09 March, 2015

Inheritance Books

There was an article in The Telegraph last week, about a World Book Day survey run by Sainsbury's to find out which books parents would most like their children to read. Here are the top ten:

  1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
  2. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
  3. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis
  4. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
  5. Black  Beauty - Anna Sewell
  6. James and the Giant Peach - Roald Dahl
  7. The BFG - Roald Dahl
  8. A Bear Called Paddington - Michael Bond
  9. Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
  10. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

Have you read all of these? I haven't read Huckleberry Finn (am I missing out?), but the others were very much part of my childhood. (You can see the remainder of the top 50, in the article). It got me wondering which books I'd like my children to love.

There are so many books that brought me joy, but once that springs to mind would be Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. I first came across it when Radio Four used to do a children's story at 7pm on a Sunday evening, and I found it magical to both listen to and read. It also reminds me of an audio book that I loved to death - Emily's Ghost. Unfortunately, I don't know who it was by and I can't find it anywhere now, although there are other books with the same name. Both stories involved children who found their own time becoming intertwined with the past. I'll definitely introduce my kids to Tom and his magical world. What about you? Which books do you want to pass on to your children?

Perhaps all this leads to a bigger question - does it matter what children read? Apart from the obvious benefits of reading a wide variety of genres, and the obvious harm from reading books that are not at all age-appropriate (Carrie for your five year-old anybody?), does it matter if the books we loved are never loved by another generation? (Look at poor Emily's Ghost - forgotten by all but me!) I think it does.

Kids need to read books they enjoy or they won't stick with reading at all, and not all kids are going to like The Secret Garden or Charlotte's Web. However, I think it is important that they are given the option of exploring the classics of the past. If literature is good, it remains good. If it is worth reading, it remains so. If it helps breed imagination, opens eyes to different experiences or widens horizons, it will still do so 50 years after it is written. Some books will die out a couple of months after publication, others a year later, or a decade. It's natural that every generation will abandon a few of the books that have hung on for decades before them. But I like to think that each generation will also treasure some of the books from the past - as well as helping create the classics of the future too, of course.


  1. There are so many that I'd want to pass on that I think I'd have to be conscious about enjoying new childrens books too. Some of mine are on your list above already as well as a whole plethora of Enid Blytons and probably the Harry Potter stories as well.

    One the comes to mind that I didn't expect to remember is The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson - all about Plop the baby barn owl who was scared of the dark, and also (if memory serves correct) always hungry!

  2. I was going to say Famous Five in my blog post too :) I loved The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark! Though I had forgotten in until reading your comment.

  3. Perhaps it speaks volumes about how strict a parent I am doomed to become, but I would expect rather than hope that my child reads Roald Dahl, and at that reads all the titles - George's Marvellous Medicine, The Twits and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory being my favourites. I would also encourage them to read all of C.S Lewis books, as I have always preferred Prince Caspian above all the others. I'll have to go with everyone else and put my hand up for some select Enid Blyton titles as well, which Sainsburys customers seem to have neglected.

    With this in mind, here is the list of books that I would hope and/or expect to see my children reading.

    1. The Hobbit - J.R.R Tolkien. This remained my mum's unshakable favourite since she read it when she was eleven. That makes it a family tradition to pass it on. Plus, it stands as a shining example that not all stories have a happy ending.
    2. Watership Down - Richard Adams. My unshakable favourite! Granted this one is for older children, along with the film - at age five I was most likely too young to see it, but it left an indelible impression and lifelong fear of General Woundwort. It's a great read, with wonderful, rich characters.
    3. Truckers - Terry Pratchett. A simple, but entertaining read, which I'll probably read to my kids first, along with its two sequels.
    4. Asterix - Goscinny and Uderzo. They are strictly speaking a comic book series, but pack in a lot of content and children accidentally learn things whilst reading them.
    5. The Narnia series - C.S Lewis. It's unfair to choose just one title.
    6. Any title by Roald Dahl. Same as number five.
    7. Horrible Histories by Terry Deary. These were almost as popular as Goosebumps when I was at school, but much more useful.
    8. The Rockingdown Mystery - Enid Blyton, plus whatever fairy-tale collections they can get their hands on.
    9. Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends - Rev W. Awdry. I am fortunate enough to own a particularly fine illustrated collection which I pinched/acquired from my brother.
    10. Muddle Earth - Paul Stewart.

    This is my list of hopeful beloved reads for my children, and I suppose some will get read because I already own them, or some of them (in the case of Asterix). A quick trip to The Works can stock a parent up with many fine children's collections - I got my Horrible Histories, Chronicles of Narnia and Beatrix Potter collections from there, and the Narnia books are particularly fine.

    As you said, so long as a child reads, does it matter what they read? I read my first Discworld novel at the age of eleven, and at the same age was praised by teachers when I took Watership Down to school as my reading book. At primary school everyone in my school was reading either Horrible Histories by Terry Deary or the seemingly endless Goosebumps books by R.L Stein, who offered his readers more advanced material in his teenage books from the Point Horror series. Like the rest of my class I devoured these books - and Stein seemed to churn them out - until suddenly they disappeared as quickly as they appeared. I saw Terry Deary on television last year, but I often wonder what became of R.L Stein. Looking back, parents these days (many of whom will have been avid readers like me) would most likely try and steer their little ones away from Horror titles like "It Came from Beneath the Sink."

    My mum was always keen to supply me with books, and was lucky to have a primary school teacher as an older sister. Auntie Lynda could steer her to or away from certain titles, but mum usually trusted her own judgement on what she thought I could watch or read. She saw to it that I got lots of short story compilations, which there don't seem to be as much these days.

    Also, The Jolly Postman - Janet and Allan Ahlberg. An honorable mention if there ever was one. I bought it for my five year old niece, and a year on it's now her favourite book.

    1. Wow - what a comment! Thanks, Helen! I ADORED The Jolly Postman when I was young. I never quite got the magic of Watership Down though. I liked it enough, but didn't find it all that special, whereas I know loads of people who loved it.

      Ha - I spent much of my pre-teen years reading Point Horror. I don't read much horror now - the occasional Stephen King, but I loved the thrill back then.

      Tried to find out about RL Stein for you - doesn't seem to have done much for the last few years but is active on Twitter. Last tweet was in praise of Neil Gaiman, so he is obviously a man of great taste!

  4. I only got round to reading Huckleberry Finn a few years ago and I loved it, so I'd heartily recommend.

    Getting back to the original question, I'd most like my daughter to read my own children's books - but she's 24 now so things aren't looking good. I tried to inveigle her into reading one when she was about 6 and she said "Nah, I don't like that sort of stuff."

    Just wait till she wants a wedding reception paying for, that's all I'm saying...

    1. I have the novel poster of Huck, but I don't fancy reading it on a poster in size 6 font, so I'll get hold of a copy of the book sometime!

      Ah, good old blackmail - that's how I intend to get my kids to read my books too. Maybe not until they're adults though...

  5. I remembering loving Paddington. I even still have a boxed set, but I started reading one with my daughter and can't say it impressed me too much. Guess I gotta keep going, give the whole thing a try.

    I'd say that's a pretty good list though.

    1. I know I read Paddington a bit when I was young but I don't really remember it. I think the bear has become something of an icon and friend to children of many generations even if the books haven't!


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