Reading lists

The childhood books that turned us into readers’s editors look back on the moment we fell in love with reading, and the authors we have to thank.

Children's classics Matilda, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Double Act, and Where the Sidewalk Ends

Every reader has a story about the moment in their childhood that the world of books was revealed to them, when reading turned from hobby to obsession. Here are some of ours.

The Peacock Garden by Anita Desai (1979)

In all honesty, it’s my mum who deserves the credit for the moment in which I truly fell in love with books.

I grew up being taken to my local library every Saturday, and distinctly remember a summer holiday in which I took part in a reading challenge there. The prize for reading a set number of books was… another book.

As I stood in front of a table of titles, agonising over which one to choose, my mum nudged me firmly towards The Peacock Garden by Anita Desai. I was reluctant; it just didn’t seem like the kind of book I’d been reading up to that point.

But my mum saw at the time what I couldn’t: a book that showed that people like me (Muslim, of Pakistani heritage) could be the subject of stories. With its cover of a brown girl wearing shalwar kameez, like the women in my family did, and its story of a family during Partition, The Peacock Garden was a reflection of my present, and an insight into the collective history of the country of my parents. How could I not fall in love with reading after that?

By Sarah Shaffi

Sophie Hits Six by Dick King-Smith (1991)

I can’t remember where Sophie Hits Six emerged from; probably the local library, which my mum would take us to weekly. And really, it was less that specific title than King-Smith’s entire ‘Sophie’ series: a rambunctious collection of stories about its titular heroine, the youngest of three children who runs wild on an English farm. There were some parallels: my family moved to a rural farming village when I was four (Sophie’s age when the series starts), of which I too was the precocious youngest of three.

But I more associated with Sophie’s depiction – scruffy, hand-me-down jumper, wellies, mud – and proto-feminist determination (to be a “Lady Farmer”, fulfilled by her stashing away her “farm money”) than her obsession with animals. A fierce tomboy, I never was much one for princesses or fairies that dominated the children’s pop culture landscape in the early 90s. But in Sophie I saw a little of myself.

By Alice Vincent

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more