Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Top 5 good childhood reads by Kiwi authors

List by Danielle

"At the same time, I think books create a sort of network in the reader's mind, with one book reinforcing another. Some books form relationships. Other books stand in opposition. No two writers or readers have the same pattern of interaction."
~ Margaret Mahy

NZ Book Month, salutations!

Things were pretty great for a budding fantasy reader in the 70s and 80s. Treasured and much re-read titles on my bookshelf included Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, Tanith Lee's Companions on the Road and East of Midnight, Richard Adams' Watership Down, and a battered old ex-library copy of Diana Wynne Jones' The Power of Three. Alongside mostly British fare, Kiwi authors also provided some of my favourite childhood fantasy reads, as well as the less fantastical tales that gave me recognisable settings and characters I could relate to, as I lived through their adventures with them.

When I was jogging my memory for this list, I had a bit of help from a list compiled here by ex- librarian and author Lorraine Orman, for the millennium:
There is also an interesting editorial commentary about the criteria Orman used to create her list, and the potential need for an 'alternative' Top 100 for all of those quirky classics that may not have won awards but held a passionate grasp on us as kids, for all that.

I'd be interested to hear what other NZ titles people remember with that intensity and fondness, from their childhoods - there are plenty of worthy candidates out there, what stayed in your mind (and on your bookshelves)?

No one went to town / Phyllis Johnston
Based on the true story of the Tarrant family, pioneers in the hills of Taranaki.

I think my mum might have bought me this, as well as it's sequel Black boots and buttonhooks, because I too spent part of my childhood in Taranaki, and the books were rich with a settler girl's experience of the King Country. Certain episodes in the books remain vividly in my mind, particularly the attempts of the family to make a Christmas feast reminiscent of those from 'Home' in England. I'm a sucker for food scenes - and the descriptions of goose and Christmas pud were so far from my own Christmas memories.

Alex / Tessa Duder
Fifteen-year-old Alex struggles to overcome personal trauma and hardship as she competes with her arch rival for a place on the New Zealand swimming team participating in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.

Awesome stories, the Alex quartet! I loved the glimpse into what it might be like to live in a family where one member's passion for something devoured most of the family's time and energy. Alex was both easy to relate to, and a real role model for determination and hard work.

The tricksters / Margaret Mahy
While gathered together for the Christmas holiday, a large New Zealand family and their various guests and hangers-on find their lives suddenly invaded by three fascinating but rather sinister brothers and by New Year nothing is the same again.

I credit Margaret Mahy with helping me realise that stories about magic and supernatural adventure could take place in similar suburbs to my own, and not only at some semi-mythical British boarding school, country house or imaginary country. I read this story in my late teens, from memory, and the excruciating moment when the main character's secret stash of self-penned fantasy tales are discovered - and ridiculed - by her siblings and parents is still vivid in my mind. Great characters, a sweet romance and believable family dynamics make this a classic summer ghost story.

Under the mountain / Maurice Gee
While vacationing with relatives in Auckland, twins Theo and Rachel discover that they are endowed with special powers to oppose mysterious giant creatures that are determined to destroy the world.

What more to say about this? Maurice Gee is a legend. Am I the only one who was convinced they could become telepathic if they just concentrated hard enough - even though I was secretly worried that, like Theo, I would be the weak link, and drop my stone? Even before the original TV series brought the Wilburforces to scary, sticky, snotty life, this book made a huge impression on me.

Beak of the moon / Philip Temple
In the remote valley of Kawee, the timeless world of the kea is suddenly disrupted when strange wingless birds appear. The destruction they bring causes hardship and corruption to kea society and forces young Strongbeak to flee the tyrannical boss Highfeather. Inspired by the prophecies of the great yellow kea, Glintamber, Strongbeak leads a group of rebellious young birds in a quest for a new world beyond the mountains.

An epic fantasy that rivals Watership Down and William Horwood's Duncton Wood for it's ability to make the reader care deeply about it's ragtag band of creatures, looking for a better world. Like Adams' rabbit tale, as well, this one has a real dark streak that uses it's animal societies to explore different models of government, and the perils of dissent. Highly memorable and very much loved and re-read.

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