My favourite books from childhood

Published on: 8 Hydref 2013 Author: Marcus Sedgwick

To celebrate Children's Book Week, award-winning author and Blue Peter Book Awards judge Marcus Sedgwick tells us about the children's books that made him into an adult reader.

Childhood is a long time ago, in some ways at least. In other ways, it's still with me, because the things that happened then were first impressions of the world, and first impressions count.

Another thing; childhood is a long time. Not only is it the start of your life, but it goes on for a very long while. As it's happening to you, it appears to be going on forever, and so the books you read then are crucial in building your imaginative world. It never ceases to amaze me how the adult book world sometimes looks down upon that of children's books. Because it is from here that adult readers are made.

These are five books that made me a (sort-of adult) reader.

                      

The very first thing I can remember reading in a way where I had started living inside the book (if you know what I mean) was Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome.

How much I wanted to live this book! Interestingly, and in a totally gender-free way, I didn’t want to be John or Roger. I wanted to be Nancy. She was the cool one; she was a pirate in waiting as far as I could tell. 

Swallows and Amazons

Arthur Ransome

It's the summer holidays, and the Walker children are excited to set sail on their boat Swallow and camp on Wild Cat Island.

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A little later on, and even more than Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome’s earlier book, Old Peter’s Russian Tales, captivated me completely. The skill with which he stitched together his translations of traditional Russian stories with the beautiful device of Grandfather and his two grandchildren created a world of the endless Russian forest which sank deep into my memory, and won’t ever go.

Old Peter’s Russian Tales

Arthur Ransome

Old Peter's Russian Tales is a collection of Russian folk-tales retold/collected by Ransome, originally published in 1916.

This collection is perfect for those children who love Grimm style fairy tales.

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I grew up a bit. I devoured all five of the Dark Is Risingsequence by Susan Cooper. The eponymous second title is probably the book that spawned my love for the darker things in fiction. The calling of rooks in treetops still makes me shiver (in a pleasurable way) today.

The Dark is Rising

Susan Cooper

This is probably one of the greatest fantasy sequences ever written. Darkly magical and intense Cooper weaves her storytelling wonder over fully realised characters and worlds, drawing in the reader and leading them on a journey that will leave them clambering for the rest of the series.

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Peter Dickinson affected me too. His Changes trilogy was the weirdest thing I'd read (until what happened below) and it was what created a love in me for the unusual in fiction. Why should we want to read what we know? I'd rather read what I don't already know.

The Changes Trilogy

Peter Dickinson

Gripped by a strange fear, England closes its doors to the outside world. In a tunnel beneath Wales one man opens a crack in a mysterious stone wall, and all over the island of Britain people react with horror to perfectly normal machines. Abandoning their cars on the roads and destroying their own factories, many flee the cities for the countryside, wh…

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I grew up some more. I read a lot of sci-fi, some horror, though not much, and then one day my dad gave me a copy of Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake.

He'd actually given me the middle book in the trilogy, and some instinct made me wait till the weekend, when we could go into town, and find the first, Titus Groan, which I'm glad I did. These now became the strangest books I'd ever read, and they opened up to me the understanding that fiction can be whatever you want it to be; that it can delight, amaze, horrify and sometimes even transform you. Transform you into an adult, maybe even an adult who reads. And heaven knows, there aren't enough of those...

Gormenghast

Mervyn Peake

Enter the world of Gormenghast, to which the seventy-seventh Earl, Titus Groan, is Lord and heir. It is a kingdom of Byzantine rule and ancient ritual weighed down by centuries of intrigue, treachery, manipulation and murder.

A classic of the fantasy genre, perfect for those who have finished The Lord of the Rings and are looking to move on to some…

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