When I was a kid, reading, to me, felt like stepping into another world. I got utterly and totally lost. I could sit for hours, even in a busy place, and be so completely transfixed within the story world, that often I’d forget where I was. So, here are a top five (in no particular order, it was too hard to choose) of my most memorable books; if only it were so easy to step back into their worlds again.
The Edge Chronicles (1995-2008) – Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
Banderbears! Hammelhorn’s! Woodtrolls! Flatheads! (and don’t forget the infamous Gloamglozer!) Infinite tales have been created, and a glorious eclectic bunch of creatures live within the world of The Edge. This rich, vibrant and descriptive series follow the lives of Twig; a young (human) boy who was raised amongst the mysterious creatures of the Deepwoods, and Quint, his father, a sky captain, who we meet in a trilogy of prequels in novels four (The Curse of the Gloamglozer), five (The Winter’s Knights) and six of the series, (Clash of the Sky Galleons).
Each novel within this series is absolutely enchanting, however, my favourite has to be, Beyond the Deepwoods. This is the first book in the series and follows Twig, a curious and adventurous boy who has been bought up by a woodtroll called Spelda. Of course, this isn’t his biological mother. He was seemingly abandoned by his father when Twig was a baby. However, at the age of thirteen, he is sent off to find his Cousin Snetterbark, to avoid the risk of being recruited by the sky pirates. But, as any adventure story goes, things do not go to plan, and Twig gets lost in the Deepwoods, encountering creatures; both friendly and dangerous alike.
These novels are exciting, to say the least. When I was younger, probably about thirteen, I went to the library in Brighton, where Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell gave a talk to us fellow book-lovers. I remember particularly, that the pair were concerned by the lack of young readers, particularly, boys, who were not reading and were, perhaps, more interested in playing video games. I hope they had an impact, as Stewart’s beautiful descriptions of flesh-eating bloodoak’s and the transparent spindlebugs, aided by Riddell’s intricate drawings are enough for anybody, young and old, to get lost in their wonderful fantasy.
Check out: Muddle Earth – Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell- a hilarious parody on Tolkien’s famous world.
Silverfin (2005) – Charlie Higson
Anybody with a love for spies and jaw-tensing adventure would love Charlie Higson’s, Silverfin. Undoubtedly based on Ian Fleming’s 007 spy novels, Silverfin is the first book in a series depicting the teenage years of superspy, James Bond. We meet James during his time at Eaton College in the 1930s. He encounters your typical boarding school characters including rich-kid bully, George Hellebore, whose father, Lord Randolph Hellebore, just so happens to be an infamous arms dealer and who had dealings with James’ deceased father. (hmm, I wonder what the twist is here?)
The novel is split into three, and in the first half, we see James take part in a tournament which is hosted and judged by George’s father, hence, unfair disadvantages and outrageous cheating ensue.
Just like the bond novels and screen adaptations, James’ parents are dead and during his Easter break, part two of the novel, he stays with his Uncle Max. Revelations about his parent’s death are revealed and various clues about the corruption of Lord Randolph are laid down.
This novel is full of the classic spy novel you might expect. Although it doesn’t have any awesome gadgets that readers might be desperate to try out, there is mention of a half man-half eel creature, which is sure to satisfy, if nothing else.
Horrid Henry (first published, 1994) – Francesca Simon
Demon dinner ladies, unfortunate tooth fairies and mega-man time machines; Henry is the sort of boy that all kids would never dare to be like!
I didn’t read this series as much, but I listened to them on audiobook…over and over again. Francesca Simon’s fictional character, Horrid Henry, is a disobedient and perhaps, a somewhat outcast child who has a problem with authority and has a need to cause mayhem and mischief at every possible moment. He is part of the exclusive club, ‘The purple hand gang’, his imagination is wild and his pranks are often played out on his unsuspecting little brother, Perfect Peter. Poor Peter, we want to feel sorry for him but… he is just too perfect! Any child with a sibling might understand the nauseating feeling when their goodie-goodie-two-shoes little brother gets their parent’s praise, and not the other way around – hey, these are Henry’s ideas, not mind.
These books are probably aimed at kids around 10-12, but still mischievous and light-hearted enough for any age group and has now been adapted into a cartoon TV series which aired on CITV.
Holes (1998) – Louis Sacher
No, I am not referring to the Shia LaBeouf film, which we all sat and wondered what the kid from Even Stevans was doing running around, digging holes in the sand. Louis Sacher’s novel Holes is a fantastic lesson warning young kids not to step out of line. I mean it, if you go around stealing clothes from poor orphans, you’re going to be sent somewhere out in America to dig up sand infested with yellow-spotted lizards.
Of course, this is all a big misunderstanding, and we follow unlikely hero Stanley Yelnats the fourth, as his family’s tradition of bad luck sends him on a false punishment for stealing some shoes, to the ironically named correctional institute, Camp Green Lake, where he is set to work, digging holes to build character.
Within the storyline, we jump back in time to follow Stanley’s ancestor and ‘kissin’ Kate Barlow’ who buried loot somewhere in the desert.
Of course, these two stories intertwine and Stanley unravels clues regarding the camp’s past, but the characters he meets along the way are, perhaps, what make the novel so brilliant.
I read this book in school during year five and it has stuck with me ever since. I don’t know whether it is Camp Green Lake’s cruel warden, the importance of the onions or perhaps the terrifying idea of having to dig holes every day, in the sweltering heat.
Sally Lockhart Chronicles (The Ruby in The Smoke first published, 1985) – Phillip Pullman
When thinking about the Sally Lockhart series, it is hard not to imagine Billy Piper, darting around in dress and silly hat and a young Matt Smith, spouting cockney and whose sweeping hair is a little noughties for Victorian England. However, before The Shadow in The North and Ruby in the Smoke became a TV series, The Sally Lockhart mysteries stands as a fantastic series of books by Phillip Pullman, depicting the life and mysteries of Sally Lockhart, an orphan who grows up in a world surrounded by the smog of London and the dark underworld of the opium dens.
The first of these novels is The Ruby in The Smoke and we are introduced to Sally as being about ‘sixteen or so’ and whose father’s identity is an utter mystery. As the story unfolds, she meets Frederick Garland, a skilled photographer whose love for Sally we fight for throughout the novel and gets drawn into mysteries concerning a ruby, riddles surrounding her father’s death, pirates, gangs and the infamous opium trade.
I loved this series because it was darker than most teenage fiction and deals with issues within Victorian England that I might not have come across. Most of all, however, Pullman makes the characters utterly lovable and believable; something which will make you come back time and time again.