Wednesday, 2 October 2013

20 favourite books for Juniors

Continuing with my list of favourite titles, here is one for those who have graduated on to "chapter books". (They are also good for reading aloud). So, in no particular order:

• Lewis Carroll Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there

One of the very few children's books I read as an adult, having missed it as a child, and actually loved. Who can resist the White Knight, for example? 

• E. Nesbit Five Children and It

The Psammead (the "It" of the title) is one of literature's great creations. I desperately wanted to write a sequel to this called Five Grandchildren and It but Helen Cresswell got there first - with the sequel, I mean; she didn't use that idea.

• Philippa Pearce Tom's Midnight Garden

This is one of those perfect books that show the rest of us how it's done. The clock striking thirteen, the garden that comes and goes, the adventures with Hattie and the eventual discovery of her identity - just beautiful!

• Catherine Storr Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf

We had a tape of these stories, read by Derek Edwards, which was a huge favourite with the children on car journeys.The wolf like poetry to be "useful", e.g.

Monday's child is fairly tough,
Tuesday's child is tender enough,
Wednesday's child is good to fry,
Thursday's child is best in pie.
Friday's child makes good meat roll,
Saturday's child is casserole,
But the child that is born on the Sabbath day,
Is delicious when eaten any way.

• Alan Garner Elidor

Unlike most writers I am not a huge Alan Garner fan but I think Elidor is his best novel and a wonderful introduction to the Grail legends.

• Louis Sachar Holes

Another perfect book. Many contemporary writers for children think that a plot is a series of unrelated events, like beads on a necklace. But in this book, Sachar produces a far more elegant structure, with present and past woven together in the most satisfying way.

• Frank Cottrell Boyce Cosmic

This is almost as perfect! I haven't read Millions but this book and his adult TV play about Auschwitz have convinced me that Cottrell Boyce is a most versatile genius.

• Norton Juster The Phantom Tollbooth

This has recently been re-issued and well deserves to be read by a new generation. Full of excellent verbal jokes and exuberant invention.

• Ted Hughes The Iron Man

This book became a classic the minute it was published. Hughes found just the right way to create a story that felt as if it had always existed.

• Rudyard Kipling Just-so Stories

These are indestructible. We loved them ourselves, read them to our daughters, who loved them too and gave now given them to our young nephews. My favourite is The Beginning of the Armadilloes, with the young painted jaguar whose pet name with his mother was Doffles, but all are full of gems. Now that I am married to a half "Parsee-man" I can fully appreciate the line in How the Rhinoceros got his Skin: "Them that takes cakes what the Parsee-man bakes makes dreadful mistakes."

• Dodie Smith 101 Dalmatians

Most people will know this from films - the Disney cartoon or the very convincing live action movie, with Glenn Close as Cruella de Ville. What a brilliant USP! The kind of thing we all long to come up with.

• Mary Norton The Borrowers

As was this. The very names of the Borrowers family - Homily, Pod, Arietty - are borrowed or half-understood, like the bits and pieces they take from the human world to furnish their domestic lives.

• Robert O'Brien Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh

Does anyone read this now? And yet it was such an important book when I first started as a critic of children's literature in the 1970s. Like Russell Hoban's The Mouse and his Child, an unusual and enduring junior novel.

• Gene Kemp The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler

This one isn't recent either but the shock of discovery about the central character's identity at the very end stays with me.

• Patrick Ness A Monster Calls

A very recent book and a complete masterpiece, which won both the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals in the same year. It was Patrick Ness's re-imagination of an idea and notes left by Siobhan Dowd when she was dying and magnificently realised.

• Neil Shusterman Antsy Does Time

Shusterman is an American writer I discovered on a trip to the International Reading Association Congress in Atlanta, where he was present with another great discovery, John Green. (The rest of the world is catching up with John Green now but really, try Neil Shusterman).  This book and The Schwa was Here are junior titles but he is equally good at YA fiction.

• J.R.R. Tolkien The Hobbit

I didn't read this till after I knew The Lord of the Rings trilogy really well. Structurally it leaves a lot to be desired and the Peter Jackson films aren't helping with that. But the central ideas are great and still appeal.

• Jeff Brown Flat Stanley

The child who has a strange body change - as in The Shrinking of Treehorn or Bill's New Frock - are always winners and this one about a boy who loses dimension and depth is no exception.

• Eva Ibbotson A Dog and his Boy

The last book from a great writer, it sums up everything about a child's relationship with with beloved animals, while remaining skilfully unsentimental.

• Terry Pratchett Wee Free Men

The first of Pratchett's books about the Nac Mac Feegle, impossibly tiny but fierce blue men, who owe a lot to the Picts. Their favourite swear words are "Crivens!" and "Big Jobs!" And a great introduction to the Discworld.

So - those are my twenty. What are yours?

1 comment:

Stroppy Author said...

Dr Dolittle! Though it's not actually well written, but who can resist a pushmepullyou?
The Little White Horse
Wolves of Willoughby Chase
Coram Boy