We all have those childhood memories that in retrospect were clearly defining moments. For me, those moments were all wrapped up in stories. As a child, I was surrounded by many, many books, and while I hold several of them close to my heart, the following four are right at the core.
The secondhand copy of Swami and Friends I own used to be someone’s school reading. The margins are annotated with definitions, and various sentences are underlined for their importance (who else is guilty of underlining entire pages because everything seemed so important). It might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I love books that bear the marks of others who have read it. Rereading it as an adult, I am slightly shocked at the amount of casual violence that is referred to which never seemed odd to me as a child.
Five Run Away Together was the second Famous Five book I’d read, and it was the first time I was introduced to Kirrin Island. The simple yet powerful descriptions of the island filled with rabbits and jackdaws and ruins and a shipwreck! I wanted to run away with the gang. I had my backpack ready and filled with this old torch that barely worked and whatever snacks I could hide from my mother. Of course, I never did run away anywhere, but the rucksack made for an excellent midnight feast on those nights when I remembered to stay awake until my parents had gone to sleep.
Ethereal and occasionally uplifting is how I would describe Malachite Casket. After the first time I read the book, I promised myself all rereadings would be slow, always only one story at a time. A childish token of reverence. One that I find myself keeping to even to this day. I developed an obsession with malachite, not that I could ever find any in my small town. My darling of a partner gifted me a malachite necklace for our anniversary last year, and it is my favourite piece of jewellery to wear (or just hold in my hand and whisper ‘preciouus’).
Sideways Stories from Wayside School. *deep breath* The hold this book
had has over my heart is absolutely insane. Sachar’s writing collided different universes that I had always assumed were incompatible. Ten-year-old me associated magic and fantasy with stories like those in Malachite Casket: once upon a time, far far away, a rustic life removed from the contemporary, mysterious beings that were so clearly not human. A kind of magic that seemed impossible with everyday life, like schools and lessons. Wayside School dragged all of it back into the real world. Into that really old tree that always looked like it was about to eat you. That basement that was always dark despite the windows being open. Those red flower petals we stuck onto our nails to transform into witches.
Honorary mentions: When Daddy was a Little Boy by Alexander Raskin, the Demonata series by Darren Shan, and this anthology of stories that I don’t know the name of but know exactly where it is in my sister’s bookshelf