• Natasha Boydell

My five favourite children’s books – then and now

A love of reading that begins in childhood lasts a lifetime and inspires the storytellers of the future. Here are five children’s books from when I was a girl that sparked my passion for words – and five current books which are now doing the same for my children…


I was on my way to visit my dad the other week when I passed the library that I used to go to as a child. Seeing that building again brought back long-forgotten memories from my childhood; the anticipation before a visit, scouring the library shelves, eagerly looking for my next adventure, stacking my pile of books as high as I could until it toppled.


The library is no longer there. It’s a block of flats now. But its memory lives on in the many thousands of people who browsed its aisles over the years, immersing themselves in books – fiction, fact, and everything in between – devouring words and feeding their hearty appetite for reading.


The trip down memory lane got me thinking. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl and that’s because the books I read sparked my imagination and my love of storytelling. But which had the greatest impact? Which books have stayed with me now, almost forty years later? And which ones played the most significant role in shaping my long-term career as a writer?


The truth is that I was lucky enough to read many books over the years, some of which I remember and plenty of which I have now forgotten. Every single one of them played a part. But here are my five favourite children’s books, which I still remember reading as if it were yesterday.



My favourite childhood books


1/ Dear Zoo, Rod Campbell


I don’t remember many books from my early childhood because, let’s face it, it was a flippin’ long time ago. But Dear Zoo has stuck with me, and I can still remember turning the pages now. A classic that has remained a family favourite for decades.


2/ Charlotte’s Web, EB White


First published in 1952, Charlotte’s Web was still going strong in the 1980s when I was a girl (as it is now). A beautiful story that provides a gentle introduction to the subject of life and death.


3/ The Naughtiest Girl in the School, Enid Blyton


Another classic, I think I must have read this book a hundred times. It made me slightly obsessed with boarding school (which I never went to, but Blyton makes it sound sooooo good). I read all the books in the series, along with pretty much every book written by this iconic author.


4/ The Saddle Club, Bonnie Bryant


I was pony mad as a child. PONY MAD. I loved every single book in this series and there were many, many books. They are about three girls, Stevie, Carole and Lisa, who become pals when they meet at a riding stables and get up to all sorts of capers. Gosh, I really wanted to be one of them.


5/ Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl


What child has not grown up checking their chocolate bar for a golden ticket? The beauty of Roald Dahl books is that they transport you into a world full of imagination, where anything is possible.



My children’s favourite books


I have two children of my own now and we often go to our local library. They’ve loved going since they were toddlers, wobbling around and picking up dog-eared picture books to take home.


My eldest daughter is an avid reader now and can devour a novel in days. My youngest hasn’t learned to read yet but we often discover her asleep in bed, surrounded by a sea of books.


My children are learning to love books, just as I did as a child, and it’s wonderful to witness. It’s also so much fun to read to them and to immerse myself in childhood books again. There are so many amazing, funny, beautifully illustrated children’s books out there now to choose from.


But, after conferring with the kids, we’ve managed to whittle it down to our top five favourites:


1/ Odd Dog Out – Rob Biddulph


We are aged between four and forty-five in our house and we all absolutely love Rob Biddulph books. Gentle, funny, engaging and with wonderful illustrations, they’re a must for any family with young children. We adore them all but Odd Dog Out – a story about being different – is our fave.


Rob has just released a festive version, Odd Dog Christmas, which is equally as wonderful.


2/ The Brilliant World of Tom Gates – Liz Pichon


The legendary Tom Gates books have inspired literally millions of children. They are for slightly older readers – perfect for children who are learning to read independently and are ready to transition (or have already transitioned) to novels. The books are hilarious and full of doodles and fun activities.


Tom Gates books are what inspired my slightly reluctant eldest daughter to become a happy, confident, independent reader and I will always be grateful to the author, Liz Pichon, for that.


3/ Here We Are – Oliver Jeffers


Another stunning (and quite moving) book from the internationally bestselling creator Oliver Jeffers. An absolute pleasure to read to our children at bedtime.


4/ I Want My Hat Back – Jon Klassen


My hat is gone. I want it back. Seriously, I can’t find it anywhere and it’s freezing at the moment. But on another note, this is a fabulous book.


5/ The Christmas Pig – JK Rowling


A new release, my seven-year-old has already devoured The Christmas Pig and I’m currently having a cheeky read too. Another one for independent readers, this is a great gateway into the world of JK Rowling books (namely the Harry Potter series). It’s beautifully written, captivating, and I can already visualise the blockbuster film which is obviously going to happen at some point.


So there we are! My favourite childhood books, then and now. What are yours? Do let me know!


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