When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne (1924)
There have been a number of childhood books that I hold dear still, but the one that has had the biggest impact on me is this collection of poems by the creator of Winnie the Pooh. My mum used to read a poem to me every night before bed from this book and I can still remember the first verse of my favourite poem – Buckingham Palace. I loved the rhythm of the poems and remembering them and it led to me performing at the Cheltenham festival for a number of years as a child. My mum even bought a copy of this book for my daughter for her first Christmas and reads poems to her when she comes to visit.
“They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace – Christopher Robin went down with Alice.” From ‘Buckingham Palace’ by A. A. Milne.
Hiding Out by Elizabeth Laird (1993)
I read this book back in the late 90s or early 2000s when I was demolishing the children’s section of my local library. I was a prolific reader back then and would easily read 4-6 books a day during the summer holidays. This book gave me such a taste of adventure and it started a thirst for reading more survival stories.
Peter is on holiday with his family and a family that is friends with his own. On the last day of the holiday, the families stop off in a field with a lovely stream and a cave for a picnic and an explore. Keen to avoid an annoying family friend Peter hides in a cave and, due to inadequate head counting, manages to be left behind whilst everyone goes back to England without noticing that he’s missing! Peter has to learn to survive in the wild whilst his parents try and find him. Remember – this was a time before mobile phones!
This book meant so much to me that I spent years trying to figure out what it was called as an adult. Only last year did I finally find the book and the book is now nestled safely on my bookshelf.
“And I know that a little part of me will stay there forever, laying out those treasures on the windowsill and playing at cat’s cradle with my friend.” – From ‘Oranges in No Man’s Land’ by Elizabeth Laird.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling (1999)
Could I even have a list like this without a Harry Potter book? No! I grew up in the age of Harry Potter. The first book came out when I was in primary school and my Year 4 teacher, Mr Tiley, introduced it as a class read. I was hooked from chapter one. I eagerly awaited the release of each new book with my friends and read it completely the day it was released. I even slept with my window open at night in Year 6 in case an owl brought me an invitation to Hogwarts – that’s how obsessed with Harry Potter I was!
I have chosen the third book of the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as it is the first book I remember being excited about the release for. I didn’t start reading Harry Potter until the second book was released, so I had missed the first 2 big release dates. I remember queuing outside W H Smiths at midnight with my dad to collect the book. I was the first one to get a copy and I was over the moon.
The magic and world-building that J. K. Rowling creates in the series is phenomenal and I really hope my daughter loves them as much as I did.
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” – From ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ by J. K. Rowling
Some Will Not Sleep by Adam Nevill (2016)
One of my favourite genres of book is horror. I also love horror movies and, like books, most of the genre is awful! When done right, though, horror is exceptional, spine-tingling and haunting. Adam Nevill is my favourite horror author and he has been called Britain’s answer to Stephen King.
Some Will Not Sleep is a collection of short horror stories that was my introduction to Nevill’s work. I stumbled across the book on Amazon whilst browsing and I was blown away by his work. It is full of terrifying monsters that genuinely scared me (and that is very hard to do!).
“We cannot lead ourselves rationally or humanely or fairly, so we choose the most unscrupulous and egotistical to lead us.” – From ‘Last Days’ by Adam Nevill
A History of the Ancient Near East by Marc van de Mieroop (2006)
I absolutely love history, but after studying modern history at GCSE and A Level, I knew I needed a change when I decided to study history at university. I had an interest in Egyptology and so I decided to study Ancient History. However, whilst at university my interests changed from Egypt to the Ancient Near East and, in particular, the Neo-Assyrians.
The Ancient Near East was really the birthplace of civilisations. It was where we saw the first great empires forged, metalworks and art created and it is where the first forms of writing were established. My wonderful professor and my dissertation mentor, Dr Alasdair Livingstone, collected cuneiform tablets and would let me handle them in his office which really spurred my love of the topic. I was holding objects that were thousands of years old, older than Jesus, in my hands.
Van de Mieroop’s book was one of the core texts in my course reading list and it gave a lovely clear overview of the period. It is one I have also recommended to others since leaving university for those wanting to know more about the era.
“The paths going up to and down from the forest of cedars
All mourn you: the weeping does not end day or night” – From the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ c. 2100BC
Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)
Overworked and exploited farm animals rise up and overthrow their greedy farmer in this allegorical novella by George Orwell.
This is a book that tells the story of the Russian Revolution in a symbolic manner, making the idea of communism, capitalism and revolution accessible for Y9 Ms Carter-Dunn at school. I was fascinated with the story (and the film) for years following this and it fuelled my interest in politics and history even further. This was one of the only books I remember studying at school.
“Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals.” – From ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell.
Little Me – My Life from A-Z by Matt Lucas (2017)
Matt Lucas is one of the presenters of the Great British Bake Off but before he was hosting shows about cakes, he was one of the comedy geniuses behind the sketch show Little Britain. This was my favourite show as a teenager and my friends and I would imitate the characters often (my friend did THE best Vicky Pollard impression). Nowadays, the show would be met with many a raised eyebrow, but its impact on me was enormous.
My mum bought me Matt Lucas’ autobiography for my birthday in November 2017, just a few short days before I went into labour with my daughter. I remember reading this book and laughing whilst having contractions – I needed something to keep my mind off the pain! For that reason, it will hold very special memories.
“The most useful form of time travel would be to go back a year or two and rectify the mistakes we made.” – Matt Lucas