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8 December 2021updated 04 Jan 2022 2:06pm

The children’s books that shaped us

From The Jungle Book to Z for Zachariah, writers remember their favourite tales from childhood.

By New Statesman

Howard Jacobson on Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)

I didn’t fully understand Jonathan Swift’s epic at nine years old – that was why reading it made me feel so free.

Claire Tomalin on The Tale of Tom Kitten by Beatrix Potter (1907)

This is the first book I remember owning, given to me in 1938 by a nurse in the Homeopathic Hospital where I was being treated for an ear infection.

Frank Cottrell Boyce on Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson (1957)

I curled up on the big chair ready for more stories about these jolly trolls with their magic hats and family picnics. I got something very different.

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Melissa Harrison on The Little Grey Men by B.B. (1942)

A fantasy story about the last gnomes in Warwickshire, it’s a richly detailed, luminous love letter to the English countryside.

Joe Dunthorne on Dinosaurs and All That Rubbish by Michael Foreman (1972)

When I first picked up this book again after many years, I remembered it only as a fun story about a chap who wants to go to the moon – with dinosaurs. But it’s so much more.

Ben Okri on Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb (1807)

Charles and Mary Lamb did something amazing when they retold Shakespeare’s plays for children: they made available to kids like me some of the most moving stories at the heart of a culture.

Douglas Kennedy on The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (1961)

Norman Juster’s seminal tale is an adventure story about the absolute wonder of learning – and the need to discover and maintain curiosity.

Marina Warner on The Myths of Greece and Rome by HA Guerber (1907)

The illustrations were almost more indelibly imprinted than the retellings: the frontispiece enthralled me from the moment I opened the book.

Sarah Hall on Z for Zachariah by Robert C O’Brien (1974)

Robert C O’Brien’s story was unlike anything I’d encountered before, perhaps because it didn’t really seem like a children’s book.

Isabel Waidner on Eine Woche voller Samstage by Paul Maar (1973)

The Sams series is built around a German linguistic constraint that doesn’t translate: to take the name of each weekday literally and see what that does for the narrative.

William Boyd on The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (1894)

Kipling’s stories had an intense allure for me: I too was a boy living, if not in an Indian jungle, then something very close to one in West Africa.

Erica Wagner on an unknown book of ghosts

A book – a hardback, bound in clear plastic – which I read, and then read again, feeling that fluttering sense of wonder and terror that the best horror brings.

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