Answering the impossible question

Published on: 9 Hydref 2013 Author: Jamila Gavin

Jamila GavinTo celebrate Children's Book Week, author Jamila Gavin tries to answer the impossible question, 'what is your favourite book?'


Reading was my passion as a child and, because it was always difficult to find any peace to read, I used to lock myself in the lavatory or hide behind the sofa with my book.

It's an almost impossible question to answer when asked "what is your favourite book? I had so many. But I suppose the ones that have stayed with me and that I've passed on to both my children and grandchildren are Little Grey Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh, the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, and Grimm's Fairytales. Later, but not much later, came Treasure Island, A Little Princess and, most deeply affecting of all, The Secret Garden. I think, in a way, rather than favourite characters, I have favourite places. I love the mysterious woods and forests, the undersea worlds and, most especially, secret gardens. It was the one thing which stirred my imagination coming to London from India as a young child, and playing in overgrown bombsites and dilapidated gardens.

Noting that so many of my favourite books, as a child of the 40s and 50s, were from the late nineteenth century to the twentieth century: people like R L Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Frances Hodgson Burnett and Alison Uttley, I suppose I could argue for that period being a golden age of children's books. But I think there has probably never been such a variety of children's books than over the last thirty or so years; for all ages, tastes and illustration. I feel privileged to have lived through such a wonderful period - and long may it continue.

As to favourite illustrators: I love Margaret Tempest's illustrations for Little Grey Rabbit, Charles Robinson for his illustrations of Hans Andersen, N C Wyeth and Mervyn Peake who have done marvellous illustrations for Treasure Island, and E.H..Shepard's drawings of Winnie the Pooh. Of today's illustrators, there are too many extraordinary talents to list along with Quentin Blake, Maurice Sendak, John Burningham, Inge Moore, Emily Gravett, and I'm sure that one day, Richard Collingridge, who has just illustrated a book of fairytales for me, Blackberry Blue, will be a contender for the top one hundred best illustrators.

As to a favourite book on the list: I was especially pleased to see Geraldine McCaughrean's book, Kite Rider which I not only loved, but greatly admired. But if there are authors I thought might be on the list, they would be Rudyard Kipling for Mowgli or The Jungle Book, and Terry Pratchett for his Discworld books.

My favourite genre of children's books is probably the fairytale, and myths and legends which have fed and watered me throughout my life, and been an inspiration as a writer. I think their themes are everlasting, and often find their way into contemporary novels and stories because they are universal themes. But I think one of the things our contemporary writers have been so brilliant and brave at exploring, are the issues of our day: broken families, teenage relationships, pregnancy, discrimination, drugs and dysfunction of all kinds, often blended into the imaginative worlds of science fiction or parallel universes, but not forgetting the wit and humour of Louise Rennison and Terry Pratchett. I believe it is so important for young people to see their own mirror image, and perhaps gain an understanding of their own problems and place in the world and, most of all, to realise there is joy and fun out there, and hope.

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