5. Matilda, Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl’s writing really has no equal: Matilda remains one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. His observations about the idiosyncrasies of parents are impressively acute, and while I don’t entirely agree with his opposition to TV, which seems like an oddly conservative position for an otherwise progressive writer, Matilda is a terrifically inspiring champion of the power of books.
4. The Worst Witch, Jill Murphy
Jill Murphy’s Worst Witch series was released long before Potter and must have influenced Rowling’s writing: both are set in in ancient castles serving as magical academies. I used to listen to The Worst Witch as an audio tape when I was too young to read it myself, and as a result an appreciation for stories featuring witchcraft has been embedded into my subconscious. Proof: three entries on this Top 5 list involve magic.
3. Witch Week, Dianne Wynne Jones
Witch Week is actually the third of seven Chrestomanci books, but true to form I started in the middle of the series. This installment takes place in a universe where magic is outlawed and punishable by death, yet insists on popping out of people at somewhat inconvenient moments. Witch Week features an intelligent and complex plot, with well-captured, imperfect characters, and while I’d recommend the Chrestomanci series as a whole, Witch Week is definitely worth opening as a stand-alone read.
2. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
His Dark Materials is another fantasy series which is more strictly Young Adult than a children’s series, though, like the greatest of animated films for children, it can be enjoyed at any age and appreciated on different levels. Simultaneously an attempt to undermine the questionable certainties of Paradise Lost and a courageous exploration of the nature of sin, Pullman’s novels are among the most accomplished YA series that I’ve encountered.
1. Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling
The #1 spot has to go to Harry Potter: even more than ten years later, it’s still a uniquely immersive experience, at once both familiar and constantly surprising. Without being by any means ‘preachy’, the series conveys a great humanistic message about love and equality through the analogy of disenfranchised magical creatures and the capacity of a pure heart to combat the dark arts.
What are your childhood favourites?