When I was in primary school, I was a devoted bookworm. I read all the time – during school, in the car, during meals, even while brushing my teeth. The library was my favourite place to be. We would take a trip to the local library every weekend, and I would come back with a crateful of new books to read. I would actually get into trouble from my parents and my teachers for reading too much instead of paying more attention to other things that were happening around me!
Although I liked reading pretty much anything I could get my hands on, I definitely cherished some books more than others. I thought it would be fun to share five of my favourite childhood novels today, as a little trip down memory lane!
1. Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein
I have read (and loved!) nearly all of Robin Klein’s books, but Hating Alison Ashley has always been my very favourite. It’s written from the perspective of eleven-year-old Erica Yurken, who has always believed that she is more talented, graceful and exceptional than her embarrassing family and her classmates at her poor suburban state school. That is, until she meets Alison Ashley – a talented, beautiful new student who embodies everything that Erica wants to be. But, of course, Erica learns that Alison Ashley’s life isn’t quite as wonderful as it first seems…
The cultural references are pretty dated (and were dated even when I first read this book in the mid-90s!), but it’s a lot of fun to read due to Erica’s quirky perspective on things, and teaches a lot of great lessons about self-worth, jealousy, and looking beyond appearances.
The book was adapted into a movie starring Delta Goodrem as Alison Ashley and set in high school instead of primary school, but the movie is actually nothing like the book. The book is much better. 😉
2. Matilda by Roald Dahl
I think most people my age have a favourite Roald Dahl book, and mine is Matilda – the story of a neglected girl-genius who develops telekinesis and ends up triumphing over her horrible family and bully of a school principal. The character of Matilda appealed to me as a fellow bookworm, and I loved the idea that the knowledge and mind-power gained from reading lots of books could be transformed into its own kind of superpower.
Unlike Hating Alison Ashley, the movie adaptation of Matilda starring Mara Wilson is actually great, and a childhood favourite of mine!
3. The Magic Apostrophe by Jenny Sullivan
Before I got into Harry Potter in 1999, I was already keen on the idea of being a witch, thanks to The Magic Apostrophe by Jenny Sullivan. It’s set in Wales and tells the story of Tanith Williams, who, on her 13th birthday, discovers that her mother and six aunts – and now her – are all witches. Tanith embraces the world of magic, but when a new girl named Astarte arrives at her school, Tanith finds that her family has powerful magical enemies as well.
I loved the world that Jenny Sullivan created in this book, with a very practical sort of magic that also gave glimpses of centuries-old traditions and lore. I discovered only recently that The Magic Apostrophe spawned a number of other sequels and prequels – might be time to track those down!
4. 45 + 47 Stella Street and Everything That Happened by Elizabeth Honey
The first thing that caught my eye about 45 + 47 Stella Street and Everything That Happened was the cover – covered in scrawly handwriting that just hints at the context and story of the book within. I definitely judged this book by its cover, and my judgment was accurate – it was hilarious, fun, and just a little bit unusual.
The story is written by eleven-year-old Henni Octon, and it’s about the adventures of her and her friends who live on Stella Street. What I loved about this book was that it was grounded in everyday life, the kinds of things that kids experienced (or, at least what suburban kids in the 1990s experienced), all the while telling a bigger story about money laundering, of all things! I loved that the whole thing was written as though Henni herself was writing her story down – it made everything so relatable and down-to-earth. The scribbly drawings and handwritten notes sprinkled throughout just add to the charming ‘handmade’ feeling.
5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Ending things on a classic, Little Women has been my favourite book since I was about 8 years old. I still have the copy that was given to me by my friend Dayle when I was 10 – the plastic on the hardcover is peeling and a few pages are falling out, but it’s one of my most treasured possessions.
The story is a little preachy at times, but I actually have always liked the little lessons that fall out of the pages as I read and re-read this book. After reading it, I always feel encouraged to keep working hard, being kind and thinking of others, and it’s a feeling that has stayed with me from childhood to adulthood. I think it makes sense, as the whole thing is like a re-telling of The Pilgrim’s Progress, featuring four sisters instead of ‘Christian’.
The movie adaptation starring Winona Ryder as Jo is a very faithful (though condensed) adaptation as well, and is one that I love re-watching, even though it makes me cry!
So these are 5 of my favourite childhood novels! What books did you love reading as a child?