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My Favourite Children's Books as a Child

When I was a child I was a voracious reader and could rarely be seen without a book in my hand. I was the kind of child who had to read the cereal box in the morning if there was nothing else to read. I thought it would be fun to share here some of the books I enjoyed back then. Plenty of them have withstood the test of time and are worth reading today!

As an avid reader, I was extremely excited to receive a copy of Roald Dahl’s Matilda when it came out in hardback. Unfortunately, I'm not sure where that copy is now. But the main character, who loved books as much as I did, was someone I could really identify with.  Mind you, her appetite for books was intimidating even for a child who considered herself a bookworm and I was more fortunate in not sharing her kind of parents. Now as I read some of Roald Dahl to my own children, I can appreciate the extreme and the silly and the pure imaginative fun that permeates his books, even if as an adult they can feel too grotesque or disgusting or out-there for my more moderate adult appetite. But children do have these huge feelings and huge experiences because everything is so new and Roald Dahl’s best books amplify everyday life in a way that children can really understand, as well as offering the escape of fantasy.

Another series that really stands out for me is the Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary. Ramona is funny and spirited and frustrated and confused by the behaviour of the adults around her. She depicts the conflict between the needs and preferences of adults and the needs and preferences of children so well.

Beverly Cleary also really captures the everyday events of childhood — losing teeth, the value of small objects like ribbons, the failed wrestling with impulses (like grabbing another girls’ curls), dealing with school rules, wearing costumes, arguing with friends and siblings, the interminable waits for good things to happen, doing schoolwork, getting sick, dealing with big feelings – all of it is in there.

Unlike Ramona, I didn’t have an older sister but I was fascinated with Ramona’s school life in America, which seemed so exotic! They didn't wear a uniform and they sang the American national anthem and had something called DEAR time or “drop everything and read” time which sounded like an absolutely dream to me.

While I enjoyed the Ramona books, a series I enjoyed even more was the “My Best Fiend” series by Sheila Lavelle. This one was set in the UK which highlights the importance of children having access to local books set in familiar locations as emphasised recently by the #discoveririshkidsbooks campaign.

In this series, it is the concept of a friend who is deliberately naughty which is such a fantastic device – children are constantly battling to be “good” and meet the expectations of adults. I experienced it as deeply refreshing to act out in fantasy what it would be like to be naughty and to get up to tricks and mischief, not that I would have been able to explain what I liked about it so much back then. The charm here is that the situations are believable and grounded in an identifiable reality but also very extreme — like the time that Angela (the naughty friend) convinces Charlie (the protagonist) that she has stolen a baby (who is actually Angela's cousin), or the time she paints a cat green. And which child could fail to be intrigued by a chapter which begins: “The worst thing Angela and I ever did was when we set fire to her dad’s garage”?

The last book I will mention here is “Pollyanna” by Eleanor Porter. This was in the Classic Adventures magazine (with book) series for children. Old copies of these can still be found online, it seems.

This book first published in 1913 by American author, Eleanor Porter, is about a little orphaned girl who has learnt “The Glad Game” from her father. “The Glad Game” involves making the best of even the bleakest situation, such as, for instance, when in a house teeming with beautifully furnished rooms, Pollyanna’s aunt offers her a bare attic room. Pollyanna decides that it is because it has the best view of the house and that she can be glad it has no mirror in it because then she won’t be able to see her freckles. I largely credit this book with my excessive optimism, or perhaps I was always (at times excessively) optimistic and the book just resonated! Either way, the “being glad” game works and these days the mindset is exemplified in the concept of using gratitude journals that happiness researchers encourage us to keep. It seems Pollyanna and her dad were really onto something.

On that note, I wish you a happy day with lots to be glad about and perhaps some fond reminiscing about childhood reading. What were your favourite books?

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