(this was a time-consuming-but-in-a-delightful-&-nostalgic-way post to put together)
I was a very VERY voracious reader when I was younger. I practically lived in the library. I read and read and read. A lot of Saddle Club, Paul Jennings, Margaret Mahy, Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, and Point horror by Christopher Pike and R.L. Stein.
But I also re-read, my favourites, the books that made an impression — and this post has taken me a while to compile as I delved back in my memory to think about them all.
A few things are clear, writing down this list. I have always loved fantasy and sci-fi, particularly post-apocalyptic. I’m pleased to see the amount of Kiwi authors in this list. I love that I grew up with these books. I’ve met a few of these authors — and been completely starstruck silent by their presence!
And it’s interesting to think about how my reading world was created by the librarians of my small town library. The decisions they made about which titles to purchase — if they had not picked these books, what would I have read instead? Were there other books I would have died & gone to heaven with love for that I never got to read?
I’ve tried to order these in approximately the order/age I read them, which I can gather from remembering if they were shelved in childrens or YA, and from the publish year:
The Lake at the End of the World (1988) by Caroline MacDonald. In a post-apocalyptic world, a community of people have survived by living in an underground society, strictly controlled. While above ground, a family have survived in a small valley with a lake. The daughter one day finds a boy who has escaped from the underground city. Turns out this is set in 2025! Doesn’t seem that far away now.
The Alex series (1987-1992) by Tessa Duder. The world of competitive swimming became so real. I’ve also seen the movie, but it can’t compare to the sensation evoked by these books — dawn training, the smell of chlorine, the waterloggedness.
Under the Mountain (1979), The World Around the Corner (1980) and the Halfmen of O trilogy (1982-1985), by Maurice Gee. An amazing Kiwi author, whose imaginative stories of other worlds just a step away from ours were so evocative to me. In the Halfmen of O series, Susan and Nicholas are kidnapped and brought to the land of O through a portal, where they go on a quest to join a motherstone back together and end the evil grey rule of Otis Claw. This trilogy inspired a story I wrote in Standard 3 or 4. I stapled the pages between cardboard covers covered with duraseal to make it look like a real book. My teacher at the time read the first “chapter” out to my class during reading time, without saying I had written it until the end, which made me squirm with embarrassment and pride.
Baby Sister (1986) by Marilyn Sachs. The main character Penny has this beautiful brilliant older sister, Cass. I think I loved the transformation in this story, the way the main character grew out of the shadow of her older sister and became her own successful person. I also loved the sewing references as my mum sewed and taught me too.
The Pit Dragon trilogy (1982-1987) by Jane Yolen (Dragon’s Blood, Heart’s Blood, A Sending of Dragons). A fantasy/sci-fi series set on a harsh slaver world where people breed and fight dragons. Different colour dragons are different types of fighters. The main character, a slave boy, steals an egg and raises a hatchling himself in the desert. I have vivid memories of the desert – searing hot during the day, bone cold at night – the fighting pens, the hatcheries, the final part of the story and the metamorphosis that occurs (it’s like in Star Wars when Luke shelters from the ice & snow inside his dead tauntaun…)
Empty World (1977), and the Tripod series (1967-) by John Christopher. I can still picture the Tripod books – the mountain railroad tunnel where the survivors lived, the inside of the damp alien city, the mesh imprinted into the humans’ skins to make them compliant… And from Empty World, the weird almost uncomfortable loneliness that permeated every page. I have not seen the BBC series of the Tripods. I like the way the books live in my memory as they are. John Christopher (real name Samuel Youd) passed away just last week.
National Velvet (1935) by Enid Bagnold. I read every single pony/horse book I could find in that library. Again and again.
Easy Connections (1983) and Easy Freedom (1985) by Liz Berry. I’ve re-read these recently and boy, they do not give the right message to send young girls. But at the time I fell in love with the glamour & the over-the-top emotional fraught romance, with the beautiful ethereal artist Cathy and the long-legged prowling rock stars Dev & Chris. These are the books I’m most embarrassed about.
Winter of Fire (1993), Wolf-Woman (1994), and Rocco (1990) by Sherryl Jordan. A wonderful NZ author whose works had a huge impact on me as a juvenile writer. I borrowed heavily. We see a dystopian world in Winter of Fire – YA readers who liked The Hunger Games would enjoy this book, I think – where the main character Elsha is one of the ‘Quelled’, poor people who are forced to work mines in servitude to the ruling class, the Chosen. Elsha even has a mark branded into her forehead to mark her as Quelled. It’s hardcore, disfiguring your main character like that.
The Eventer’s Dream series (1981-1983)by Caroline Akrill (Eventer’s Dream, A Hoof in the Door, Ticket to Ride) My favourite horsey series, which I owned and read to they practically fell apart. I remember them having good story arcs, and being full of great detail, especially the crazy motley collection of horses that the main character, Elaine, deals with when she takes on a job at a stables run by two eccentric sisters.
Every book in the Jinny series (1976-1988) by Patricia Leitch that I could find. They blur into one, so I’m not sure how many of the books I read. The series is about a scruffy girl and her wild red Arabian horse on the wild highlands of Scotland. Yep, chalk these up to the pony-mad-Kate. I wonder how it eventually wound up, and what happened with the artistic Jinny and her crazed Shantih.
The Song of the Lioness series, and The Immortals series (1992-1996), by Tamora Pierce. I got the Alanna books out of the library multiple times. The Immortals was the first book series I ever bought with my own money, eagerly waiting for the next one to be published and available in my local bookstore. The feeling of getting a new one, shiny colourful cover, of about to open it and find out what happened next – oh! Tamora Pierce writes such great female leads. Although The Immortals is precious to me for that buying experience, I think the Alanna books are the best, because Alanna is such an amazing heroine.
Tomorrow When the War Began (1993) by John Marsden. In an alternate Australia, a group of teenagers hide out while the country is invaded by foreign forces. They turn into guerilla warriors. Haven’t seen the film but might look into it. I read this first one a lot, and some of the sequels, although never finished the whole series. I wonder how it ended.