Inside the Book Fort

Published on: 08 October 2013 Author: Elys Dolan

For Children's Book Week, picture book creator Elys Dolan shares her favourite children's books.

I find the idea of choosing the 'Best Books' deeply daunting because there are so many books I love I could easily build a little fort from them and hide inside it. I sat by my bookshelves and gave it a try but after hiding in my book fort for a while I decided I was probably going to have to narrow things down a bit.

Elys Dolan

So, I came up with the idea of doing a kind of past, present and future of the books that mean something to me and divided them into three categories:

Books I loved so much as a child I used to take them to bed with me.
Books I love so much now I can only fall down and weep that I will never produce anything as good as them.
Books I'm sure I'm going to love but so far I've had to pay the rent instead of buying them.

So without further ado let us begin...

1. Books I loved so much as a child I used to take them to bed with me.

Little Dracula at the Seaside

Little Dracula at the Seaside by Martin Waddell and Joseph Wright

I think it's probably this book's fault that I write and illustrate in the way I do today. The Little Dracula Books are so manically detailed with so many asides and ongoing jokes that the child Elys aged six brought it into school but then utterly refused to share it with anyone. This was a testament to the way Child Elys saw this book as the hight of literary achievement and didn't want her classmates making it sticky. It's no surprise that now without even really thinking about it I find myself cramming my own books with similar levels of detail. I've never come up with something as fine as the dynamic between Igor and Slave though. Poor Slave, he had a raw deal.

The Jolly Postman

The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allen Ahlberg

I'm pleased but not at all surprised to find this one in the top 100 list. The thing that struck Child Elys about The Jolly Postman was the revelation that the Wicked Witch shops through a catalogue, just like my mum, but she can order FROG POWDER! I wanted to own some frog powder very, very badly. The idea that these fairytale characters with their exceptional lives could do normal things like get postcards, write apology notes and receive threatening letters from solicitors boggled my mind and still does today.

2. Books I love so much now I can only fall down and weep that I will never produce anything as good.

Around the World with Mouk

Around the World with Mouk by Marc Boutavant

This book made me want to be an illustrator. Back in what I call 'the dark times' I was studying fine art so used to hang around at the Tate Modern a lot hoping to miraculously acquire some artistic genius. Having always been a firm believer that the best part of any day out is the gift shop I would find myself there quite often. I would also find myself in the children's section fairly regularly (they have all the best stuff) and I remember reading Mouk and thinking that with all its mad colours and whimsical characters I'm actually enjoying this much more than anything upstairs in the galleries. At that point I snapped my paintbrush in two, flung it at a gallery attendant and stomped off to study children's book illustration.

The Arrival

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Another one that I'm not surprised to find in the top 100. The Arrival creates an intricate and convincing world which serves as the setting for a story told in way more lyrical and articulate than any other I can think of. And Shaun Tan did this all without using a single word. He must have sold his soul for that kind of talent.

3. Books I'm sure I'm going to love but so far I've had to pay the rent instead of buying them.

Professor Astro Cat's Frontiers of Space

Professor Astro Cat's Frontiers of Space by Dr. Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman

This is one that has me gibbering with excitement at the prospect of owning it. Spacesuit-clad animals are one of my 

most favourite things and we all know that space is amazing so if this can all come together in a compelling non-fiction book I want to own it. Ben Newman's artwork looks like something out of the 60s during the hight of space exploration and frankly I'd be happy to have stuff like that plastered all over my walls and make up a substantial portion of my book fort.

The Storm Whale

The Storm Whale by Benji Davis

The reason I really want this book is because of the seaside world it's set in. I've seen one spread featuring beach hut-like houses which remind me very much of exotic childhood holidays in Worthing. Despite years of wandering Worthing beach none of these holidays ever involved me finding a whale, or any other large sea creature, no matter how hard I searched. I want this book so through it I can live the holiday that never was.

There are many, many other books I could put in this list but that would involve me wittering on for longer than is good for any of us so I think I'll have to leave it here.

Oh and if you though I was joking about the book fort, think again...

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