A few weeks ago, the Wyatt family (Northern branch) was asked to get involved in Lancashire Libraries’ Reading Families* project. And as a regular Leyland Library customer since my girls were tots, and a keen supporter of The Bookseller‘s Fight for Libraries campaign**, I guess I was fair game.
So, after a little guidance from LCC librarian Andy Johnston, we went about choosing the 30 books we’d recommend above any others to fellow library users. An easy task in theory, yet the reality was something different, and a couple of weeks later I was still crossing through some entries and replacing them with others, trying to reach our agreed total.
The fact that the list ended up as the Wyatt Family Top 35 gives you something of a clue as to the process. It certainly took some whittling down and a fair bit of debate, but we (sort of) got there in the end. Next month it will no doubt be different again though. Come to think of it, next week it would be different.
Fun as these ‘best of’ lists can be, they prove very little of course, but if nothing else they serve as a reminder of where you were at a key moment of your life – and that goes for films, albums, or whatever else too. There have to be some ground rules though, and the main one here was that I didn’t allow myself to make all the choices myself and then pretend they were my girls’ selections too!
There were books that I chose, others suggested by my better half, and those put forward by our daughters, aged 12 and 10. Some of those more than one of us agreed upon, while for others we agreed on an author but never the same book, and then there were those we just didn’t agree upon.
We went with a wide range of style and genre, from early years picture books to full-blown adult and children’s novels, as well as cartoon collections, and quickly realised a one-book-per-author rule was necessary. Within the chosen pages there’s adventure, classic prose, comedy, crime, cult reads, cultural diversity, history, mystery and travel, books we’ve loved individually, and books we’ve loved as a family. And with this designed as a family choice we tried our best to share the love equally and come up with at least six choices each before adding the extras (working out how many votes those others polled between them to reach our final selection).
And the fact that the Lancashire library system tracked down all but one of the books we picked in some format or other – the exception being Noel Streatfeild’s White Boots – proves a great advert for public lending and why we should all support our local library branches. You might not agree with many of our choices, but why not get along to your own library and see about starting your own instead.
So here’s that final top 35, in author-alphabetical order, with a brief explanation as to why each was chosen:
Gill Arbuthnott – The Keeper’s Daughter My eldest daughter bought a copy at a school book fair (like her dad judging a book by its cover), and was enthralled – mentioning this more than any other these past two years. “An exciting and equally scary adventure”.
Kate Atkinson – Case Histories My better half was always a fan of detective novels (from a teenage love of Agatha Christie onwards) and TV drama like the original Taggart. What sets Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books apart from (often strong) competition is the quality of writing – the humour and colour as well as her plots.
Nina Bawden – Carrie’s War Both generations of our family have loved this, the first after seeing the ’70s TV adaptation, and recent reads confirmed the book has aged well, standing up today as much as it did back then.
David Bedford & Leonie Worthington – Bums A big favourite in our household, along with sister-pic book Tums, and perfect for young ‘uns obsessed by talk of bottoms (i.e. most of them!). Funny, simple, but effective.
Caroline Binch – The Princess & The Castle Caroline’s drawings are simply luscious, very real, and accompany beautifully-told tales, in this case with a subtle message helping children deal with the loss of a loved family member and adapt to new faces on the scene.
Sita Brahmachari – Artichoke Hearts Another that our eldest took to her heart after receiving it through a high school initiative. A glimpse into growing up as a teenage girl is faced with life’s challenges.
Bill Bryson – Neither Here Nor There Bill has written so many funny yet informative, often educational but never preaching books. We chose this as it was the first of his that her outdoors & I read. The scene in the bakery where Bill tries to speak French – disastrously – is a ‘laugh out loud’ classic. Representing the very best travel writing.
Lauren Child – Don’t Look Now, Clarice Bean Lauren is a big influence on this family, and if we hadn’t decided to keep it to one-book-per-author, the Charlie and Lola series would have featured too. Appreciated by parents and teachers too, and my youngest chose this as it is one she felt would help children of her age deal with friendship issues.
Frank Cottrell Boyce – Framed My favourite children’s author at present, and while Millions and Cosmic are loved too (and we all appreciate his Chitty Chitty Bang Bang books), Framed is his finest moment so far, with well-defined characters, humour, and sumptuous, simply-executed prose. A delight for all the family.
John Meade Falkner – Moonfleet A favourite of mine as a boy, one I’ve re-read more times than any other, despite the fact that it was written 69 years before I was born. Good old-fashioned smuggling adventure and so much better than the ’50s film.
Sebastian Faulkes – Charlotte Grey Many may choose Birdsong, but Charlotte Grey turned me on to Seb’s writing, and while it took her outdoors a bit of perseverance to get beyond the early stages, she too learned to love it.
Michael Foreman – Cat On The Hill Whether on his own or illustrating Michael Morpurgo’s text, Michael Foreman offers such evocative stories and pictures, not only of his animals and human characters, but also the settings – particularly in this case with our mutual love of St Ives, Cornwall.
Sally Gardner – Lucy Willow My youngest’s number one choice, a beautifully set-out yet uncomplicated story of a girl trying to fit in and trying to overcome major financial concerns for her down-trodden family.
Joanne Harris – Holy Fools From Chocolat onwards, my better half has enjoyed many of Joanne’s books, but this is the one – despite the fact that the premise did not inspire her initially – she enjoyed most.
Nick Hornby – High Fidelity While it was Fever Pitch that made his name, and About A Boy was more of a success, this was the one that won me over. The film is great too, but the book was set in this country and all the better for it! Just about edges out Tony Parsons this week, but it was close and I might change that again next week!
Shirley Hughes – The Big Alfie and Annie Rose Storybook So difficult to pick just one of the many great picture books Shirley has written and beautifully illustrated over the years. My eldest chose Moving Molly, but in the end we went for a collection of superb stories that this family has pored over these past 10 years.
Eva Ibbotson – Journey To The River Sea Another that really inspired my eldest to read alone, similarly endorsed by her Mum, who says, ‘a wonderful writer, so descriptive, writes great characters – good and bad alike – and really draws you in’.
Emma Kennedy – The Tent, The Bucket & Me Travel books have always inspired us, and this is a great example of one of those annoying books that keeps partners awake at night as their other halves giggle away while reading – in this case her outdoors no doubt contemplating her own formative days with tents, buckets and camper vans.
Judith Kerr – When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit Judith may be better known for the Mog series and wondrous ’60s classic The Tiger Who Came To Tea, but this full-length autobiographical take on a miraculous escape with her Jewish family from Nazi Germany is told – so cleverly – with childlike innocence.
Dick King Smith: Just Binnie Another author with several titles in our collection, but Just Binnie is the one my eldest has returned to again and again, giving a glimpse of Edwardian life for the daughter of a landed family dealing with financial and emotional strife.
Nelle Harper Lee – To Kill A Mockingbird One of the few books forced upon us at school that still rings true to this family’s Mum and Dad. An impassioned and brave book, its central message about the evils of racism and narrow-mindedness still holds true.
Kate Long – Swallowing Grandma My other half has enjoyed several of Kate’s books, but this is the one she values most – loving the humour, depth of characters and references to local places, not least the biscuit stall on Chorley Market!
Colin MacInnes – Absolute Beginners A big influence on me as a teenager, although I was unimpressed with the musical inspired by it – despite a great soundtrack. Just one of several great postcards of late ’50s London by this Aussie author.
Michelle Magorian – Back Home Goodnight Mister Tom was one of the last books I read with my eldest, but inspired her to read several more Michelle titles, and this was her favourite, the story of a WWII evacuee’s return from the US, family upheavals on the home and war front, and the many problems experienced in difficult times.
Spike Milligan – Adolf Hitler, My Part In His Downfall A huge influence on me as a lad, and I still love to pick it up at random and wade in. Just the first of many great books detailing Spike’s war days, progressively sadder. Yet here the humour is so sharp.
AA Milne – The House At Pooh Corner My absolute favourite as a child and adult, and loved by the rest of the family too. The Disney version was cute, but this was the business, and so beautifully written. Funny and warm.
Michael Morpurgo – The Amazing Story Of Adolphus Tips So many brilliant children’s novels and short stories to choose from, with Running Wild and several others close, but this the one that first inspired us to read more Morpurgo.
E Nesbit – The Railway Children Another timeless classic, as is the case with Edith’s 5 Children and It and Treasure Seekers books – well worth the effort of passing on to the next generation – 106 years after publication. Every bit as powerful as the film versions.
Robert Radcliffe – Under an English Heaven A vivid picture of air base life in Suffolk during the dark days of the Second World War, a fitting memorial to all those we lost in order to preserve our freedom. More than just a book about war, but about the relationships it wrecks and the emotions that tie us in times of great peril.
Anita Shreve – Sea Glass I might have picked Resistance, my better half wins this argument as she’s read far more Anita, with Sea Glass the first she read, and ‘so clearly evokes Depression-era America’.
Noel Streatfeild – White Boots My eldest first read this when obsessed with wanting to go ice-skating, loving it so much she took to Ballet Shoes and Party Shoes with equal vigour. The latter would also have made her list if we hadn’t been double-checking!
Bill Watterson – Calvin & Hobbes The many wonderful tales of a mischievous boy and his best friend, a tiger who appears to be no more than a stuffed animal to everyone but Calvin and us. The best cartoon series ever in our opinion. And so perfectly observed.
Mary Wesley – Jumping The Queue From the Camomile Lawn onwards, Mary offers a fly-on-the-wall expose of British society, and tackles issues other often only skirt about, and in this case that involves old age.
Jacqueline Wilson – Hetty Feather My daughters’ shelves carry a wealth of JW titles, and picking one proved hard. The Lottie Project came close, but after much debate it was decided they’d go with this tale of an orphan in Victorian London.
Incidentally, the nearly-but-not-quite-runners-up list includes 10 more choices, namely Dawn Apperley’s Flip And Flop, Enid Blyton’s The Island of Adventure, Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, Anne Fine’s Flour Babies, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Gary Larson’s Far Side series, Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody series, Daisy Meadows’ Caitlin the Snow Fairy ( many will sneer, but if it gets people reading in the first place, surely that’s the key!) and Lauren St John’s Dead Man’s Cove. With that in mind, I should really have tried to get it up to a top 50. But that would have just made it an even more painful selection process, believe me.
* Reading Families is a Lancashire Libraries project in association with the Reading Agency and the Publishers Association, with funding from Arts Council England as part of their Library Development Initiative, also working with Halton Library Service and publishers Faber, Harper Collins and Raintree.
The aim is to take your interest in reading and show you how to pass it on to others using some of the channels available to all in the digital age through social media. For more details and how to get involved, go to: http://www3.lancashire.gov.uk/corporate/web/?siteid=6599&pageid=40030&e=e
** Fight For Libraries co-ordinates support to defend public libraries from closure programmes, working to both the letter and spirit of the 1964 Public Libraries Act, which stipulates that local authorities have a duty to maintain a comprehensive and efficient library service for all their residents.
The organisation supports library users in all their various campaigns to defend local libraries, including calls for a national public enquiry into the library service, determined that libraries should not be singled out for cuts disproportionate to budget cuts in each local authority and deserve protection; calling for councils to look at senior salaries and back office costs before cutting professional librarian posts or closing libraries; and calling for decisive Government leadership to support, preserve and improve library services.
For more details follow the campaign on Twitter via @Fight4libraries or via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fight-For-Libraries-campaign-from-The-Bookseller/134767896588119