A Lifelong Love of Literature.

A book discussion by Kate O’Brien. 

This week’s piece is a little bit different to what I usually publish. 

Today I had the pleasure of attending the 2023 Children’s Books Ireland Awards that took place in Merrion Square. I am a book reviewer for CBI & I absolutely love attending the CBI Awards because they are such a lovely event. The awards celebrate & encourage a love of reading in young people as well as acknowledging & celebrating the amazing writers who create gorgeous books for younger readers. It is an honour to attend & I had a fantastic time. 

I’ve been looking forward to the CBI Awards for a while now & so I felt inspired to put together a shortlist of some of my favourite books from childhood. I always talk about how I believe that the books we read when we are young open up the world of literature for us, & a love of reading as a child can grow & develop into a broad, curious, love of literature as an adult. If you’re like me, that childhood love can grow into a passion, so much so that it can even become your job. I consider myself extremely lucky because I do work in a literary field & I get to do what I love every single day, but I wouldn’t be doing what I do now if I was not an avid reader & if I had not been encouraged to read everything & anything that I could get my hands on. 

I have quite the library at home, which you will see snippets of fairly often if you follow me on Instagram @katelovesliterature – I have books that were given to me as presents when I was a toddler so it is clear to see that some of these books have been read again, & again, & again. 

I thought it would be fun to talk about the books that lead to a love of literature – some of them anyways! This is not a review, this is not a list of recommendations although if this shortlist inspires you to pick up a book then happy days, but my intention behind this week’s piece is to simply talk about six books that I loved to pieces when I was a young reader. 

I’m going to talk about six books that I absolutely loved in no particular order. 

Matilda by Roald Dahl. 

I adored Matilda. This book was published in 1988 & I believe that I would have read it from the age of six or seven upwards. I remember loving it because of the way Matilda triumphed over the adult bullies in her life. I remember hoping to have a teacher as absolutely lovely as Miss Honey. 

When I reread the story of Matilda as an adult, I find it very moving. It is a story that captures the helplessness that one can experience when we’re young because as children, we are at the mercy of the adults around us. Some adults do have the attitude that because children are smaller & younger, they don’t matter & these adults treat them however they please & I think this story is still relatable in the way that it accurately describes the way children envision what being an adult will be like. When you’re little, in school, being bossed around, the idea of growing up & getting to make your own rules feels like a dream. I still wish that more teachers would be like Miss Honey. 

Cinderella …Countless Versions. 

I cannot tell you how many versions of Cinderella I own. I have the Grimm version, the Perrault version, I have a Walt Disney book version, I have collections of fairy tales for children that include Cinderella, I have illustrated editions … you get the picture. To this day Cinderella is my favourite fairy tale. I adored it when I was a little girl. It has always been a story about hope & magic. I loved when the tattered rags became a beautiful ball gown & I think I will collect editions of this tale for the rest of my life. I know that it has faced criticism, as many fairy tales have, but I truly feel that so many critiques miss the point. This is a tale about a young woman who survives horrible, abusive conditions. It is not about waiting for a Prince to come, or about magic saving the day, it is a story about a kind person who is facing hardships but she does her best to remain kind anyways & when all hope is lost, magic allows her to go to the ball & have some well-deserved fun. It is magical & I think that sense of pure escapism is what I’ve always loved most about the tale of Cinderella.  

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. 

I received a hardback edition of this book when I was seven & I absolutely loved it. I read this story countless times. I fell in love with the moors & the curiosity that drove Mary to need to know what was behind the hidden door. The idea of having a secret place is what always stood out to me when I was a younger reader. I loved the idea of having a beautiful place that only I knew about & I remember the descriptions in this book really standing out to me when I was younger. There is a moment where Mary is wandering through the many halls of the house & I believe she loses her way or almost does, & this moment stood out to me when I was little. I do remember being worried for her at the idea of her getting lost. I wanted her to find her way back to her room. 

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. 

This book still makes me emotional. When I was little I had a pink, velveteen rabbit who I loved very much & so this story always made me think of that rabbit. The idea that the velveteen rabbit was real all along is an idea that I still love. In many ways I think this story can be used to help explain why children’s wonder is so important. At the end of this book, the velveteen rabbit becomes “real,” and by “real,” the book means that the toy rabbit becomes like an actual animal rabbit with fur & whiskers etc. The rabbit then lives with other rabbits in the wild, but the child considered this rabbit “real,” all along. So the question is posed – when did the rabbit really become “real?” – when the rabbit was no longer a toy, or was the rabbit always “real,” because of the child’s belief? Personally I think the rabbit was always real, because it was a source of joy & comfort to the child. The child cherished the velveteen rabbit & so it was always real. 

Wonder is like that. We believe in so many things when we’re little & even though they may not be “real,” they are real for a time. This is a very charming story that I still love today. 

Guess How Much I Love You bySam McBratney. 

I’m not sure if the phrase “I love you to the moon & back,” originated in this book, but this is where I always remember it from. This book is absolutely charming & filled with the most lovely watercolour illustrations. I believe that this book was read to me very often & I continued to read it again, & again on my own. This is a book that is about the bond between a parent & their child. This story is filled with beautiful, grand expressions of love. It is a very sweet tale, a very simple one, yet I love it all the same. It is definitely a book that I hope to read to someone someday. 

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. 

One of my older cousins loved this book & I remember my mam buying it for them. 

Eventually I read it myself & I loved it. I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I probably read it for the first time when I was seven or eight, or even nine, & I doubt I would have used this word then, but looking back on it now, I remember thinking that this book was “darker,” than anything else on my bookshelf. This book was the first book I read that was a black comedy. 

This book featured adults who were actively seeking to harm children, these orphans couldn’t seem to catch a break. This book (& later books in the series), would have been one of the first mystery books that I read. Today I study literature so today I am able to recognise the gothic elements of these novels, I can discuss in much more detail about how important these texts are because they highlight how some adults can blatantly see that wrongdoings are happening, but instead of helping, they choose to look the other way. I think this book is an important one for young adults in particular to read. Sometimes, some adults do choose to look the other way instead of helping, & while this is a hard lesson, it is one that everyone needs to learn. Today I am able to explain properly how I find Snicket to be an incredibly detailed, evocative writer, but back when I was nine, I didn’t have the broader, literary vocabulary that I luckily have today. All I remember thinking was that this book stood out, it was scarier, darker, it felt more “grown up,” when I was younger & I had to keep turning the page. 

There you have it, six books I loved when I was little. This is not an objective list, I’m not highlighting in great detail why I think these are great books, if you feel inspired to read some of these texts then go right ahead although I was not supplying them as a list of recommendations. I really just felt inspired to go through my collection, pick out some books that were clearly well loved by my younger self & tell you about them. As I was putting together the above list of six, I do feel like some common themes emerged. All six books mentioned above include some sort of escapism & magic, all of the above stories, aside from Guess How Much I Love You perhaps, include some form of a character or characters feeling as though they don’t belong & all of the stories listed feature a protagonist finding a sense of belonging/home after being on the outside so clearly when I was younger I enjoyed magic, I enjoyed adventures, & I enjoyed that cosy feeling that comes with the sense of belonging. 

I’d love to hear what your childhood favourites were so feel free to leave a comment below & stay tuned as there is lots more to come here on Katelovesliterature.com

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