Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Childhood Favourites: Literary Nostalgia

A few days ago, I was pondering what subject to write about next, when I realised my mind had wandered over to a book called Vampire Park, by Willis Hall, which I had owned as a child. I hadn't thought about this particular book in years, had forgotten about it's existence, even, until the forage in the loft at my parents' house that helped to kickstart this blog. Since then, and I'm not entirely sure why, it's stuck in my head. It's not exactly a literary classic; the story is about a 'veggie' vampire (take that, Cullens - and you thought you were the only ones!) who only drinks tomato juice, and who returns to his castle in Transylvania after a holiday to discover his distinctly un-vegetarian, British cousin Freddie has turned up, with claims to the castle and a plan to turn it into a theme park. Count Alucard is too mild-mannered to question Freddie and so lets him get on with his plans, though there's something odd about this cousin of his...

Alright, it's not the stuff of great literature - copies are currently selling for one english penny on Amazon Marketplace if you're interested, though the postage will cost more - but for some reason it's a book that sticks with me; from what I can remember, it was a bit clever, there was a decent plot, and it was funny, and when you're ten years old there's not a whole lot more you'd ask for from a book. If you asked me now what my favourite book as child was, you'd be waiting a good while for me to come up with an answer, and I'd hope it wouldn't be this, but maybe ten-year-old Jasmine would answer differently. It did, however, get me thinking hard about what my favourite book from childhood would be, and I struggled so much with the answer that I started to give myself a headache. For starters, I couldn't really think of any books from my childhood, apart from fairly obvious ones, which made me sad - so instead, I enlisted the help of Twitter and Facebook to see if anyone else remembered their childhood favourites.

They did, and I was quite surprised by what I found, for it seems that I'm not the only one who struggles to pick a favourite; a quarter of all the people who responded to my nosey question couldn't pick just one. Indeed, one friend kept coming back again and again, with contributions ranging from the little-known The Mennyms by Silvia Waugh, to Mallory Towers by Enid Blyton. What surprised me more, though, was that 42% of books mentioned were published pre-1980; for a lot of the respondents, that's before they were born. Of that 42%, a third were Enid Blyton titles, the most popular of which was The Magical Faraway Tree series, though The Naughtiest Girl In The School and The Secret Seven did get a look in (surprisingly, no Famous Five - not a lot of love for Timmy and George, then). In fact, a lot people answered with what could be considered 'classic' children's literature; The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, Heidi and Little Women to name but a few. I wasn't expecting this, if I'm honest; I suppose I had half hoped that more people would come up with slightly shameful examples, such as my dear own Vampire Park, but no, I've been put in my place. There were a few authors and titles that I was expecting, such as Roald Dahl, which I got (curiously, out of the mere four people who mentioned Dahl, only one went for a specific book - The Twits, if you were wondering - whereas the rest went for just 'Roald Dahl'), Jacqueline Wilson, who also cropped up, and J. K. Rowling, which I didn't get. That was a bit of a shocker; given that my generation grew up with Harry Potter, I was under the impression that books from the series would come up a fair few times, but no, not even once. I suppose that might be due to the fact that it was still being published when we were all in our late teens and early twenties, so to call it a childhood series to people of my age might not ring quite true. Funnily enough, Enid Blyton never even occurred to me as being an option, and yet, as mentioned before, her name came up over and over again, more than anyone else, in contributions by men and women alike.

Another surprise was the number of, dare I say it, 'baby' books that came up; The Hungry Caterpillar, Not Now, Bernard and Peace At Last! all got a mention, and, to my delight, a personal favourite of mine, Winnie the Witch. On the flipside, there were a few surprisingly 'adult' entries, of which The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 and 3/4 and The Lord of The Flies are two examples. I myself was a bit shocked to see The Lord of The Flies associated with childhood by a contributer, as I read it when I was about seventeen and personally would not consider it a childhood book; a teenagers', maybe, but not childhood, not by a long shot. I suppose this just goes to show that there isn't an age limit to childhood, that the term 'childhood' itself holds no boundaries, and the same applies to books from that age. If you considered yourself a child when you read a certain novel, then it was a childhood book. Maybe this is why Harry Potter didn't crop up; I was considering myself a bit of a grown-up when I first read The Philosopher's Stone, at the grand old age of twelve, and because I still own copies, and still read them, they're not children's books to me; they're a weird kind of in-between, books that are, technically, for children, but appealling to age groups far outside the ages of 'childhood'.

What I loved most about the responses that I got, was the number of people who seemed to have put thought in; one contributor offered a reason for why The Magic Faraway Tree was one of theirs ('my mum used to read them to us complete with banging saucepans when she was reading about the saucepan man'), whilst others offered a book for each of the three stages of childhood - toddler, child, young adult - which just seemed to prove to me that you can't put an age on childhood. It's definitely given me food for thought in terms of my favourite childhood books, and I'll be compiling a list soon to sit alongside this entry. In the meantime, though, if you happen to remember a book from your childhood, let me know; I've loved reading all your thoughts, and all the surprise entries - Goosebumps was one I never expected to see, but I know I read nearly all of them and I even had the board game to One Day At Horrorland - and if you have any more, I'd love to know. They might be some forgotten favourites of mine that I'll want to reclaim.

1 comment:

  1. Your book choice reminded me of one of my favourites, I can't remember its title but it was about a vegetarian vampire called Vlad the Drac! If you can wait until I visit home, I'll check out my shelves and let you know, because I'll have *loads* of 'shameful' examples for you. Also, I bloody loved the Famous Five, way more than the Secret Seven :-)