Before I commence, faithful Listener, Stickman has something to say to you.
Oh great, thanks a lot, Sticky. Now can you say that other thing please? And do it properly.
Why do you have to be so difficult about everything?
Anyway, moving on.
I recently gave my friend’s daughter the first Where’s Wally? book for her fourth birthday. She ruddy loved it. Within minutes she was hunched over the glossy pages and musing ‘Where’s Wally on this page?’ (She was soon firmly telling me that she knew exactly where Wally was on every page, because it was ‘in her brain’. I’m sure Stephen Hawking started with an equally momentous educational training.)
I am very much hoping that Where’s Wally? becomes one of little Lily’s favourite childhood books; which has led me to consider my own favourite childhood books, and would you believe it, there’s a list of them RIGHT HERE!
George’s Marvellous Medicine
Fortunately, this book did not make me want to murder my own grandmother, but it did, however, lead me to make a series of glorious concoctions in the bath, while I was in it, using everything from Dad’s shaving foam, bubble bath, toothpaste, soap, talcum powder, and, on one unfortunate occasion, bleach. Oh yes, I became the Evil Genius of the Bath, swilling around in a murky cocktail of my own satanic invention – until Mum came in and told me to get the hell out and clean it the hell up.
Tom’s Midnight Garden
A young boy, bored in a 1950s converted mansion house, wakes up on the strike of 13, and ventures out of the back door to find, not a dusty yard with bikes and bins, but a beautiful, verdant Victorian garden and a cast of Victorian characters who have somehow entered his dreams. I would wake at approximately 11pm, creep through the kitchen to the back door, unlock it, and stand irately on our patio opposite the rabbit hutch. What the book didn’t teach me about believing in the power of my own dreams, it taught me in disappointment.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
See Tom’s Midnight Garden, except replace the kitchen door with my wardrobe, and a foot-stomping, baffled frustration at finding not a snow-draped forest and a friendly family of beavers, but a heap of my old school projects on Vikings and the box of Christmas decorations.
Would You Rather
Decision-making is one of the most crucial skills a child can learn. Life is crammed with bone-crushingly significant decisions that we are forced to make, so what better way to be trained in this art than considering whether you would rather have breakfast on a river or supper in a castle, or whether you would rather your house be surrounded by jungle, water or fog? In addition, the choices we made in this book may well have given our parents some crucial insight into our developing characters.
(Yes, my American chums, this is your Waldo. Let’s not get into that old debate. It is upsetting for us Brits.) I spent many happy hours hunting for Wally as a child, and the books also taught me the first hint of that important adult concept of putting off duties.
The Famous Five
These books taught me despair. Reading about a bunch of kids my age being let loose on clifftops and in forests and caves, solving mysteries, catching bad guys and generally having a jolly spiffing time, and knowing that I would never in my entire life have as much fun as they were having, was a pretty hard pill to swallow; not to mention the picnics that Aunt Fanny (snigger) would chuck at them to ensure they had sufficient nutrition for fighting evil. Would I have liked to sit on a grassy knoll with my best chums and eat tinned pineapple, ham rolls, hard boils egg and barley sugars? Yes. Yes I would.
The Railway Children
Yes, the 1970 film adaptation taught me that it is possible to cry so much at the end of a film that several major organs are at real risk of collapsing, but the book made me want, more than anything, to own a red flannel petticoat. Okay, it also made me desperate to live in a stone cottage in the country and muck about on railway tracks, but I really wanted a red flannel petticoat. Red flannel petticoats, as well as being stonkingly cool, save lives.
So tell me, Listener! What was your favourite childhood book?