So, the Waterstones’ Children’s Book Prize shortlist has just been announced. I’m not familiar with many of this year’s nominated titles, so there’s some homework for me.
It’s nothing new to declare oneself as an adult who enjoys reading children’s and/or YA books. It’s cool, zeitgeisty and inclusive – ignore all the critics who say that it’s indicative of a juvenile tendency in today’s troubled millennials and their desire to regress; I reckon you are free to adore Will Self and Wolf Hall and Twilight and Michael Morpurgo in equal measure (just like you can enjoy both Balzac and Sex and the City). Why limit yourself to a particular subsection of culture, or earnestly avoid anything seen as ‘low’ art? And anyway, as much cleverer people than me have said, good children’s writing is good writing.
There exists a whole slew of very funny blogs aimed at adult readers of children’s or YA books: too many to list here, but even then it was only the other day that I discovered the delights of the brilliant Book Riot (which features posts focusing on such vitally important debates as JK Rowling’s alleged ‘mistake’ over Ron and Hermione and, even more crucially, which YA character has the most husband potential (I could think of a few more to add to their list, not least Wolf from Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes but you know, that might risk GIVING AWAY MY AGE)).
I love recommending things to younger relatives – I aspire to be a sort of older cousin-come-geektastic-book-dispensing-fairy – and I love in turn hearing what they’re into. Haven’t heard their thoughts on the Waterstone’s list as yet, but it got me thinking about what I’d put if I had to sketch out my own, all-time favourites list. Not that any such list could ever be representative, or complete! But right now, off the top of my head, I’d go for:
Hairy McClary’s Rumpus at the Vet by Lynley Dodd and David Tennant. For the character of Noodle the Poodle alone.
Dogger by Shirley Hughes. Made me want to be a better sibling in a very sweet and non-didactic way.
Dear Daddy by Phillippe Dupasquier. My own Dad once worked away and this was when I first understood that sometimes we read to find solace: a character has usually been there before you.
The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it was None of his Business by Werner Holzwarth. A mystery, involving various kinds of POO! Does it get better??
Fiction for 5-12-year-olds
Frozen in Time by Ali Sparkes – this is FAB, the stuff children dream of. A brother and sister discover a time capsule buried in their garden – which happens to be a rather large underground chamber containing two cryogenically-frozen children from the 1950s! Cue fish-out-of-water-style mayhem as the two children abruptly enter the 21st century. Political incorrectness and culture shock – thought-provoking as well as funny.
King of Shadows by Susan Cooper. Shakespeare and time-travel! A determined but traumatised young lad named Nat is about to have the adventure of a lifetime playing Puck at the Globe. And it has the most beautiful, meaningful ending: ‘One day I’ll write thee an airier Robin Goodfellow…’ We know Nat is going to grow up and be a wonderful actor. And play Ariel in The Tempest, just as he was promised by Shakespeare himself…
Room 13 by Robert Swindells. Read it in year 3, 4, 5, and possibly again in Year 6. And yet again when I led a children’s drama club and we performed the stage version. So y’see, Whitby was synonymous with darkness for me long before I read Dracula or even Robin Jarvis’ The Whitby Witches. Still find myself searching for the Crow’s Nest hotel and ‘the eye that sleeps by day.’ Swindells is massively underrated.
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. This was one of those books that I read as a child and completely forgot the title, and had to google all sorts of things before I refound it all these years later. Thank you, internet. So good to know the book’s still out there. Wonderful, moving, US-set coming-of-age story.
The Kitty Slade Series by Fiona Dunbar. A girl who can see ghosts – and blogs about it. Makes growing up just that bit more problematic. Book 2, Fire and Roses is probably my favourite, not least for the clever ways it uses events and real historical figures of the 18th century to create a twisty tale that involves some fun code-cracking.
WOAH, STOP. WAY TOO MANY TO LIST. It’s no use – it’s going to have to be a future post. I’ll just say though that I really loved two of last year’s Waterstone’s nominees, Andy Robb’s Geekhood and Annabel Pitcher’s Ketchup Clouds (which went on to win). And I constantly find my *relatively* new children’s/YA ‘crushes’ (John Green, Meg Rosoff, Maggie Stiefvater, Kevin Brooks, Patrick Ness, Jenny Downham) competing with the ‘old guard’ (Anne Fine, Phillip Pullman, Robert Swindells (for the compelling and more adult Staying Up), Judy Blume, Louise Rennison (for Georgia Nicholson and her nunga-nungas, of course), Jan Mark, Jaqueline Wilson, Dick King-Smith…) Well, not competing, but jostling with them perhaps – some of the ‘old guard’ authors remain as popular as ever, others less so. I want to bring them back…