Books to in­spire a love of read­ing

The Guardian - Review - - Further Reading - Liz Pi­chon

When I re­mem­ber the books I loved as a child I al­ways think of pic­tures and il­lus­tra­tions. They are such an im­por­tant part of telling a story. My older sis­ter gave me Ae­sop’s Fa­bles: The Lion and the Rat by Brian Wild­smith for my fifth birth­day. In­side it says “16 shillings”, so I’ve had it for a very long time, and even as a child I re­mem­ber think­ing it was a spe­cial book. I loved ev­ery­thing about it, from the story to the way the words were placed on the pages, but mostly I loved the il­lus­tra­tions and the colours. It’s one of the few pic­ture books that sur­vived my child­hood with­out be­ing ripped or scrib­bled on. There’s drama in the jun­gle, plenty of an­i­mals, and a lit­tle rat who saves the day.

At school, a teacher read Spike Milligan’s poem “On the Ning Nang Nong”. It was bonkers and funny and made ev­ery­one laugh. After that les­son there was a mad rush to get out the few copies of his Silly Verse for Kids avail­able from the li­brary. Even­tu­ally I got one of my own and would spend ages read­ing and reread­ing the po­ems. Milligan’s funny black-and-white line draw­ings made me feel as if it might be pos­si­ble to try do­ing my own.

Dr Dog by Ba­bette Cole is one of my all-time favourite funny books, and one I’d hap­pily read again and again to my kids. Poor Dr Dog has to look after the Gum­boyle fam­ily, who are all pretty hope­less at tak­ing care of them­selves (nits, smok­ers’ coughs – as if these ail­ments would be given the green light in a pub­lish­ing meet­ing to­day!). The char­ac­ters all suf­fer from mostly self-in­flicted ill­nesses, and after Grandad’s dan­ger­ous gases build up and he blows the roof off the house, Dr Dog needs a hol­i­day. Ba­bette’s hu­mor­ous il­lus­tra­tions are su­perb and sub­ver­sive, which is some­thing I love about all her books.

Like many, I dis­cov­ered Sue Townsend’s The Se­cret Di­ary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ through the TV se­ries – which was good, but I pre­ferred the book. I’m sure most kids would be able to iden­tify with Adrian’s tricky life, even if they didn’t know what a bath cube was. (Think fancy fizzy bath bomb – only square and more like chalk.) It’s so bril­liantly writ­ten, and funny too.

I’ve just got my hands on the whole se­ries of Mor­tal En­gines books by Philip Reeve, with gor­geous new cov­ers by Ian McQue, and I’m al­ready gripped. Since Reeve wrote the first book in the quar­tet 17 years ago, Mor­tal En­gines has gone on to win all kinds of awards. It’s beau­ti­fully writ­ten and con­jures up an amaz­ing fan­tasy world. Peter Jack­son bought the film rights a while ago, but has been busy in the mean­time with other adap­ta­tions, such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hob­bit . After a long wait, the new film will fi­nally be re­leased this month, and so there will be lots more peo­ple dis­cov­er­ing the books for the first time. They are in for an ex­cit­ing treat.

Tom Gates: What Mon­ster? by Liz Pi­chon is pub­lished by Scholas­tic.

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