I have always loved reading and my earliest memories are either reading or looking for something to read. Growing up in the mid to late seventies and eighties in India meant that other than the school library and maybe friends, access to books was limited. But I still managed to read, sometimes resorting to newspapers and magazines to feed my reading addiction.
I was always reading one to two grades higher than my peers and by the time I was in grade seven and eight, I remember being allowed the read from the adults’ section in my school library. This was a locked cupboard from which teachers and other staff were allowed to borrow books and I started reading books from authors like George Orwell then. I think I was probably the only student at that time who was accorded this privilege.
But this post is about my favourite books I enjoyed as a child, so let’s dive right in.
The earliest books I read and loved are those written by Enid Blyton. An English children’s author, Enid Mary Blyton who died in 1968 has written books since the 1930s and whose books have sold more than 600 million copies and have been translated into 90 languages and as of June 2018, is in 4th place for the most translated author.
My first introduction to Blyton’s books was the Faraway Tree series. The stories take place in an enchanted wood in which a gigantic magical tree, the Faraway Tree grows. The tree is so tall that its topmost branches reach into the clouds and it is wide enough to contain small houses carved into its trunk. The wood and the tree are discovered by three children named Jo, Bessie and Fanny, later updated to Joe, Beth and Frannie, who move into a house nearby and go on adventures to the top of the tree along with the inhabitants of the tree, some whom befriend the children. As I am writing this, a memory pops into my head. I must have been five or six and we were travelling down south to my paternal grandmother’s ancestral village to attend a wedding by train. I can still remember the title of the book I was reading, which was The Magic Faraway Tree and the 24-hour journey (at least the time spent in reading) flew past in a jiffy!
I have also read a few of the Noddy books, but don’t have any great memory of reading them. Noddy was made by a woodcarver in a toy store but runs away after the man begins to make a wooden lion, which scares Noddy. As he wanders through the woods naked, penniless, and homeless, he meets Big Ears, a friendly gnome who decides that Noddy is a toy and takes him to live in Toyland. The other toys can hear him coming by the distinctive Parp Parp sound of his car’s horn and the jingle of the bell on his blue hat. Noddy’s best friends are Big Ears, Tessie Bear, Bumpy Dog, and the Tubby Bears. Noddy has many run-ins with Mr Plod, the local policeman.
I then graduated to reading Blyton’s mystery books like the Secret Seven, the Five Find-Outers and the Famous Five. Of the three, my favourite was the Five Find-Outers mainly because one of the characters used to disguise himself to solve the case. I read these books more or less during my primary school days.
The Secret Seven is a group of child detectives consisting of Peter, the leader, Janet who is Peter’s sister, Pam, Barbara, Jack, Colin and George. Jack’s sister Susie and her best friend Binkie make occasional appearances in the books who they hate the Secret Seven and delight in playing tricks designed to humiliate them, although this is partly fuelled by their almost obsessive desire to belong to the society. Unlike most other Blyton series, this one takes place during the school term time because the characters go to day schools.
The Famous Five is a series of children’s adventure novels featuring the adventures of a group of young children, Julian, Dick, Anne and Georgina or George and their dog Timmy. The stories take place in the children’s school holidays after they have returned from their respective boarding schools. Each time they meet they get caught up in an adventure, often involving criminals or lost treasure, sometimes close to George’s family home at Kirrin Cottage in Dorset. George’s home and various other houses the children visit or stay in are hundreds of years old and often contain secret passages or smugglers’ tunnels. All the novels have been adapted for television, and several have been adapted as films in various countries.
My favourite, the Five Find-Outers is set in the fictitious village of Peterswood. The children, Larry or Laurence Daykin, Fatty or Frederick Trotteville, the leader of the group, Pip or Philip Hilton, Daisy or Margaret Daykin, Bets or Elizabeth Hilton and Buster, Fatty’s dog, encounter a mystery almost every school holiday, always solving the puzzle before Mr Goon, the unpleasant village policeman, much to his annoyance.
Another set of books written by Enid Blyton I loved were her school series, Malory Towers and St. Clare’s. I have read both the series throughout my school days and when GG was in primary school, I introduced them to her and she was as hooked as I was. Reading these books always made me wish I was in a boarding school with all the fun that the girls had. My friends and I would try to recreate their world in our school.
Malory Towers is a series of six novels based on a girls’ boarding school that Blyton’s daughter attended, Benenden School, which relocated during the war to the Cornish seaside. The series follows the protagonist, Darrell Rivers, on her adventures and experiences in boarding school. Darrell Rivers begins her first year at Malory Towers, a castle-like clifftop boarding school in Cornwall. Determined to do well and make friends, her first term is turbulent and the first book ends with Darrell becoming best friends with Sally Hope. Darrell eventually covers herself in the personal, scholastic and sporting glory that was originally expected of her and is head of the fourth form, games captain of the fifth, and head girl in her final year as well as being a successful lacrosse and tennis player. When she is in the fourth form, her younger sister, Felicity, joins her as a first former at the school. From then up until the last book in the original series, the focus is also on Felicity and the rest of her form. At the end of her school life, Darrell is bound for the University of St Andrews with Sally, Alicia, and her friend Betty. She puts her younger sister Felicity in charge of upholding the standard that she and her classmates set. The second series follows Felicity from the third year to her final term.
St. Clare’s is a series of nine books about a boarding school of the same name. The series follows Patricia or Pat and Isabel O’Sullivan from their first year at St. Clare’s. The series had the girls up to the usual English boarding school antics like the Malory Towers and we aspired to be like them.
Once I had finished the teenage detective books, I moved to slightly older books, and the timeline is roughly the time I was about 10 to about 12-13 years. I read the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series almost concurrently and my preference was for Nancy Drew, maybe because I identified with her more. Both series were created by publisher Edward Stratemeyer with the Nancy Drew series created as a female counterpart to the Hardy Boy series.
An American teen, Nancy Drew is a fictional amateur sleuth living in the fictional town of River Heights with her father, attorney Carson Drew, and their housekeeper, Hannah Gruen. Nancy is often assisted in solving mysteries by her two closest friends, cousins Bess Marvin, delicate and feminine and George Fayne, a tomboy and also occasionally joined by her boyfriend Ned Nickerson, a student at Emerson College. Often described as a super girl, Nancy is well-off, attractive, and amazingly talented at everything. The books were ghost-written by several authors and published under the collective pseudonym of Carolyn Keene. Over the decades, the character evolved in response to changes in US culture and tastes. The series was immensely popular worldwide with at least 80 million copies sold and translated into over 45 languages and has been translated into film, television shows and computer games. A cultural icon, Nancy Drew is cited as a formative influence by many women.
The Hardy Boys, brothers Frank and Joe Hardy, who are amateur sleuths, solving cases that stumped their adult counterparts. Frank is eighteen and Joe is seventeen and they live in the city of Bayport on Barmet Bay with their father, detective Fenton Hardy, their mother, Laura Hardy and their Aunt Gertrude. The brothers attend high school in Bayport, where they are in the same grade but school is rarely mentioned in the books and never hinders their solving of mysteries. The books themselves were written by several ghostwriters, most notably Leslie McFarlane, under the collective pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon. This series was also very popular with the books selling more than a million copies annually, and have been translated into more than 25 languages, television shows and video games,
These were the books and series that brought a lot of smiles during my childhood. This was a childhood where there was no internet, no smartphones and computers were large and restricted to offices. So, one of our minimal forms of entertainment was books and probably today’s children would never know the pleasure of just sitting down with a good book and spending hours on it.
Which were your favourite books growing up?