Growing up as a culchie child in 90’s Ireland meant only having two television channels, one family tv, and no friends living nearby; I mean books became the obvious pastime! I used to stay up late hiding under my duvet with a mini torch (that for some reason 90’s kids magazines often gave away as freebies? Anyone else remember that? My favourite was my green Scooby Doo one.) reading my book until my mom would catch me around 1am…
I have a hell of a lot of nostalgia for the books I read as a child, and I can really remember vividly the plots and characters from many of them! I reckon everyone has similar powerful memories about childhood books that have stuck with them, so I figured why not try to start a book tag! #CBNT
I’m going to share some of my favourite childhood books (and the covers of the versions that I read) that bring me wonderful nostalgia, hopefully some of you have read the same books and this too brings back some marvellous memories!
I haven’t read any of these books since I was a child so these are just what I remember, and my impressions may have been incorrect, but these are the thoughts I associate with these titles. I’m going to focus on books I read before the age of 13, and maybe write another series about books that teenage me read and loved!
A book that I adored but that scared me was Z for Zachariah. It’s a story about a 16-year-old girl who is the sole survivor of a nuclear war, or so she thinks. It was the first book that I read that was based in a post-apocalyptic world and it definitely made an impression on my young mind! The threat from the outsider, not only because he was an outsider but also because he was a man is something that sticks out in my memory. I remember feeling worried for her at the ending of the book too! (And it features a dog!)
Sisters…no way! Was one of my favourite books to read when I was 10 or so because it was double-sided! One side was a punky girls diary, she had lost her mother and she was coming to terms with that huge loss (I have a very clear memory of reading a line about her dad weeping in the garden while leaning against his spade, and the character thinking of going out to weep and hug him and thinking about how dramatic and poetic the image would be). Her dad starts to date again, and the woman he goes out with has two daughters, one who is the same age as the punky girl, however she’s her polar opposite. The other girl is into ballet and cares about her younger sister and has a boyfriend who she broke up with (magnums remind her of him), she’s a gentle soul and she likes eating digestives that crumble at the top of the packet!
The flip side of the book is this ballet girls diary, and you see that she too had problems adjusting to her mother dating etc. I think this book drove home to me that there’s always at least two sides to every argument…and that books are cooler when they’re double-sided.
The Chocolate War was one of those mind-blowing books that I read when I was 11 or 12, and it made me think about challenging society and whats expected of me. As far as I can remember the book centres around a new boy in a school who refuses to sell chocolates for a fund-raiser and the religious brother and the school bully (in charge of a gang that runs things in the school as far as I remember!) who is his right hand man start an intimidation campaign that ends up in an incredibly violent organised fight.
Stargirl was another book that had a message of staying true to yourself, no matter the consequences. The book was from the point of view of a shy boy who collected porcupine neckties, and how he fell in love with a most unusual girl. He convinces her to try and fit in, and she does for a while as far as I remember, but she hated being “normal” so went back to her hippie ways, and he talks about the lasting impression she made on the school – where they always cheer for the other teams first score in a match etc. My main memory is the description of the yellow gown and sunflowered bike that stargirl attends prom alone in! I do remember that for a while after reading this book I wanted to bring a little flowerpot to school with me, but thankfully my mother talked me out of that one! (I was an already clumsy 11 year old, adding glass to the mixture was an unecessary hazard!)
The Wish List was one of my absolutely favourite books, I really adored it! The main character, Meg dies in the first chapter during a botched burglary of an old man. The problem of where to send her soul arises from her balanced books, she’s done as many good as bad things in her life. She gets back to earth (with the help of a little imp who cleans the walls of the pathway to heaven and hell) and helps the pensioner she was going to rob to achieve some of his life goals, or his wish list. She also gets revenge on her abusive stepfather and ultimately carries out an act of forgiveness. (There was also a fused spirit of a pit bull and a guy who was trying to control Meg that satan sends back to earth to try to get her spirit to go to hell…) It was such a fast faced and wonderful read, I really must go back and give it a reread!
I love foxes, and this is probably in no small part due to Tom McCaughren. I adored his fox series, I had the whole collection and I have strong memories of crying bitterly about the deaths that occurred. It’s a strong possibility that these books starting with Run with the Wind and the animals of farthing wood helped to convince me, at least subconsciously, to become a vegetarian! Sage Bush a blind fox is helping a group of foxes find safety from fur hunters and the secret to survival. I read this series before I read watership down and I think they had very similar themes for certain, but I loved both as I was (and still am!) a huge animal lover.
Probably my first exposure to Native Americans and Native American culture was this book, The Long March. A young native boy is being convinced by the elder (his grandmother if I remember correctly!) of his village to donate what they can to help the starving people of Ireland. He is confused because 20 years earlier it was white people who forced his tribe to undergo the long march, and to leave their lands in Mississippi. I remember the story mentioning that the ground was frozen too hard to bury the many who died on the long march, so they put the corpses up trees. It also mentioned the dying Irish who had their mouths stained green from attempts to eat grass. It’s based on a real event that happened during the Irish potato famine, where the native Chocktaws donated a huge amount to help the people of Ireland. I think I felt very humbled by reading this book- I had up to that point always seen Irish people as the saviours and the more advanced, and this had given me a very new perspective. I remember too feeling so enraged and angry at the forced migration of the Choctaw people, it has definitely lead to an interest in native American history and culture that persists to this day.
Marita Conlon-McKenna wrote most of my childhood I’m pretty sure! I loved all of her books, but this book, The Blue Horse has a special place in my heart. It’s about the racism experienced by a young girl from the travelling community when she is forced into a settled person house. The outrage I felt for this little girl (I think she must have been the same age as me at the time), when a hairdresser refuses to cut her hair, claiming that all travellers have lice, it actually broke my heart to think that people were treated so badly for no good reason. I think it was my first glimpse into racism and injustices in Irish society and man did it affect me!
The Machine Gunners was surprisingly enough about a machine gun… A young English boy who collects shrapnel finds a downed German plane with a working machine gun, himself and his friends decide to take this and build a fort which to defend their homes from the Germans. The kids shoot down a German plane and capture the rear gunner, who repairs their machine gun in exchange for a rowboat if I remember correctly! One of the boys family home is bombed and only he survives, and he lives in the fort from then on, the German soldier returns because he hasn’t the strength to row to Norway (I think! This is one of those details I’ve probably remembered incorrectly!) and eventually the fort is found by soldiers and after a gun battle the children and German are captured, two of the children go to a childrens home and the soldier is held as a POW. I remember having nightmares about my family home being detroyed by bombs after reading this book. (Although why anyone would bomb a fairly remote house in rural Ireland never occured to me…) I also harboured worries about my dad being forced to become a soldier until I asked my mom and learned that Ireland is neutral!
Nuala & her Secret Wolf was my first foray into the Drumshee series, a series of books that are all based in the same place but in different time periods. This book was based in the Iron Age I think, and the girl hides the fact that she is mothering an abandoned wolf cub, who goes on to save her life. I loved this series as a kid, there was a viking based book, a famine book and many many more besides. I don’t think I finished the series as I “outgrew” it at some point but I’d love to go back and enjoy getting lost in Drumshee again!
I have at least twenty other books I could mention but I think I’ll finish up my first CBNT post with possibly the first book that I remember making a huge impression on me.
Under The Hawthorn Tree is the first of a trilogy written by Marita Conlon-McKenna, that I read when I was nine years old, and they are partly responsible for my love of Irish history. The youngest of four children dies at the start of the potato famine and is buried under the hawthorn tree in their garden.The parents then die and the eldest girl decides to take her two younger siblings and go find their grandaunts who live in a city far away instead of going to the workhouse where they would be separated. They encounter horrors of death in various forms upon their journey and they have several close calls with death themselves. Ultimately the siblings have each other to fight for and the strength of familial bonds is a big part of this story. It’s a very moving book and one that has stuck with me all these years!
What books have stuck with you? Any reasons why?
Keep an eye out for the next CBNT coming soon! 🙂