Last week marked 15 years since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and a generation of Potter fans has been reminiscing about their introduction to the world of the boy wizard. I'm too old to have read the books as a child - I actually read them for the first time at the age of 19 - and it's got me thinking about some of my most-loved books, wondering if they're still popular now, and wondering what the primary school students and tweens of today are into. Do they still read The Baby-sitters Club books in all their ghostwritten, predictable glory, which I notice were re-released in 2010? Where are all the fans of historical fiction? Are they mainly into vampires these days thanks to That Series That Shall Not Be Named?
Gracing my bookshelves back in the early/mid-90s and providing fond memories today, here are ten childhood favourites (all images show the editions I owned):
My favourite childhood books usually involved several key elements: the past, events from history (the more gruesome the better), magic and mystery, and time travel. Children of Winter has it all. Three children sheltering from the weather in a barn get transported back in time to the 17th century and the time of the Great Plague. Ker-ching! Books like this featured heavily in my childhood; they seemed to be a popular choice with teachers, helping us learn about events in history, which I obviously had no objection to whatsoever.
Despite not being even remotely inclined towards dancing (I had a couple of lessons, aged three, and hated them) or acting, I couldn't get enough of Ballet Shoes. The quirky upbringing of Pauline, Petrova, and Posy - the Fossil sisters - probably had a lot to do with this, and I remember adoring the illustrations by Ruth Gervis. Didn't the ending make you misty-eyed? Altogether now: "We three Fossils vow to try and put our names in history books..."
Not one of Dick King-Smith's better-known efforts, but seriously. A talking doll. From the past. My eight-year-old self is jumping up and down with glee. Found in an attic by a boy named Ned, Lady Daisy educates him about the 19th century, which comes in handy for his school project on the Victorians. He gets picked for owning a doll by the school bully and it's also a source of anxiety for his father, who would prefer him to be carrying a football around instead (down with restrictive gender stereotyping!).
A lot of people remember the cult 1988 BBC adaptation of Moondial, which is how I first came across it too. Once again it's got that combination of magic, mystery, history, and time travel, with a touch of morbidity and creepiness - hooded figures in the dark, covered mirrors, and a girl who's known as the 'Devil's child'. Having seen the television series first, I was delighted to get my hands on the book a few years later.
Bit obvious, this one, but Enid Blyton's tales of boarding school were ones I read and re-read, having inherited my mum's copies. The midnight feasts! Swimming and lacrosse! The alien concept of 'the honour of the school'! The character tropes that were a feature of both schools: the Mean Girl, the Tomboy, the Snob, the 'Outlandish' Foreign Girl, the 'Mouse' - were predictable, and it's easy to cringe at some of the less-enlightened language used by the author. But I'm not going to deny that I was once a fan.
We were big fans of Lucy Boston's super-whimsical Green Knowe books in our house. They were based locally, and we even named our dog after key character Tolly. Predictably for me, the series is full of history, mystery, and magic. An Enemy at Green Knowe was always my favourite, thanks to the fact it features the evil Melanie Powers and her witchcraft. Of course, good triumphs over evil, and Melanie's schemes are thwarted by Tolly and his friend Ping.
How awesome was Anastasia Krupnik? I was hooked on her exploits as a tween. I could identify with Anastasia in so many ways, from her secret notebook scribblings to her hatred of gym class. In the editions of the books carried by my local library, each cover was emblazoned with the strapline "The girl who thinks for herself" (oh yes!). In Anastasia's Chosen Career, our heroine enrolls in modelling school in an attempt to boost her self-confidence and poise, hoping it'll help her on her way to becoming a bookstore owner.
Judith Kerr's classic, based on her childhood experience of fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s, satisfied my love of history. The story follows Anna, a nine-year-old Jewish girl, as she and her family hurriedly leave their old lives behind to move to Switzerland, then Paris. Anna's tales of acclimatizing to life in a new country have stayed with me. Weirdly I have never read the two further books Kerr wrote to continue the story - that's something I've always planned to do as an adult but haven't yet got round to.
In the early 1990s, Channel 4 re-ran the television series adapted from the Little House books. As soon as I could, I got my hands on them, and became totally obsessed with the Ingalls family. In my make-believe world, being a pioneer girl was one of my favourite things to 'pretend' - living through the 'long winter', exploring the prairie, and wondering what the hell 'molasses' and 'cornbread' were. I'm really keen to get my hands on The Wilder Life, in which Wendy McClure explores the Little House world.
One of Princess Amethyst's fairy godmothers tells her "You shall be ordinary!" - and so instead of growing up like your typical fairytale princess, she ends up with straight mousy hair and freckles, prefers to be called Amy, and likes playing in the woods. When she finds out that her concerned parents are hatching a plan to get her married off to some Prince Charming character, she runs away. Amy soon realises that she needs to earn a living and gets a job as a kitchenmaid, where she meets a new friend. A nice twist on the whole 'princess' thing.
Honourable mentions for books I wanted to include: The Witches and Matilda - Roald Dahl; the Ramona Quimby books - Beverley Cleary; Witch Week - Diana Wynne Jones; The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - C. S. Lewis; The Railway Children - E. Nesbit; The Whitby Witches - Robin Jarvis; Emily of New Moon - L. M. Montgomery; Little Women - Louisa May Alcott.