The books of my youth

Nancy Drew, The Famous Five, The Twins at St Clare’s, Road Dahl and Judy Blume. I grew up on these books and authors. There was plenty more in between but these featured heavily. These books were old hat when I read them, but have stood the test of time and I would recommend them for youngsters between eight and 13/14.

I must have read every Nancy Drew book but I struggle to remember the plot lines of most of them. They followed a pretty similar trajectory with a new villain for each book but I definitely thought of her as a role model.

Is there a child out there who missed out on the Famous Five? My nephew is reading them now and still getting great mileage from the stories. I’ve been told he has started adopting some of the language and golly it is very out of place in Dublin. I fancied myself somewhere between Julian and George and found Dick and Anne to be drags quite frankly. There was something great about the freedom these kids had for adventure and I used to seek out my own, trying to convince myself and friends that the weird neighbour was really a spy. I never did solve a mystery.

The Twins at St Clare’s was one I came to as I moved from childhood to my teen years, so I didn’t read the full range of their books but I loved their cheekiness and boldness, while always remaining rather polite. These books made boarding school sound like the dream and I always thought I should have been attending one instead of my local public school. Even years later, reading and watching the Harry Potter series, I think I would have enjoyed it. Midnight feasts and a great range of sports and other activities, sounds right up my street.

Roald Dahl is timelessly brilliant. Even as a child I was envious of his wit and imagination. He was a creative genius. I love reading these books even now and my nieces and nephews love it too because I will keep going for way longer than their parents. His stories are still fun and witty and I don’t think any amount of technological advancement will diminish their brilliance. His Revolting Rhymes series is a favourite of mine. Such a simple twist on the stories I was familiar with, I felt like I was becoming an adult by finding these stories funny and will always remember the line: “One eyelid flickers, she whips a pistol from her knickers.” There is a great animated series of these, narrated by The Wire’s Dominic West.

As for Judy Blume, her books were like the bible for me growing up. I started with Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret and her talk of periods, first kisses and dances, as well as the famous “I must, I must increase my bust” refrain could have come directly from my own world. The settings were dated but the key messages of the stories were still relevant to me, and I imagine many girls today. I kept all these books and now I’ve passed them on to my nieces (as well as a few friends who managed to get through puberty without Blume’s help). 

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