Last week I got very excited in Waterstones. I was actually birthday present shopping and Waterstones have quite a nice gift section so I decided to browse. Only it was a really small Waterstones and the gift section was tiny so I had a little browse through the children’s section instead. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the title of a book that took me right back to my childhood.
When I was about seven, my older brother brought a book club leaflet home from school and I was allowed to order a book. I chose one called ‘My Best Fiend’ by Sheila Lavelle. I don’t remember the reason. Maybe I liked the cover, maybe I liked the blurb or maybe he suggested it. Either way, this lovely new book arrived and from the very opening paragraph, I was hooked. It was the very first book I read more than once. In fact, I probably read it a dozen times or more (as you can see from the battered state it’s in!) Imagine my delight when ‘The Fiend Next Door’ was released three years later in 1982. Another gem to be read many times over.
It didn’t just appeal to me at that age. In early secondary school, I still loved it and even wrote a book review on it although I was absolutely devastated when it came back with a low mark and “fiend” corrected to “friend” throughout. To this day, I’m still annoyed with myself for not challenging the teacher to up my marks because I had spelt it correctly. You see, the story is about Charlie and her best friend Angela who lives next door. Only Angela is what we might call a “toxic friend” these days as she repeatedly drops Charlie in it and behaves like a right little madam, hence “fiend” being a more appropriate descriptor.
So, back to last week, I was stunned to spot the books on the shelves. Nobody I know has ever heard of them and I assumed they’d have gone out of print long ago. I quickly purchased the pair for my seven year old (figuring that mine might fall apart if I gave her those) and I hope she enjoys them as much as I did.
For some strange reason, these are just about the only paperbacks I’ve retained from my childhood. I wonder what made me hang onto them.
Another book that had a big impact on me was one that was read to us at school. ‘Run for Your Life’ by David Line tells the story of Szolda and Woolcott who overhear a conversation between two men and believe they’ve heard a murder plot. They then get into danger trying to prove they were right. I don’t know if it was on the curriculum or if it was just a book our teacher selected but it was absolutely gripping and I can still remember the desperation for them to get home safe and sound. A few years ago, I decided to see if I could track it down to re-read it and was delighted to find it’s still in print.
I’m going to become more predictable now with my final childhood memories. I absolutely loved and adored Enid Blyton. I admit that I haven’t read any of some of her famous works like The Secret Seven, St Clare’s, Naughtiest Girl etc. but I absolutely adored:
- The Famous Five
- The Enchanted Wood/Faraway Tree series
- Malory Towers
I read all of these many times over and I suspect that the reason I don’t still have them is that they were so well-read that they fell apart!
I’d like to say I loved Roald Dahl but I confess I’ve only ever read two books by him: ‘James & The Giant Peach’ and ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’. I don’t know why I’ve only read these (and, again, several times over) rather than trying others. I know ‘James & the Giant Peach’ was one we read in class at primary school so that’s why I got into that one. Perhaps we read ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ too. Really can’t remember. My little girl has a box set and she adores ‘The Enormous Crocodile’.
My final blast from the past is another slightly predictable one: ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by Lucy Maud Montgomery. This is my only other original paperback besides the Fiend books. Again, not sure why I kept it. I actually had it for years and never read it but then I watched the wonderful Canadian TV drama series (1985) on a repeat several years later and absolutely loved it. I read my book and borrowed the rest in the series from a friend. Such a lovely story and what a hero Gilbert Blythe is.
That’s my trail through part of my childhood. It doesn’t represent everything I read but it does represent my absolute favourites. I’d love to hear yours and I’d really love to hear from anyone who is familiar with Sheila Lavelle’s wonderful books or ‘Run for Your Life.’
Thanks for reading.