Favourite Books

A list of some of my favourite childhood reads

Where the
Wild Things Are

Written and illustrated by
Maurice Sendak

This book made a huge impression on me as a child. A simple poetic text and beautiful pictures combine to tell the story of a little boy who discovers an island populated by extraordinary monsters. My son, Max, is named after the book's mischievous hero.

As well as being brilliantly illustrated, I think this book has one of the best picture book texts ever written; it's short and deceptively simple, but has a wonderful poetic quality when read aloud. The rhythm of the words is particularly clever - moving in and out of rhyme to emphasise changes in the story's pace and mood or stopping abruptly to make the reader pause and think. This book and "In the Night Kitchen" (by the same author) inspired me to write Dinosaurs After Dark.

Wild Things cover
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Cat Cover

The Cat in the Hat

Written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss

All of Dr. Seuss's books are good, but this one is a classic. Two children are stuck inside on a rainy day when an unruly and uninvited visitor arrives to entertain them. With its zany illustrations and lively rhymes, this is a great story to read aloud, but it's an excellent book for early readers as well.

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Visit the Dr. Seuss web site

Harold and the
Purple Crayon

Written and illustrated by
Crockett Johnson

This is the surreal story of a little boy who inhabits a fantasy world that he draws for himself with a purple crayon. The illustrations may seem a little simplistic to the adult eye, but I can still recall the vivid impression that this book made on me as a toddler and it remains one of the most ingenious and visually witty picture books that I have ever come across.

Johnson went on to write a further five books featuring Harold and the purple crayon.

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Visit the Crockett Johnson web site

Purple Crayon Cover
Nogbad Cover

Comes Back

Written by Oliver Postgate
and illustrated by
Peter Firmin

This book is one of a set of short "Starting to Read" books, adapted from Postgate and Firmin's Noggin the Nog TV series. They were among the first books I can remember reading for myself, having borrowed them repeatedly from my local library.

Noggin is the benign ruler of a Viking settlement. On his adventures he encounters a variety of colourful characters and strange creatures including dragons and talking birds.

This book features Noggin's arch-nemesis, his evil Uncle Nogbad. Nogbad remains one of my favourite villains; cunning, deceitful and irredeemably bad.

Visit the Noggin the Nog web site

The Phantom Tollbooth

By Norton Juster

This is one of the first novels I read as a child and still enjoy reading as an adult. It's about a boy who goes on a journey through a magical kingdom where words and numbers have a life of their own. Among the many strange and wonderful creatures that he encounters are a Spelling Bee, a Watchdog and the Mathemagician.

It's a sort of 20th Century version of "Alice in Wonderland" with a lot of clever ideas and some marvellous wordplay that make it a very enjoyable read.

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Tollbooth cover
Charlie Cover
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Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory

By Roald Dahl

I can still remember my teacher reading this book to me at primary school and I have read it, and most of the other Dahl books, many times since.

For anyone who doesn't know (they are presumably from another planet), it is the story of a young boy, Charlie Bucket, who wins a competition to enter a magical chocolate factory owned by the enigmatic Will Wonka. Charlie is likable enough, but the real stars of the book are the other four winners, dreadful children who have been spoilt rotten by their parents.

Dahl is one of the few writers who is able to talk to children directly. When I first came across this book I felt like I had also been allowed to enter the chocolate factory. The book is full of the subversive ideas and outrageous humour that set Roald Dahl apart from other children's authors.

Visit the Roald Dahl web site

The Compleet Molesworth

Written by Geoffrey Willans
and illustrated by Ronald Searle.

This book a sort of guide to life, written from the point of view of Nigel Molesworth, a mischievous schoolboy. The Compleet Molesworth is an omnibus of four books: Down with Skool! How to be Topp, Whizz for Atomms and Back in the Jug Agane. The books were first published in the 1950s and I suspect that Molesworth's life bears little resemblance to any modern schoolboy's; it certainly bears little resemblance to my own. However, it is one of the few books that I read as a child that can still make me whoop with laughter. Ronald Searle's characterful drawings perfectly compliment Willans' quirky anarchic and creatively spelled text.

This book has since been revised and re-issued under the simpler title of "Molesworth".

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Molesworth Cover
Asterix cover

The Mansions of the Gods

(An Asterix Adventure)

Written by René Goscinny
and illustrated by Albert Uderzo

Translated by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge

The Asterix series by Goscinny and Uderzo are good examples of how intelligent comic books can be. Uderzo's drawings are packed with atmospheric detail and visual witticisms that could not be expressed in writing. All the books have inventive and original plots and a wealth of amusing characters.

This particular story tells how Julius Caesar attempts to civilise the Gaulish heroes by building a Roman town next to their small village. The plan succeeds at first, but the Gauls soon find that civilisation isn't all it's cracked up to be.

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Visit the Asterix web site