If you’re looking for summer reading recommendations, author and BBC journalist, Joanna Jolly, describes five books that inspired her own childhood.
I’ve always been a bookworm and I carried my love of stories into a degree in English Literature and a career in writing. Here’s a list of five favourite childhood books – some of which have featured in past 11-plus exams. The list leans a little towards girl readers, but should appeal to both sexes.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr
When I recommended this book to my young niece I had to justify why she should read about scary Nazis. I told her this book was about so much more – living with adversity, adapting to change, the importance of family and experiencing adventure.
Judith Kerr narrates a story based closely on her own childhood experience of having to flee Nazi Germany. Nine-year-old Anna is not too concerned about her parent’s talk of Hitler before the Second World War. But when her father, a famous writer and a Jew, is put on the Nazi’s wanted list, the family have to escape suddenly first to Switzerland, France and then England. It’s the first of three books which describe Anna’s journey to adulthood and understanding. I loved them all and felt I grew up with Anna beside me.
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler – E. L. Konigsburg
This elegantly written and exciting story is a brilliant mixture of detective, adventure and history book. Twelve-year-old Claudia decides to run away from her unappreciative parents and move into New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. She takes her brother Jamie with her because he’s saved up all his pocket money and the two begin the ingenious task of surviving without being caught. While there, they stumble across an art mystery which eventually leads them to the home of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler and a satisfying conclusion to their adventure. Since reading this book, I’ve been unable to visit a museum without calculating where I would sleep if I were hiding out.
Tom’s Midnight Garden – Philippa Pearce
When Tom’s brother gets measles, he’s sent to live with his aunt and uncle in their flat which is part of a subdivided grand old house, whose gardens have been concreted over and built on.
Cooped up inside, he feels lonely until one night he hears the clock downstairs strike 13. Investigating, Tom slips back in time to the Victoria era and into the house’s magnificent garden where he meets Hatty, an equally lonely child. The two become inseparable, but time works differently for the children and eventually they must part. This is a beautiful, and wistful, tale of growing up and moving on. It also shows how a powerful imagination can release us from any prison.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase – Joan Aitken
A fantastic historical romp of scheming relatives, skullduggery and adventure set in the early 19th Century when distant wars threatened and wolves roamed freely. The story centres around the capable and sometimes rash Bonnie who is left in the care of a distant relative, Miss Slighcarp, while Bonnie’s parents are abroad. But Miss Slighcarp has plans to steal the family inheritance and exiles Bonnie and her friend to an orphanage. With the help of friends, the girls fight back to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion. This is a book that champions resilience and resolve against adversity while bringing the past alive.
The Long Winter – Laura Ingalls Wilder
I devoured all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books several times over, but singled this one out because the description of the freezing winter truly brings the pioneer experience alive. Laura’s family are warned that this will be an especially harsh winter so Pa moves them into town for safety. But even here they’re cut off by blizzards and threatened by dwindling supplies. The family have to learn to adapt and accept that only acts of bravery and resolve that will pull them through. Years after reading this, I experienced my first prairie winter while writing my own book, Red River Girl, in Canada. As I struggled with the cold, I often thought about how hard it must have been for the original settlers to cope.
Joanna’s first book, Red River Girl – A Journey into the Dark Heart of Canada, is published by Virago.