At the moment, everyone's arguing about what
makes a children's book. I think a children's book is one
you'd most love to come across for the first time before you're
fourteen. Simple as that. So make sure that you haven't missed
a single one of these before your fourteenth birthday. And if
you're a good reader, have a go at them sooner.
assuming you've read Joan Aiken's Black Hearts in
Battersea and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase already, but
if you haven't, this is about your last chance. And that's true
for Russell Hoban's The Mouse and His Child.
Have a few old-fashioned flashbacks. These are "the classics",
coming up. First, you could read everything by Frances Hodgson
Burnett. Start with The Secret Garden if you haven't
read it already. Little Lord Fauntleroy is my favourite.
And A Little Princess is really good. (Unusually, so is
E Nesbit is the writer I most wish I hadn't missed in childhood.
(I don't know quite HOW I missed her, but I did.) The Railway
Children is obviously the most famous. But do have a go at
the others: Five Children and It. The Phoenix and the
Carpet. The Treasure Seekers.
would be shame to miss The Borrowers by Mary Norton.
(The film's a pleasure, too.)
My favourite children's writer: T H White. He wrote The
Once and Future King, which is the story of Arthur, and Mistress
Masham's Repose. Both these books are back in paperback after
years of shameful neglect, but during those years I found plenty
of copies in second hand bookshops, and if you see any of them,
buy them at once. I promise you won't be sorry.
If you haven't read The Silver Sword, by Ian Serraillier,
then you've missed one of the finest children's books of the 20th
century. It's such a classic there are plenty of copies around.
I doubt if you'll be lucky enough to find a copy of The Hunted,
by Peter Carter. But I think it's one of the finest novels
about wartime that I've ever read. (If you find one, I'll buy
it off you if you don't want to keep it.) I feel the same way
about Maurice Gee's The Fat Man. A brilliant book,
but one that wasn't even published in Britain, even though it
won prize after prize in Australia. If you see a copy of that,
I'll take that, too.
If you haven't read Susan Price, you're in for a treat.
But you won't find her second hand much yet. Try Head and Tails.
Same with Hilary MacKay She has a series of comedies called
The Exiles, The Exiles at Home, etc. But I doubt
if anyone's giving them away yet.
But you will find Madeleine L'Engle books, and they are
certainly worth taking home. Start with A Swiftly Tilting Planet,
A Wrinkle in Time, etc.
And don't miss the Susan Cooper books that you'll find
everywhere. Over Sea, Under Stone, The Dark is
Rising. and more.
Mahy is always worth a read. Any title. And so is Jan
Mark, if you can find her books. William Mayne and
Peter Dickinson have tremendous fan clubs and people who
just don't get them. You could stand there and have a bit of a
read to see which camp you fall in.
You should have read Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy
ages ago. But if you missed it, still just time to enjoy it a
lot. Am I allowed to mention myself? The book that gets stolen
most often during visits to schools is my Crummy Mummy and
Me, but anything you see of mine you should pick up at once.
Someone you know will want it.
books just never seem to be in second hand shops. Probably no
point looking for The Great Elephant Chase by Gillian
Cross. Or Aquila, by Andrew Norris. Or Harry
and the Wrinklies, by Alan Temperley. Or anything by
Geraldine McCaughrean. But you may well find J R R Tolkien's
The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings. Don't miss
them, even if you've seen the film.
I hardly ever see a Terry Pratchett novel second hand.
But, when I do, I buy it.
You will find Jill Paton Walsh, and Nina Bawden
and Robert Westall. And they're all writers not to miss.
I haven't finished, you know. I will be back. But this is more
than enough to keep you going. And if you've already read them
all, you certainly don't need me. You're doing fine already.