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The stories that made us

There is something special about the books & poems of our youth. Eoin Redahan spoke to four authors about the stories that stayed with them.

They made us laugh out loud on crowded trains, fizz with excitement, and fight back tears. More importantly, they let us fly on giant peaches, hang around with talking caterpillars, and nab villains.

At LifeJackets, we also believe the stories we read as children influence the way we look at the world. At their best, books and poems help us understand people from completely different backgrounds, teach us about difficult issues, and sometimes even make us nicer people.

So, which childhood stories made lasting impressions on four of these master word weavers?

Ben Morley

“To choose just one is an almost impossible task. For me, the impact a story has is intermingled with the storyteller and my Dad was an extremely compelling raconteur. I think I would have to choose The Adventures of Brer Rabbit, a book inspired by the Uncle Remus stories. I remember how the illustrations were quite sparse and, rather than sit, peering over my Dad’s shoulder, I would lie back and listen, laughing out loud as Brer Rabbit and his woodland friends always managed to stay one step ahead of the scheming fox.

“Each chapter told a new adventure and I remember relishing the mischievous plots and also realising that there was often a scarcely hidden theme or moral, although my Dad never alluded to these. I recall falling in love with the characters who would always succeed using their wits to outsmart their foes using often questionable tactics!

“I believe the stories can be traced back to trickster figures in Africa, particularly the hare that figures prominently in the storytelling traditions in West, Central, and Southern Africa. These tales continue to be part of the traditional folklore of numerous peoples throughout those regions. Of course, I was completely unaware of this back then. I just remember loving Brer Rabbit and these stories will always hold a special place in my heart as they take me back to bedtime story times with my Dad.”

Ben writes picture books for children. His first book is The Silence Seeker and his latest work is called My Thousand Special Names. Check it out!

Mary Finn

“I still read children’s books for enjoyment but there’s a chasm between what you read as an adult and the companions of childhood that were re-read endlessly until they became twisted into your DNA.

“Among these I include The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Roger Lancelyn Green’s King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, Patricia Lynch’s The Turf-cutter’s Donkey,  Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books (all named for colours), The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.

“But if I have to choose it has to be the Just William books. Author Richmal Crompton wrote 39 books about 11-year-old William Brown and I’m sure I read almost all of them. There was nothing much William and I had in common – underneath his scruffy outer shell he was a wealthy south of England boy – but he had a gang of friends (the Outlaws) and a standing army of enemies (teachers, do-gooders, most but not all girls, and his much older siblings, Ethel and Robert). Even girl readers in Dublin could work with that list and turn around “most but not all boys” to fit. Plus, William had a dog and he roamed free, as we troupes of children and our dogs did in my childhood.

“The books were arranged into short stories which moved through the year as William plotted one crazed adventure after the other. Highlights were his sweets rations, as rich as any Roald Dahl could dream up, and the annual arrival at the fairground of the terrifying Wall of Death. On the larger stage he had a part in Hitler’s downfall (William lived as a groundhog 11-year-old from the 1920s to the 1970s). He saw off scammers just as he battled his very own troll, the lisping Violet Elizabeth Bott, with logic and ruthlessness.

“That was the fun of it. But Richmal Crompton did not just write William’s pulp fiction adventures; she wrote gorgeously, using long, find-it-in-the-dictionary words that authors are sternly advised not to try now. I must have been eight when I had to figure out what ectoplasm was, when William exposed a seance for the scam it was. I loved those words. You could hold onto them and make them your own. This author loved her William and respected her readers – what more could anybody ask?”

Mary writes historical fiction for children and young adults. Her works include No Stars at the Circus, Anila’s Journey, and Belladonna. Read them here

– We think stories are a great way to help children understand life’s big issues in a fun way. Find out more about LifeJackets.

James Carter

“I read a lot as a child. Reading was very important to me. I loved non-fiction books in the main, and often books about birds and animals. It wasn’t so much the facts but the names of creatures fascinated me. A Thompson’s Gazelle. A Leadbetter’s Possum. Little did I know then, but it was the music of the words I was attracted to. I adored Tintin books (especially The Black Island) – all those exotic adventures stirred a nascent wanderlust in me.

“Though I didn’t properly get the fiction bug until I was 13, from the age of six what I loved reading most of all was comics. Our house wasn’t always a happy one, and my favourite time of the week was a Saturday morning when I would walk or cycle down to the shops and buy two maybe three comics. For the rest of the morning I’d lie on my bed reading The Beano or The Dandy or Cor! or Whizzer and Chips – from cover to cover, laughing and laughing. I absolutely loved those comics. At the age of 13 I went off to a place I called ‘prison’ – others called it boarding school. From there I needed to regularly escape and I discovered the quickest and easiest way was through grown up books. Science fiction mainly: HG Wells and Aldous Huxley – as well as George Orwell. Big books with big ideas, perfect for the expanding adolescent mind. Poetry came later with Shakespeare and Philip Larkin, during A levels.

“Please don’t discourage children from reading comics. Reading is reading is reading, and if you can get regular pleasure from it, and develop a true, lifelong passion for words and narrative – what’s not to like?”

James Carter has written more than 14 poetry books for children. His latest work is a poetry picture book about the Big Bang called Once Upon A Star.

Gerard Siggins

“I always loved those old-fashioned Enid Blyton books when I was a kid. The stories were nice, although written about a world far removed from mine then, or yours now. But what I loved most about them was the notion of a group of kids getting together to have adventures and solve mysteries.

“When I grew up and got into sport I realised the value of teamwork, and later still when I worked in newspapers I always stressed the importance of teamwork and leaning on other people if you needed help. I’ve completed a children’s book series called Rugby Spirit which also relies on that idea – and my new series Sports Academy hammers home the point that people are stronger when they unite to change their world.”

Gerard has written a children’s book series called Rugby Warrior, and his Sports Academy series is released this month. Take a look here.

– Help children make sense of life’s tricky issues through stories and poems. Download our free lesson pack.

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* Header image courtesy of ProjectManhattan