Sunday, 20 July 2014

52 Lists / Twenty Nine

Joining in with Emma at Made In Hunters and her 52 Lists project.

This week: List your favourite books
This is a long post so you may want to read it with time to spare,  make a cup of your favoured beverage and sit on a comfy cushion.

To say I love books is an understatement.

Over the years books are something that have brought me huge amounts of joy and are something that I've devoted so much time to. As a child I would visit our little local library twice a day during the school holidays. I'd be waiting on the doorstep at 9.30am to get a new book, run home and read it and then head back before the 5pm closing to get another to read that night. That was the pattern of my summer days. My first Saturday job was working in the book department of a children's department store (which for a girl whose favourite film is You've Got Mail was like heaven) and then went on to work part-time in a library when I was a student.

Books have also cost me a lot of space and money. Thankfully with the invention and purchase of a Kindle I no longer buy paperbacks other than if they're written by my favourite tried-and-tested authors. However I now have a picture book addiction that has grown like topsy (and Tim!) and have to keep my own children's library in school just to have space to store them.

Due to my bookish past, I have to arrange books on my shelves in some kind of order so they're all arranged by genre, then author, then size. Thus I've decided to categorise my favourite books by the age at which I first discoverd them. Perhaps one or two of your favourites are here.

Favourite at Three - Lucy & Tom picture books by Shirley Hughes

Mum and Dad bought all these for me and I read and re-read them. They are the simple stories of Lucy and Tom's lives and experiences but they are so warm and cosy, I don't think anyone could resist them. I still get them down off the shelf to read them from time to time when I need something innocent and comforting. I've met Shirley Hughes a few times at  signings at The Illustration Cupboard and she's absolutely enchanting, like everyone's favourite great-aunt. Her Alfie and Annie Rose books as well as Dogger are also lovely!

Favourite at Four - About Teddy Robinson by Joan G Robinson

I can remember pulling this out of my stocking on Christmas morning and could not wait to meet Teddy Robinson and his owner Deborah. I loved having it read to me at bedtime. It was also a favourite that I went back to as I started to learn to read. Again, just simple adventures but they're just what you want when you're small - things that seem incredible but also in the realms of possibility. I also loved Paddington Bear, particularly as he lived in London and the places he visited seemed familiar. My grandparents lived near Portobello Road and I always looked out for Mr Gruber!

Favourite at Six - Milly-Molly-Mandy stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley

Mum had loved these stories when she was little and she was keen to share them with me as I became an independent reader. They are one of the first books I can remember discovering by reading myself rather than having someone else read to me. I loved finding out about Milly-Molly-Mandy's life in interwar rural England, so different from my own life in 1980s London. The days were always filled with sunshine and although they didn't have lots of material posessions, M.M.M., Little Friend Susan and Billy Blunt always had a lovely time. I really treasured my moments cosied up on my bed with my cat reading these stories again and again.

Favourite at Eight - Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

At eight my world revolved around ballet, books and cats. I first encountered Ballet Shoes through a video of a 1970s BBC drama that my parents gave me for my eighth birthday. I watched it again and again and then found the book and read it again and again. I desperately wanted to be Posy Fossil and live with my adopted sisters Pauline and Petrova in South Kensington and attend Madame Fidolia's Dancing Academy. Again, I think because it was set in parts of London I knew (even if it was written about the city in the 1930s) and it all seemed very real. During the summer holidays in 1990 I read this book no less than 6 times and when I when I had pneumonia earlier this year found it comforting to re-read this old favourite.

Favourite at Eleven - A Likely Lad by Gillian Avery

This was the last book I remember discovering at primary school. I found it on the shelves in the Juniors' Library one afternoon when I'd been allowed to go downstairs and find something to read because I finished my work early. I was soon absorbed in reading about turn of the century industrial Manchester and Willy Overs desire to stay on at school rather than leave to work in his father's sweet shop. I could easily imagine all the sights and smells and it made me fall in love not only with Manchester (did this lead me to my future husband?) but this period in history and as a consequence ended up picking my university and course because it offered a module studying specifically this period.

Favourite at Fourteen - Lark Rise To Candleford by Flora Thompson

This was another of Mum's favourites that she wanted to share with me. I loved it from the first chapter and devoured all three books in a weekend. Again it was a very visual book set in another of my favourite periods in history. It is so beautifully written and I think I could identify with Laura's journey from youth into adulthood as she learned the important lessons of responsibility and being divided between staying with her family and moving on to bigger and better things. Again, this was a book I returned to through my undergraduate degree studies when I looked at the move from agricultural to industrial Britain in the nineteenth century as being semi-autobiographical it presented issues in a real and honest way. This was some years before the BBC Sunday night costume drama, although I must admit I enjoyed that too (even thought it wasn't exactly true to the book) and loved being able to visit the set when I worked in BBC TV Locations.

Favourite at Sixteen - I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith

This is my absolute favourite book - I just love it. I read it all on one summer's day and when I got to the end, started it all over again. I discovered it at an age when the world was opening up to me, just as it is to Cassandra in the novel. I wanted to know what true love was and how to make sure it was real. Just like Cassandra I wanted to live life, rather than imagine it. The words are exquisite, it all just flows together beautifully. I equally adored the film - Romola Garai was exactly how I imagined Cassandra. As I've mentioned before, I would like the some of the last words from the novel to be inscribed on my grave: I love. I have loved. I will love. 

Favourite at Seventeen - The Pursuit of Love & Love In A Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

I still have no idea how I discovered Nancy Mitford, and her other amazing sisters, but I do remember reading this on the way to school sat on the District Line and was so engaged that I missed my stop. I read these two novels together in an omnibus edition and just loved the passion and wit. Again, I think it was reflective of my own position at the time: still young and finding out about the big wide world around me. I enjoyed the specific details of the period (can you see how much I love interwar/ WW2 England?) and the diverse characters weaved throughout its pages. Since reading this I've read all of Nancy Mitford's books, most of those by or about her family and even studied Diana Mitford as one of my modules at university. I know have the pleasure of driving past and often parking outside Nancy Mitford's Chiswick house every working day. Something deep inside me gets a little thrill from walking in her steps, if only I was as inwardly beautiful as Fanny!

Favourite at Twenty - The Other Side Of The Dale by Gervase Phinn

I first encountered this book as an audio book when I was studying for my first year university exams. I went to my local public library for text books and picked up this cd as I thought it would be something to take my mind off my history studies during the busy revision period. I loved hearing Gervase Phinn retell the events of his first year as a School Inspector in the Yorkshire Dales and the amusing stories about children usually with lots of amusing comments 'out of the mouths of babes'. I have since enjoyed reading all of Mr Phinn's books and hearing him speak on several occasions, dragging both my Mum and Andy along with me. These books were something that really made me consider teaching as a future career; they don't hide what hard work it is and how frustrating teaching and the silly bureaucratic systems can be at times. These stories were also something I have returned to during my PGCE and NQT years when I wanted to remind myself why I was staying up until all hours planning and preparing - they made me reflect on my own experiences helping to confirm that I had found my true vocation in life.

Favourite At Twenty Five - Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Another present, this time at Christmas from Mum. It was a purchase from The Book People and she thought as I love reading about London and the 1950s, I would enjoy this book. Again, I enjoyed this book way before the BBC television series but have enjoyed both in very different ways. I love the detail of the books and the honesty that Jennifer Worth has when sharing her experiences. They are also very visual and create a true picture of the hard lives of East Enders at this time. The television series is also a lovely, comforting watch; somewhat different to the book as the stories and characters have been adapted to make it more pacey for a TV audience but again it is so visual and mostly accurate in the way it represents the period. I have enjoyed all Jennifer Worth's books, especially her final one about death. My one regret is never writing to Jennifer Worth before her early death to say thank you for bringing me such joy through reading. I always knew that I'd have to create space in my diary whenever a new book was published as I'd not be able to put it down until it was finished.

Favourite at Thirty Two - The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb

And so I'm back where I started, with a children's picture book. It's not that I've not read anything in the past few years (although time has been limited) but there has been nothing that has really made an impact on me, my interests and made me think about who I am. I've picked this final book as it was one I discovered in the summer holiday between my PGCE and NQT year when browsing in a 'proper' bookshop rather than online. I loved the illustrations and knew that if I'd read this book as a child I would have adored it. Little did I know that the illustrator, Rebecca Cobb, is the sister-in-law of one of our good friends - super small world! I enjoyed sharing this book with my class in the Autumn Term and in January loved being told by one of the parents how they had bought it after they daughter had come home raving about it. She also explained that her daughter had made paper dolls for her Dad's birthday present, including herself with the little doll characters from the book. 

It was that moment that I realised what an impact being a teacher has; not in the cold, academic way of helping others to acquire knowledge and skills but in the oddly romantic notion that it can shape people's lives and who they are as people. If I can help others to love books as much as I do, then I will know that I've done a good job. Perhaps in years to come, this little girl will find the paper dolls she made and think about one of her favourite childhood books and somewhere there may be a little thought about her first teacher who introduced her to it. 

What are the books that have made you who you are today?


  1. Early years: Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf, and The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by DuBose Heyward.
    Elementary School years: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster, and Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.
    High School years: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
    College years until now: Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (possibly my all-time favorite, also love her journals), Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, The Gift of an Ordinary Day: a Mother's Memoir by Katrina Kenison, the Gervase Phinn books that you have sent me, and scriptures.
    I love books, too. Favorites from earlier years are frequently revisited. I will have to give I Capture the Castle another chance - my sister-in-law also loves it, but for some reason I remember thinking the ending was too sad...

  2. p.s. - lovely post, I am excited to find the books that you recommended!

    1. Definitely try I Capture The Castle again - it's beautiful! x

  3. I've never heard of a 52 Lists sort-of project. Sounds like a cool idea!
    I don't think I've ever read any of these books, but they all sound great. Even the children's books. My up there books would be The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Secret Garden, Harry Potter, The Secret Life of Bees, etc!

    1. I still haven't read The Secret Life of Bees - it sounds like an amazing novel and features on so many favourite lists. Thanks for visiting my blog! x