the last visible dog (intertext) wrote,
the last visible dog
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"Favourite" or "Best?"

This is my first chance to respond to and present some of my own choices in last week's discussion of favourite children's books. Five Children's Laureates were asked to provide a list of their top five favourite books. This was followed up by Guardian commentator Lucy Mangan with her choices . All six lists are very personal, and it's interesting to see that there's virtually no duplication, no clear single favourite, and no Harry Potter.

That, of course, brings me to my own list. I was interested to see that the original article states that the five Laureates were asked to list their "favourites," and that these have automatically then been construed to mean the "best." Is it the same thing? I don't think that if I were to list my "favourite" books as a child and then what I thought were the "best" books, they would necessarily be the same. For one thing, I think it's much more difficult to list the "best."

I'm going to list my favourite books from when I was a child. These were the books that informed my childhood, that I read over and over again. And I'm going to cheat, because all of them are series, but I will pick my favourite from each series. This list also speaks to the old Jesuit idea about "give me a man before he is seven and he's mine for life" (I always hear Maggie Smith doing Jean Brodie saying that about girls), because I started reading all of these at or before the age of seven.

1. The Moomin books. I remember getting Comet in Moominland out of the Guildford Public Library before we left England, and then it taking years to find it again in Canada. I was given Finn Family Moomintroll either for my birthday or Christmas soon after that. I didn't know the others existed until some time later. These were the first books that made me think about life in some serious way. The early books are just fun romps, but as the series progresses the outlook gets much more philosophical. They celebrate the eccentric, the lonely and the solitary (not the same thing). My favourite? Moominland Midwinter, which balances the light frothy atmosphere of the early books and the slightly darker, sadder, later ones. My least favourite was always Moominvalley in November.

2. The Narnia books. My mother read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe out loud to me when we first arrived in Canada (I was 7). I remember weeping when Aslan was killed. Over the years, kind relatives sent me the rest from England in Puffins as they came out, and I also was given The Horse and His Boy in hardcover for Christmas when I was nine or ten. Favourite? Hands down The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Least favourite? The Horse and His Boy or maybe The Last Battle which I found rather distressing.

3. Arthur Ransome. Swallows and Amazons was the first full length book I read to myself, and my mum (bless her heart) bought me several in the series at the Oxfam shop before we left England. I was also given these as presents over the next few years of my life, and got some of them from the library over and over again. I now have the complete set in hardcovers :) My favourite? hmmm. It's a toss up between Missee Lee and Winter Holiday. Least favourite? Not sure, maybe Coot Club and The Big Six - the ones that did not feature the Walkers and the Blacketts.

4. Noel Streatfield. I was given Ballet Shoes, again, just before we left England, on my seventh birthday (my mum was always terrific at giving me books as presents). I read and re-read all of her books throughout my childhood. They are all about children who Work, but they do cool things like act and dance and play music and train horses for a circus. She presents a tough attitude towards professionalism and hard work that I think was quite influential on me as I grew up. My favourite? Tough choice. I always loved Apple Bough because the theme of longing for home spoke to my own experience, but probably White Boots was my absolute fave.

5. The Laura Ingalls Wilder books. At last we have a series that reflects the fact that I actually grew up in North America! Maybe one reason that I always longed to return to England was that my reading was so much informed by English children's books via my mum's reading and what my aunt and grandparents sent me. We were introduced to The Little House in the Big Woods at school, when I was in grade two (again, age 7), and I rushed home and demanded to read more. I loved them. My favourite was always On the Banks of Plum Creek, but I'm not sure why. Least favourite? The Long Winter, which was pretty harrowing.

I must also mention the one book that, had I been asked, I would have named as my favourite from the age of about 9 on up: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. And I should also mention Carbonel and The Kingdom of Carbonel.

But if you were to ask me to name my top five choices for the "best" children's books? They'd be different, with the possible exception of the Moomins. But that will have to be another post.
Tags: books, memories, reading
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