Gateway Books Part One

Hello Bookworms!

I’ve fallen down a nostalgia induced Google wormhole today trying to research this blog post – aargh!

*Bonus points for knowing what 90’s music video this is from

Why have I spent the last hour chuckling at images of old Just 17 magazines and frantically trying to place random tv theme tunes? Well, I’ve been looking back through my life to see which books have been the real game-changers… the ones that I’m calling:

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A whole new worrrrrrlllllldddddd….

Ahem.

So, I thought it would be good to start at the beginning, when I first began to choose my own books. I guess at around ten years old I was mostly reading:

Children’s Fiction (unsurprisingly)

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I remember reading Goodnight Mister Tom with the rest of the class at primary school and it was so sad but utterly captivating too. Even the annoying kids with poor concentration were absolutely gripped by the story! The backdrop of the war led me to  other books like Warhorse by Michael Morpurgo and Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden and when I was even older, books like All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Birdsong by Sebastien Faulks (which I purchased years ago and still haven’t got round to reading, oops).

I also LOVED all of those animal stories written for children like The Sheep Pig by Dick King-Smith (which was made into the film Babe) and Charlotte’s Web, which very nearly made me a vegetarian (but failed at the first sniff of a bacon sandwich). I still love books about animals – I recently read The Bees by Laline Paull which was both super interesting and super-disturbing.

I also read lots of…

Children’s Classics

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I went through a big Enid Blyton phase when I was younger, especially The Famous Five (I wanted to be George, obvs) and Mallory Towers, which made me want to go to boarding school. I can draw a direct line between this book and a later series of books set at a somewhat more magical boarding school… in hindsight these books are pretty problematic but at the time I loved them.

I also loved books like What Katy Did, where naughty Katy got her comeuppance and learnt to be good by following the meek and mild Aunt Helen. I have SUCH vivid memories from this book – the medicine bottles on the shelf, the cracked staple holding up the fateful swing, the menus she would have to write where she complained that every meal had to either be pork, chicken or beef and couldn’t someone just invent a new meat (something I regularly think about when I can’t decide what to cook). The feminist in me shudders at this story now but at the time I couldn’t get enough of it. I have equally fond memories of books by E. Nesbit like The Railway Children and Five Children and It, which led me to the fantastical, magical stories of people like Neil Gaiman.

Finally, I also got very much into…

Humour/Humorous Poetry

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(Aargh why won’t these pictures align????)

I went on holiday when I was about eight or so and, glory of glories, there was a whole bookshelf full of (adult) books for any of my family to borrow. I chose to read The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 which, in hindsight, was far too old for me (I think I just skipped over the parts that I didn’t understand) and Some More of Me Poetry by Pam Ayres, which was really funny in a very innocent 1970’s way (or at least, that’s how I remember it). Both of the books were brilliantly amusing and made me love that kind of downtrodden working class sense of humour, leading me on to the rest of Sue Townsend’s works and even into stand up like Victoria Wood and working class folk-rockers like Grace Petrie:

 

And with that solid grounding in literature, I ventured into my teenage years… which will have to wait for another post!

So, what books did you enjoy growing up? How do you think they influenced your reading tastes now? Did they a wider impact on you as a person? Let me know in the comments!

Review: The Letter For The King by Tonke Dragt

Genre: Fantasy, Children’s Literature

Similar to: The Hobbit, LOTR

Could be enjoyed by: Parents looking to read their kids something other than Harry Potter

Publication date: (In translation) 7th November 2013, originally published in 1962

Some of you may remember that I sent out a request a while ago asking for suggestions for some of the remaining categories in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. One of those categories was to read a children’s classic published before 1980 and although you all gave some excellent suggestions, I shamelessly ignored them and read The Letter for the King instead. Sorry! I do honestly appreciate your imput, but this book just looked sooooo interesting that I had to give it a go.

Anyway…

The Letter for the King is something of a classic in mainland Europe but for some inexplicable reason was never translated into English until a few years ago (WHY???) The book follows the adventures of Tiuri, a teenage page who is on his way to becoming a fully fledged Knight. However, a chance encounter leads to Tiuri becoming tasked with a quest to travel across the Great Mountains to deliver a message to the King. In order to do so, Tiuri must avoid numerous perils, pitfalls and shady characters conspiring to stop him – otherwise the whole kingdom could be brought to it’s knees. 

Unsurprisingly, this is a lovely, exciting, easy read. It’s described as Children’s Fiction but I’d say the age range could be a little older – say ten years and up (I hate writing an upper age limit on these recommendations – I’m 35 and I enjoyed it!). I loved Tiuri and his unfailing dedication to always doing what was right – I thought he would make a great role model, especially for young boys. Unfortunately, these’s not a lot of (barely any) female representation but I’m reliably informed that this is rectified in the sequel. 

I really enjoyed all the action and suspense within the novel. I can imagine that if you’re reading the book as a bedtime story your kids would definitely be begging you for one more chapter. There’s just so much that happens and lots of chapters end on cliffhangers, so be warned!

I loved the central themes of bravery, friendship and choosing the right thing to do, even if it is the more difficult option. Although it feels very much like a high fantasy novel, there’s actually no magical elements so it makes for a bit more of a straightforward read. I actually didn’t miss them at all as the storyline has more than enough going on.   

Although the book is a great translation, it does retain something of that Germanic/Eastern Bloc creepiness that I have potentially only picked up on because I was subjected to watching those weird foreign cartoons as a child (things were very different at the BBC in the 80’s).Think like The Moomins or The Singing Ringing Tree, as parodied beautifully here by The Fast Show:  

Overall, I loved escaping into the world of Tonke Dragt. The Letter for the King is a great book to be enjoyed at any age and yet another brilliant find courtesy of Book Riot. I’d encourage you all to read it.

Rating: Four ‘how do I pronounce that inexplicably scary name’ out of five.

Fast paced, exciting and easy to read – I’m sure this book will now gain a whole new legion of English-speakng fans. 

Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #11 Read a children’s classic published before 1980.