I loved reading when I was younger. The excitement of going to the school library or getting assigned a new book to review in my reading journal was the best! I think everybody has those books that they read so much as a kid that the covers end up torn, the spines are completely bent and the pages are covered in midnight snack stains. These are some of the books that I read over and over again as a youngster and I still love today.
‘My Naughty Little Sister’ series by Dorothy Edwards
Edwards started writing this series to keep her daughter Jane occupied and also based the protagonist on her own little sister, Phyllis. Simply referred to as ‘My Naughty Little Sister’ throughout the series, these books are written from the perspective of a big sister who tells tales about her mischievious little sister. In the books the Naughty Little Sister gets up to all kinds of trouble including trying to cut off a cat’s tail, eating all the trifle at Bad Harry’s party and running away from home when her dad doesn’t give her attention. I love the fact that Edwards challenged traditional gender stereotypes by having a little girl, who is adventurous, strong-willed and confident as the central character of the series. As a big sister reading these I always felt an affinity with the older sibling narrating the books when in reality, my little sister was the well-behaved one, and I was more of the naughty little sister!
‘Airmail from’… by Michael Cox
The ‘Airmail from’… series are some of the funniest, sweetest books I’ve ever read. Filled with humour, facts and cultural references, the books are made up of letters written by young people from different countries around the world. My favourite book in the series was ‘Airmail from Africa; Ngorongoro – Where Cow Poo Is Lucky!’ Written through letters by Christopher, a young boy from Tanzania, the book gives an insight into the culture and lifestyle of the Maasai tribe. Readers learn about the Maasai tribe, the local wildlife and we learn about different cultural beliefs such as why the Maasai believe that cow poo is lucky. Something that was also great was that often the letters would include words from the children’s native language which you could then look up the word in the glossary so you could learn new words. Very seldom do children’s books overtly address topics such as culture, identity, geography, history and politics the ways these do. I truly believe that books like these influenced my love of learning about different cultures, identities and histories and helped to build my empathetic nature.
‘A Caribbean Dozen; Poems from Caribbean Poets’, edited by John Agard and Grace Nichols
I’m mixed race, with one side of my family moving to England from Ireland, the other from the Caribbean during the Windrush. This book of poetry by Caribbean writers was given to us by my uncle who used to work in our local library and is particularly special. With pieces written by 13 poets, the book has poetry for everyone to enjoy and gives a range of insights into Caribbean culture, language and heritage. I love the fact that many of the poems are written in patois- the local or regional dialect of a particular place. I have fond memories from my childhood of my dad’s family meeting up and the Caribbean accents, linguistics and phrases becoming more prevalent as their heritage linked back up. Reading poems in those voices that I was used to hearing was like sharing a secret language with the writers. I also love the range of illustrations by Cathie Felstead which accompany the poems. I think it’s one of the first and only books I have read that is filled solely with drawings of brown faces which is super important growing up as a young brown person. My personal favourite poems from the collection are “Chicken Dinner” by Valerie Bloom, “Corn and Potato “by David Campbell, “Remember” by Pamela Mordecai and “I am the One” by Opal Palmer Adisa.
‘Holes’ by Louis Sachar
I’ll never forget reading ‘Holes’ at high school and falling in love with the story of Stanley Yelnats, the young boy who is falsely accused of theft and sent to a juvenile correctional facility in the Texan desert. The book’s magic lies in the way that it explores so many complex themes through compelling, multi-layered and humorous stories. The theme of male friendship that runs throughout is beautiful and refreshing seeing as a lot of books focus on female friendships and women’s connections to one another. In ‘Holes’, male connections are explored in a positive, emotional manner and the fact that the boys create strong bonds despite their differences, sends a powerful message to young readers. Alongside adventures from the present day, the book also includes stories from the past, most notably the life of a white schoolteacher Kate Barlow and her lover, Sam – an African American farmer who lived in Green Lake in the late 1800’s. Sam is killed when Kate chooses him over Charles “Trout” Walker, a rich white townsman. This storyline explores racism in the US (a narrative that we all know is sadly still relevant today) alongside themes of patriarchy and feminism. The book also explores important socio-political issues such as class, education, homelessness and youth incarceration which, for me, adds to its value. Well written, funny and socially significant – Holes is one of my all-time favourites.
Anything by Jacqueline Wilson!
Last but not least, probably my favourite author of all time – Jacqueline Wilson. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved her books as a child. I am actually very tempted to re-read them all again now as an adult! Her books cover everything from domestic abuse, homelessness and first loves to death, grief and female friendships. The first Wilson book that I love is ‘Dustbin Baby’. Released in 2001, when I was about 8 (!!) the book is about 14-year-old April who was abandoned in a dustbin as a child. The book tackles issues such as suicide (April’s mother ended her life a few months after April was born), depression, foster care and bullying which are all handled sensivitely and brilliantly. Another great book by Wilson is ‘Secrets’; which follows the unlikely yet special friendship between Treasure – a young girl living on an estate who is abused by her stepfather and India – a middle-class girl whose rich parents pay her no attention except for mocking her weight. The book tackles issues of domestic abuse, class, fat-shaming and alcoholism through the girls’ diary entries which are based on their shared love for The Diary of Anne Frank. Last but not least, my absolute favourite book by Jacqueline Wilson is ‘Lola Rose’. In this heart-wrenching book Jayni, along with her mum and little brother Kenny, flees her abusive dad after the family win £10,000 on the lottery. What follows is a journey of new identity (hence the glamorous persona of Lola Rose), financial gain, terminal illness and abuse. The book addresses domestic violence sensitively and I think it’s so important that a book written for a younger audience includes issues like this. The fear of being found by dad, the conflict of choosing between parents and the need to grow up very quickly to support your family is what many young people tragically go through every single day therefore this book can provide a safe haven and familiarity for readers.
As an adult, reading has become something that I have abandoned slightly but thinking about the books that gave me so much joy as a child makes me want to get back into it. With that said, I’m off to go and re-read Jacqueline Wilson’s back catalougue now!