Now in my twenties, I am a lover of fantasy, magic, and all things mystical. For most people, fantasy is a genre discovered at a young age. However, my early reading habits featured very little magic. It wasn’t until I read Eragon by Christopher Paolini when I was 15 that I really got into fantasy. When friends discuss their childhood fantasy loves I must admit that I feel left out, but hey, everything happens for a reason. Who knows, if I had discovered fantasy earlier maybe I would have got bored with it and then I would be missing out now instead!
Still, I believe that what we read whilst growing up has a big impact on the people we become. The stories we escape into as children can’t help but shape the way we view the world. So I thought it would be fun to share a list of my childhood favourites.
So, in no particular order…
1. Mrs Pepperpot Stories by Alf Prøysen
Mrs Pepperpot is an elderly woman who has the unfortunate luck of shrinking to the size of a pepper pot at the most inconvenient times. I think what I loved most about this collection was that the stories are set in Norway. That means many of them feature moose, and for some reason as a child I had a weird fascination with moose (if I ever happen to be in Norway I still kinda want to go looking for one, just because y’know, moose). I also loved the idea of being pepper pot sized and being able to hide and cause mischief. I had visions of being able to fit in my dolls houses and sit on my dog’s head. I was a strange child.
2. The Tortoise Fair by John Patience (and other Fern Hollow books)
Gypsy-style caravans, a tortoise, and a fairground. What’s not to like? The artwork in this series is gorgeous, too. I remember sitting on mum’s lap with a pile of Fern Hollow books and getting her to read them to me on rainy days. She’d ask me which one I wanted first and it would always be The Tortoise Fair.
3. Sweet Valley Twins by Francine Pascal (which led to Sweet Valley High and Sweet Valley University)
These were already old-fashioned when I was little, so I could find them everywhere super cheap. There was a book stall in my hometown that used to sell huge bundles of them, held together with elastic bands, for about £1.50. I’d go and buy a couple and read the lot, then go back for more. Sweet Valley soon took over my bookshelf! Whilst I’d read the regular stories about the girls’ schooldays and enjoy them, what I was really after were the scary ones. I loved the Sweet Valley ghost stories and thrillers, and all of the special editions about murders, monsters, hauntings, and curses. Whenever I found a bundle containing some of these it was the best day EVER. Some which stick in mind are The Carnival Ghost, The Curse of the Ruby Necklace and Wanted For Murder.
4. The Winter Hedgehog by Ann & Reg Cartwright
This was a bedtime story book. I remember feeling sad for the hedgehog when it has to hibernate, and then even more sad when it wakes up early and gets lost in the slow. I could never decide which was the worst thing! I also remember asking my parents multiple awkward questions about what other animals hibernate and why humans don’t.
5. Puppy Patrol Series by Jenny Dale
I recently found out that Jenny Dale is a pseudonym and these books were ghostwritten, which was pretty devastating. Apart from moose, the other thing I loved as a child was dogs. I constantly pestered my parents to buy Andrex toilet roll so I could collect the coupons for their cuddly dogs, and when I wasn’t in school our poor West Highland White Terrier never got a break. Good thing he was pretty tolerant! So when I found these books it was love at first page. They’re about a family who run dog kennels, so my first big career plan was not to be a princess or pop star like other young girls, oh no. I wanted to be a kennel maid.
Two books from this series in particular stick in mind. One was called The Sea Dog, which is about a ghost dog whose owner was taken by pirates. As I mentioned above, I loved ghost stories so that combined with dogs was just perfection for my eight-year-old self. The other was called Forever Sam. In this book one of the main character’s dogs dies (soz, spoilers!) and I was totally inconsolable. I remember sitting on the sofa in floods of tears and mum running in horrified, thinking something awful had happened. All I could do was snot all over her and mumble ‘the doggy died in my book’ and she smiled at me and gave me cuddles and told me to re-read the series from the beginning to bring him back to life. I was cool with that idea, but still! Harsh! My first traumatic encounter of death in literature was a dog. What does this prove? I am a sap, basically.
6. Angelina at the Fair by Katharine Holabird
I had a school friend who did ballet, and I longed to try it myself so I went for a taster lesson. I completely hated it, so I did what I always do when reality goes wrong: console myself with books. I couldn’t be a ballerina, but this cute mouse could so I read about her adventures instead. I loved all of the Angelina Ballerina books, but my favourite was Angelina at the Fair. This was because the centrefold page used to scare me, and somehow that made me want to look at it more:
7. Ally’s World by Karen McCombie
Everything about Ally’s life appealed to tween me. She lives in London (much more exciting than the dead end seaside town I grew up in), she has a group of cool, loyal friends and they go out all the time and are streetwise and independent, she has an attic bedroom, and lots of pets. Plus her personality is just like mine — slightly clumsy, optimistic, a little insane, and just trying to do the right thing in whatever situation. I identified with her immediately, and devoured each of these books in a matter of days. They made me laugh, and made me dream of being grown up and running around London myself. Well, congrats pre-teen Amy, you’ve got your wish now!
8. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
I had an adorable edition of this book! It was a tiny hardback, and it folded out to have the storybook on one side and a little play scene on the other with a pop-up house and trees little cardboard doors you could open. There were also little figurines of the characters to move around. Mum kept this book and sent me this photo of it:
9. One, Two, Three, Oops! by Michael Coleman
I’m pretty sure this is the first book I ever learned to read all the way through by myself. Once I could do so, it must have driven my parents insane having me read the same story to them over and over. It’s about a rabbit trying to count all his children, but there’s too many and they keep causing mischief to thwart him. I always wanted a pet rabbit but wasn’t allowed, so I loved seeing them on these pages and trying to count along with the daddy rabbit! Also, now I can see why my parents said ‘no’ to having a real rabbit. They’re a lot to look after, and in hindsight I wouldn’t have wanted to be cleaning out a hutch in the middle of the winter…
10. The Mystery Book… *tense music*
There was a book which I really loved, that was either from school or the library so I didn’t own a copy. It was about a toy shop with a duck and a bear for sale, only they made the wrong noises: The duck growled, and the bear quacked. A girl came in wanting to buy them, but changed her mind when she learned this. When she shop closed at night, the duck and bear somehow ended up in an old woman’s house (I think she might have been a witch?) She was having a party, and they cleaned up for her when the guests left. As a reward, she gave them some magic blue and yellow pills that switched their noises. They went back to the toy shop, and the girl returned the next day and was so happy that they made the right noises that she bought them.I have no idea what this book was called, what the cover looks like, or who the author/illustrator is. Neither do my parents; they only remembered it vaguely when I described the above plot to them. This is really irritating me, and I would love to find it again!
So, I’m calling out to the book blogosphere: Does anyone have any idea what this book might be? If so, please get in touch and let me know!
I hope you enjoyed my little trip down memory lane. Did anyone else read any of these books? Or if you started on fantasy early, how did that go? How much do you think what we read as children impacts on our future?