The 'Anne' Series - L.M. Montgomery
'I’ve always felt that out of all the literary characters I’ve spent time with, Anne Shirley would have been the ideal best friend, or, bosom buddy, as she would say. Something about her irrepressible optimism paired with her wholly original view of the world makes me love coming back to her when life gets overwhelming or frightening. I like to think of her as one of my (many) literary life coaches.' - Kristy Pasquariello
This is a true classic series in every sense of the word. It has spawned many adaptations since it was first published and although they are all good in their own right, none of them has ever been able to truly capture the full magic of the books and I am desperate for someone to do a faithful adaptation of the whole series.
Gilbert Blythe was probably one of my earliest crushes. I think whenever I imagined the kind of man I might end up married to, he was probably the model for that invisible figure. From the moment he called her 'Carrots' and she smashed her slate over his head, Anne and Gilbert were destined for each other. However, it is Anne herself who draws me back to these books, even as an adult.
"People laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them, haven't you?” The perfect quote for someone like me!
There are very few books from my childhood that had such a lasting impact on me, but this series certainly did. So much so, in fact, that I've blogged about it twice! Anne was the subject of my first ever proper blog post - here and featured again on a later post about the third book of the series, which can be found here.
The Dark Is Rising Sequence - Susan Cooper
'These are not books for children – they are books for people’ - Robert Macfarlane in his Introduction to the series, Puffin Books, 2019
This is another series from my own childhood that I still read as an adult, taking part in the annual #thedarkisreading event. They are a mixture of fantasy, magic and reality and it's an intoxicating blend. It's the old story of the long battle between good and evil with some mythology thrown in for good measure, but one of the reasons I love these books so much is that although they are aimed primarily at children, they are not written in that way. Cooper's use of language is almost poetic at times and the books do not 'talk down' to their readers.
'My only regret is that I didn't have it when I was twelve years old because I would have read this until it was falling apart in my hands. Every insecure kid (so basically every kid) should read The Lightning Thief. I would want my hypothetical kids of the future to read this book. It's the ultimate childhood fantasy - discovering that everything people labelled as "weird" or negative about you is actually caused by your secret awesomeness. Pretty perfect message, if you ask me.' - Emily May, via Goodreads
My introduction to Rick Riordan was through the Percy Jackson books and the various follow up series in that universe. When he branched out into Egyptian and then Norse mythology I was a little dubious at first. Yes, the books all follow a very similar pattern, but my feeling is that if it's not broken, don't try and fix it. The books work. I also like the fact that although the right side always triumphs, there are casualties along the way and certainly the later Trials of Apollo books don't shy away from the idea of what happens when the glory is over and the demi-gods return to the realities of every day life. These books might be written for children, but even as an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed them.I particularly love the fact that references are made across the different series as it makes it feel like one massive demi-god universe.
The series are:
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians
- The Heroes of Olympus
- The Trials Of Apollo
- The Kane Chronicles
- Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard
My full blog about these books can be found here.
Wind In The Willows (and sequels)
"One can argue over the merits of most books... one does not argue about The Wind in the Willows. The young man gives it to the girl with whom he is in love, and if she does not like it, he asks her to return his letters. The old man tries it on his nephew, and alters his will accordingly. ... When you sit down to [read] it, don't be so ridiculous as to suppose you are sitting in judgment on my taste, or on the art of Kenneth Grahame. You are merely sitting in judgment on yourself. You may be worthy; I don't know. But it is you who are on trial." A. A. Milne
I have an enduring love affair with these books and have written a lot about the impact they had on me as a child. Even now, I still pick them up to re0read occasionally and whenever I go near a river I whisper to myself, 'There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.' Yes, some of it may seem a little outdated to today's children and yes, it might seem a bit weird at first that these animals would not be natural friends in real-life, but forget about all of that. The books are beautifully written and although nothing could ever compare to the original, the sequels are worthy books and capture the spirit of the original, something which the various adaptations have never quite been able to do for me.
The books are:
- The Wind In The Willows - Kenneth Grahame
- The Willows At Christmas - William Horwood
- The Willows In Winter - William Horwood
- Toad Triumphant - William Horwood
- The Willows and Beyond - William Horwood
Tiffany Aching Series - Terry Pratchett
'She couldn't be a prince, and she'd never be a princess, and she didn't want to be a woodcutter, so she'd be a witch and know things.' about Tiffany Aching
I adore Sir Terry. Just getting that out there at the beginning. The quirky and irreverent humour is right up my street. When The Wee Free Men first cam out I wasn't sure if I was going to like it. It was Discworld but it was new and yes, I was sceptical. I freely admit, however, that I was wrong. Tiffany begins as separate but by the end of the book, she is brought firmly into the Discworld fold and fits quite comfortably there. The quote above perfectly sums up her attitude. Tiffany is a no nonsense, feisty child and girls could do a lot worse than adopt her attitude to life. I cried at the end of the last one and not just because it was Sir Terry's last book. It's a fitting ending, but boy did it hurt! I recently introduced my youngest to the books (having despaired that my eldest would ever enjoy them) and he loved it. I can't wait until he's old enough to read them himself and enjoy the rest of them - hopefully his Nac Mac Feegle accent will be a bit better than mine though!
Freddie Malone Series - Clive Mantle
'This is more than just a tale to tell. This a story of (in no particular order) adventure, social and land geography, history, present day, travel and friendship.' Louise, Goodreads
Along with several of the other series featured on this page, this is one I came to as an adult. I'll be honest, the main reason I bought the first one was because Clive Mantle starred in Robin of Sherwood and I wanted to support his new venture. Plus, the premise sounded interesting and I was curious to see if it was going to be any good. The gamble definitely paid off. The books are well written and unlike many of the books written by celebrities, Clive does actually research and write these himself. I thoroughly enjoyed the first one, but as with any series, they've only got better as the series grows and we get to know the main characters better. Each book is a standalone one, but I would definitely recommend reading them in order as there is a story arc that stretches over them all and this makes more sense if you know what's happened in the earlier books. Technically, I buy these for my youngest son for when he's a bit older, but I look forward to each new one coming out and I love that he will have a full set of autographed copies to treasure. These are good old-fashioned adventure style books, but are thoroughly modern in every other way. Plenty of opportunities for kids to learn as they read as well. The best bit is they won't even realise it!
I've done a full review of these books here.
The Keys To The Kingdom - Garth Nix
'Seven days. Seven keys. Seven virtues. Seven sins. One mysterious house is the doorway to a very mysterious world -- where one boy is about to venture and unlock a number of fantastical secrets.' www.garthnix.com
I first read this series in my early twenties. I can't remember who introduced me to them or why, but I probably read them as a way of knowing the kinds of books my then tutor group were reading and to be able to make recommendations to them. (When I look back, I now see that this has always been something I've done a lot of!) However I discovered them though, they quickly became a favourite and they were books I gave my eldest to read. He's now saved them for his younger brother and I suspect that given the name of the main character, Arthur is going to love them too! They are slightly surreal fantasy books, but the hero is very much a normal little boy caught up in an unusual situation and he has many of the same worries as other children his age. It's very easy to become completely immersed in this world.
His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
'"I thought there would be a small audience," Pullman says, "a few clever kids somewhere and a few intelligent adults who thought, "That's all right, quite enjoyed it.'" ' from Robert Butler's interview in The Economist
Like The Dark Is Rising this is a series which suffered from being made into a film. Much as I admire both Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, I couldn't bring myself to watch 'The Golden Compass' at first. When I did eventually give in and watch it, it just made me angry. They'd removed what I felt was the emotional heart of the plot and it ruined it for me. I went back to the books and consoled myself with the thought that at least I could imagine what the film should have looked like. I'll admit I've not yet watched the BBC adaptation, but from what I've read it seems to have done a much better job and I'll get around to watching it at some point. These books are genuine classics and are on most 'books you should have read' lists. They have the perfect blend of the familiar and unfamiliar and are often touted as the atheist's answer to C. S. Lewis. It's easy to see why when you start to analyse them, but more importantly than that, they're just fantastic books.
When the prequels were released, again, I wasn't sure I wanted to read them. Would they be as good as the originals or would I feel cheated? I put it off for ages, but La Belle Sauvage sat on my bookshelf tempting me, until I gave in and within a few pages I was back in that world again and loving every minute of it. In some ways I feel quite envious of the children of today who can begin right at the very beginning and follow Lyra's story chronologically, even from before she is introduced to the story.
Other Children/Young Adult Books Of Note
There are several books/authors that I loved as a child when I read uncritically. As an adult, however, I can see that there are several problems with the books - gender roles, class, race, body shaming etc etc. Consequently, I can't unreservedly recommend them. However, I equally don't feel I can leave them off this list given the influence they had on my love of books and in some cases, for my eldest son as well. When he read them, we talked through some of my points of concern and talked about how the world has changed since they were written. There are also some books I would recommend, but didn't feel they needed more publicity than they already get! Here are those books:
The Chalet School series - Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
Nancy Drew series - Carolyn Keene
Winnie the Pooh - A. A. Milne
The Famous Five - Enid Blyton
Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling