In this post I’m classifying ‘childhood’ as under thirteen, and as such the books that follow are all ones that I first read in primary school. While I was reading books far ahead of my age in primary school (my parents bought me a fully illustrated copy of the Lord of the Rings + Appendices for my twelfth birthday), all of the books listed below are aimed at pre-teen and tweens (I think). I have re-read many of them since primary school; some just for nostalgia, and others because they are genuinely good at all ages, and I now have a slightly better understanding of why I loved these books so much as a kid. I hope some of these bring back fond memories for others, as they do for me.
- Basically anything by Jackie French especially the Phredde series (also known as the Stories to eat with a … series). The Phredde series follows the adventures of a phaery called Phredde, her best friend Pru who is a human, and Bruce who is a prince but honestly prefers to stay as a frog. Phredde regularly uses her magic in a less than thoughtful way (summoning a pyramid for their history project, then getting trapped in it with mummies etc.), leading to hilarious adventures. Each book has a secondary title such as Stories to eat with a banana, or Stories to eat with a blood plum. On a more serious note Jackie French also writes exceptional historical fiction for younger audiences like Hitler’s Daughter, Lady Dance, and A Rose for the ANZAC boys. Lady Dance is a particularly beautiful example. Set during the plagues in Europe, Lady Dance and her followers move from town to town allowing people to join them in their dance and forget about their troubles.
- Deltora Quest by Emily Rodda (her Rowan of Rin series deserves a mention as well). Emily Rodda is hands down one of my favourite fantasy authors. It doesn’t matter that most of her work is aimed at people half my age, she is amazing. The overall Deltora Quest series actually comprises of three series’: the eight book Deltora Quest, the three book Deltora Shadowlands, and the four book Dragons of Deltora. Deltora Quest follows the adventures of Lief, Barda, and Jasmine as they attempt to retrieve the seven gems belonging to the magical Belt of Deltora so they can drive the evil Shadow Lord from their land. The Deltora Shadowlands had Lief, Barda, and Jasmine travelling through the underground societies of Pirran exiles to collect the pieces of the Pirran pipe which would allow them to travel to the Shadowland (formally Pirra), and use the pipe to suppress the Shadowlord’s powers long enough to allow the thousands of Deltoran slaves held there to escape. The final series Dragons of Deltora finds the three heroes on a final quest to defeat the Four Sisters, evil creatures in league with the Shadowlord who are poisoning the land with their song. Each sister much be defeated with th help of a dragon, and the three heroes must travel to the furthest corners of the land of Deltora to find and defeat these evil creatures. These books are a hundred percent ‘High Fantasy’, and even though they are aimed at children, they don’t condescend to them so the books are actually enjoyable at any age. If you are a fast reader you will absolutely power through the series, but they are also perfect for people who aren’t great readers. They are engaging, and easy to read without being simplistic.
- The Saga of Darren Shan by Darren Shan. Delightfully dark, the Darren Shan books introduced me to the horror side of stories about vampirism. Some of you may have
seen the mediocre movie version of the first three books Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant but don’t let that put you off. While John C. Reilly is excellent as Crepsley the rest of the film was decidedly lacklustre compared to the books. The story start with the titular Darren Shan being tricked into becoming Crepsley’s assistant and a half vampire. What follows is a fascinating and in-depth look at how the vampires of this world exist. Darren becomes embroiled in the centuries long war between the vampires and their enemies the vampaneze. He ventures to Vampire Mountain with his mentor Crepsley, faces danger of all kinds, before coming out on top, and helping to lead his people in the final battles of the war. The story includes brutal violence, time travel, inter-dimensional travel, magic, freaks, and monsters, but most of all it is a no holds barred inspection of what it means to be a vampire.
- The Children of the Red King by Jenny Nimmo. A long time ago there was a powerful African magician called the Red King. He had 10 children, each of which inherited some of his powers. Their descendants are known as The Endowed, or the Children of the Red King. Charlie Bone is one such child. He is a Picture Traveller, he has the ability to see into photographs and pictures to the events depicted, and occasionally talk to the occupants or bring objects back. The Children of the Red King are roughly divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ with the ‘bad’ Endowed always trying to gain the upper hand over the ‘good’. All of the school age children attend a boarding school called Bloor’s Academy. Because of the huge variety of powers possessed by the Red King himself there are tonnes of interesting powers in the stories. From talking to animals, through enchanting clothing, to controlling the weather, the Children of the Red King have all sorts of cool abilities. While I absolutely adore the Harry Potter books, for me the Children of the Red King series always felt more grounded in a reality that I recognised. The Endowed are part of everyday society, and the school that they attend, Bloor’s Academy, is actually a performing arts school, with all of the children divided into houses depending on their talent: Drama, Art, or Music. Most importantly none of the main cast, good or bad, are all-powerful. Some of the historical characters like the Red King or Mathonwy come close, but they don’t often play a prominent role in the stories.
- The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques. The first book I ever read in this series is one called Triss which is actually one of the later books in the series. I won it in a Read-a-thon competition when I was about ten. I was already a bit of a literary snob by this point (I was working my way through the Sherlock Holmes stories), and was initially uninterested in a story where all of the characters were animals. I started reading Triss so I could decide whether or not I wanted to keep it or give it away. I ended up devouring the book, and on my next trip to the library I borrowed a huge stack of the earlier books in the series. The Redwall novels cover vaguely interconnected events that can be mapped out geographically and chronologically. All of the characters are anthropomorphized animals, which rapidly becomes irrelevant as you get lost in the story. These stories follow the traditions of other sprawling adventure novels, with tales of good versus evil, and heroes battling to save the day.
Honourable Mentions: Evil Genius Series by Catherine Jinks (funny, strange, perfect for disenfranchised geeks everywhere), and basically anything by Jacqueline Wilson especially the Tracy Beaker series (deals with profound issues in a way that is easily digestible, and sometimes humourous) .