by their very nature, begin life as readers and that is certainly true of my childhood. My life revolved around narratives, from the books I would read to the in-depth soap opera that made up the lives of our soft toy family. I can’t remember learning to read – believe me, I’ve tried – but I do have certain stories that I know contributed to my desire to become a writer. So here are my top 10 children’s books that influenced me as a writer.
1. Winnie the Pooh
A. A. Milne’s collection of stories about Edward bear, Piglet, and the rest was the first big book that I can remember reading all by myself. I just loved the characters and I do feel that, for living soft toys, I can see my adult self in them far more than the little girl I was ever could have known. Nervous like Piglet, a little melancholy like Eeyore, and with a touch of Owl’s annoying pretentiousness. But, as Milne’s work shows, that’s okay. The characters, even with all their idiosyncrasies, are a community that cares about one another and that is perhaps one of the biggest strengths across the short story collection. As in real life, flawed individuals can still care about one another and have adventures. While the Hundred Acre Wood is like some sort of child-like dream, the complexity of the characters give Winnie the Pooh a timelessness and depth. It was an immersive reading experience while providing the humour and morality a good children’s book needs and I’m definitely glad it was one of my first reads.
2. The Famous Five
Enid Blyton was one of the first author names that I learned to recognise. My sister consumed the Famous Five books like someone starved of entertainment and I came to do the same by association. I loved the relationships between the characters and Kirrin Cottage was simultaneously an escape and familiar. While I’ve realised Blyton’s imperfections as I’ve aged, the adventures of George, Timmy, and their cousins were a constant in my early childhood and built my early understanding of on-going narrative arcs in a series.
3. The Just So Stories
The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling have such happy memories associated with them for me but I did have to hesitate before adding them onto this list. Why? I didn’t read them. I had an audio tape that told me all about How the Leopard Got His Spots and The Cat Who Walked By Himself. I would plonk myself down in front of my forest green tape player (and letter bumblebee yellow CD player) and listen to it endlessly. I’m pretty sure that one of my main narrative voices is derived from the narrator of the tapes, though mine is admittedly far grouchier than the lovely man telling me stories about how animals came to be the way they are. My love of origin stories and folklore also probably has links to the way Kipling wrote this collection. They should be mandatory reading for every child growing up.
4. The Nine Lives shorts
Lucy Daniels was another author that I hold up against Blyton for holding my attention across scores of books. Though I have since found out that Daniels is actually an amalgamation of various ghost writers, they were clearly well-versed in maintaining a particular narrative voice as I can only remember being immersed by book after book. While Lucy Daniels was most strongly associated with the Animal Ark novels, my favourite stories attributed to the author were definitely the Nine Lives collection. They were the first proper short stories not aimed at very young children to grab me and I loved the way the different narratives gave subtle nods to the others in the series. I do this with some of my own stories (even though no one will ever realise as none of these stories are published). Admittedly the fact they revolved around the lives of nine little kittens probably helped hook me in…
5. Questions Kids Ask
THESE BOOKS EXPLAIN SO MUCH ABOUT ME! Take one overly curious child with an intense need to know everything and then give her books that answer more questions than she could ever ask. Result? Me. We had the entire 28 book collection, covering everything from space to ancient Egypt, and I would quite often select these factual, non-narrative books at bed time over any other option. I liked learning. I liked being able to whip out random facts at opportune moments even better.
I have mentioned some of my love for this series in my review of the third book, City of Flowers, but I must continue to celebrate Mary Hoffman’s Talian adventures in this list of top 10 children’s books. This series was probably the reason for my love of travelling and escapism. The way Hoffman created her world, so carefully based in reality but fringed with fantasy, is something I can only hope I will come to emulate.
7. Hunger Games
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins was definitely a later addition to my childhood reads – only having been published when I was about 17 – but I can remember selecting the first book. There was, as always, an offer on at Waterstones and it had a really interesting changeable cover. Btw, if you’re the person I leant that first version to I would love it back. It was pretty. I’d never been a big dystopia fan before reading the Hunger Games but this wasn’t the most compelling thing about the set: it was the pacing. Each book in the trilogy was the kind you couldn’t put down, hooking you in chapter by chapter to read just one more page before bed. Then suddenly it would be morning and the book would be done and you would feel that amazing hollowness that comes with an intense narrative ride. My decision to be a writer had come long before I picked up this set but it widened my horizons as a writer and confirmed that this was exactly what I wanted to do with my life.
8. His Dark Materials
This was another book that I’d seen my sister reading long before I picked it up but then the first book, Northern Lights, was assigned in my first year English class. We read a chapter in class and then I went home and read the rest of the book. Then I got the second out of the library. My thankfully very understanding English teacher let me read that while everyone else stumbled on through the first book. I finished the third book within a few days. While I do think the deeper themes were far above what my twelve year old mind could handle, I loved everything about Philip Pullman’s creation. It was fantastical and dark and twisted, set in a world that was familiar and old but new and thrilling all at once. Truly inspiring.
9. The Abhorsen Series
I’ve reviewed Garth Nix’s work previously (starting with Sabriel) but I’ll sing his praises once again. This series had everything childhood me loved, from talking animals and sword fighting to a 1920’s-ish setting with magic. While Pullman’s work was perhaps a bit too lofty for me to properly understand, it was growing up with Sabriel and Lireal that truly made me feel like I was growing up as a reader and a writer.
10. Harry Potter
Any list of top 10 children’s books has to include JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and any look back at what lead me to become a writer must do so also. I have been considering doing a larger post about the ways this set influenced me to celebrate 20 years of Potter – and please let me know if you’d be interested – but to keep it short, this series knocked my fantasies about being a writer into action. The long waits between Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, and Half-blood Prince led me to discovering fanfiction first and then to begin my own novel. The Golden Locket, 11 year old me’s 120, 000 word masterpiece was only a little better than your average Potter fanfic but it was still my first step towards being a writer and, for that, I must always be grateful to JK Rowling.
While any writer has endless influences, these ten authors and their stories made me what I am today. I was inspired by the creations that fell out of their minds and into my grabby child hands. They were my childhood and therefore have shaped my adulthood.
So what about you guys? Do you have much-loved books that you feel have shaped you?