In June 1997 a hitherto unknown author, J. K. Rowling, saw her first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone published in the UK and children’s book reading lists were changed forever.
Every generation has its favoured children’s books. The books that capture our imagination as we grow up, stay with us throughout our lives and we invariably re-introduce them to our own children as family favourites years later.
Children love the world of fantasy and make-believe and books, like the Harry Potter series, stimulate their imaginations, thrill, tease and scare them with equal measure.
So as National Children’s Book Week starts (3 – 9 October) organised by the Book Trust, it is timely to take a look at some of the classic books that have captured children’s hearts over the years.
[Relevant: How to teach your child to read]
While the Harry Potter series was by no means the first, it has been one of the most successful. A total of seven books chart the young wizard Harry Potter and his friends’ exploits as they are educated in magic at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and have a series of adventures taking on the dark forces of Lord Voldemort.
At the other end of the century a young nature-loving illustrator wrote and illustrated The Tale of Peter Rabbit which turned out to be the first of a long series of books by Beatrix Potter, detailing the adventures of familiar country and farmyard animals. Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggy- Winkle and Jemima Puddle-Duck were just a few of the beautifully drawn animals that were the subjects of these classics and remain popular with children more than a hundred years later.
The much-loved bear of very little brain, Winnie-the-Pooh, was beautifully brought to life in the 1920s by A. A. Milne. Created for his son — who in turn was the inspiration for the boy in the books, Christopher Robin — Milne’s stories bring his child’s toys to life and chronicle the world of Pooh Bear, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and friends in One Hundred Acre Wood.
Across the Atlantic, Theodor Seuss Geisel used the penname Dr Seuss and wrote more than 40 books featuring crazy characters, rhyme and often trisyllabic meter for a more entertaining and easy read for kids. The Cat in the Hat was the result of a challenge to write an entertaining children’s book containing the key words first-graders should know. The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Horton Hears a Who and many more feel as fresh today as they did in the 40s and 50s.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis was the first of his Chronicles of Narnia series which draw on Christian themes. This first book introduces four children who discover the magical world of Narnia through the back of a wardrobe and their adventures unfold in which the good talking lion Aslan is pitted against the wicked White Witch.
From Willy Wonka to Matilda, The Twits to Boggis, Bunce and Bean it is hard to imagine children’s literature without the ghastly and gorgeous characters that Roald Dahl dreamed up. James and the Giant Peach started his foray into children’s writing when it as first published in the UK in 1967. Perfectly illustrated by Quentin Blake his books invariably pit children against one or several monstrous adults.
In recent years it is not just J. K. Rowling who has been behind the explosion of children’s fiction. Today children can enjoy the inspiring and thought-provoking works from authors ranging from Judy Blume to Julia Donaldson, Michael Morpurgo to Louis Sachar.
Sita Brahmachari, author of Artichoke Hearts winner of the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize this year and on the Book Trust’s 2011 Best Book Guide says: “I think what’s happening in children’s publishing is there is now a huge amount of variety. There are classics from previous generations and we all read stock books but now there is a massive cannon of work and children’s book publishing has really rocketed.”
And describing the appeal of writing for children Brahmachari says: “I love writing for the 11+ range because it’s such an intense moment in childhood where you can’t communicate your internal world with people around you. There’s a vulnerability and high octane emotion which is fantastic material for an author and rich in possibilities.”
Children’s Book Week, organised by the Book Trust, is from the 3 – 9 October.
Which childhood books are your favourite?