Favourite books from childhood and why I’ll never reread them

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As a child, there was rarely a moment when I didn’t have my head buried in a book. Of course, they were simpler times—BC (before computers)—but I imagine I would have been a bookworm regardless of other distractions. My kids still manage to read voraciously despite the constant lure of screens.

I wasn’t all that discerning as a child and young teen. Any book that came my way was devoured. Library books with yellow envelopes pasted into their covers, the pages smelling ever so slightly like vomit, were on high rotation in my house. There are, however, some books which I still remember. The ones that managed to make me laugh and cry, and for whatever reason stay with me today. Some are still in print, designated classics, but others have disappeared from the libraries and bookshops, discarded with other out-dated, un-PC books like the Noddy series. So, I’ve decided not to read any of them again, for fear of tainting the thrill that they gave me all those years ago with my analytical adult mind.

Here is a list of some of my favourite childhood reads, in no particular order:

The Magic Faraway Tree and Famous Five series, by Enid Blyton. Who didn’t love these fantastic tales of children having a jolly gay time while reinforcing gender stereotypes?

What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge. I loved this book, but it did have some very old-fashioned themes about gender and disability.

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, by C S Lewis. At the time, I had no idea about the heavy-handed Christian message. Now I have no idea how I could have missed it. I must have been too immersed in the grand adventure.

Charlotte’s Web, by E B White. Maybe the first book that really made me sob. Over a spider.

The Silver Brumby, by Elyne Mitchell. A gripping, moving classic about horses.

Watership Down, by Richard Adams. More sobbing animal stories —I think I can see a pattern emerging.

Playing Beatie Bow, by Ruth Park. I loved Ruth Park so much. This was one of the few books I read multiple times. Such an enchanting story.

The Lord Of The Rings, by J R Tolkien. Okay, so I did read this a couple of times, but never obsessed over it or learnt to write in Elvish as a friend did. Apparently it was about the rise of fascism and the trauma of the second world war. Missed that reference too. It is an amazing story, if a little wordy by today’s standards. As for The Hobbit? More manageable but I still preferred The Lord Of The Rings.

Dune, by Frank Herbert. It seems strange to me that there’s so much fantasy and science fiction on the list, as I don’t read those genres now, but this was a great story.

And finally, a young adult book that I adored but realise, given that it was released in 1992, that I must have read in my early twenties:

Looking For Alibrandi, by Melina Marchetti. All I can say is, if you haven’t read this one, do so. I have re-read this as a more mature adult, and still love it for its smart, mouthy protagonist and engaging, moving story.

There are countless other books which made a huge impression on me growing up, but this list encapsulates the broad range of genres and styles that I devoured, and that I believe have made me a better reader. All of them took me into exotic, foreign worlds, so different to my suburban, white-bread life in the 1970s and 1980s, and I loved them for it.

What books did you love growing up? And would you still love them if you re-read them today?


By Lisa Kenway

Lisa Kenway is an Australian writer and doctor. Her debut psychological thriller, ALL YOU TOOK FROM ME, is coming in August 2024 from Transit Lounge Publishing. An early version was long-listed for the 2020 Richell Prize. A 2023 Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre fellow, her work has appeared in Island Online, the Meanjin blog, Meniscus Literary Journal and elsewhere. Find her at www.lisakenway.com or on Twitter @LisaKenway.

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