I know a lot of people read veraciously as a kid, but not me. I was more inclined to ride my bike and go on little adventures around my suburb, venturing all the way to the railway line so I could watch the trains rattle past. So when I did pick up a book, it had to really engage me and make a lasting impression. I think that has subtly shaped the types of books I write for kids now.
So here’s my top 5 books that have made a lasting impression on me as a kid.
No book scared me more as a child than this one. A chilling story about an inquisitive young cat who gets captured by a family of rats living in the walls and ceiling of his home and who then decide eat him…… alive. Luckily he’s rescued by his mother who then beats him for being naughty and going where he shouldn’t. Inspiring stuff.
The house I was living in at the time was infested with rats and as an inquisitive boy myself, I knew what would happen if I ventured where I shouldn’t. Mind you I did get my hand caught in a rat trap when I was reaching into the cupboards to steal some biscuits when I was 6. That hurt.
I wanted to live my life vicariously through Blinky Bill and all his adventures. He was cheeky, brave, sneaky and playful; all things I wanted to be. Dorothy Wall’s character inspired me to come up with my own adventurous little boy character when I wrote stories in Year 4. I innocently called him ‘Herpes Zosta’ after hearing my mum mention the term once. Strangely none of my teachers ever asked me about it. Google it if you’re interested.
Now whenever my partner and I go off somewhere new, I say ‘We’re off on a Blinky Bill adventure’.
We had about 2 or 3 Richard Scarry books when I was growing up, yet by the time I was old enough to read them, my old brother had ripped out some of the pages so I never got to knew what some people did all day! I love the way Scarry would make the busy scene flow across the pages using only the illustrations and there was always so much to look at. So much detail. Every time I’d read it, I’d find something new, a little character hiding behind a bin or a rabbit in a doorway. And you always had to find Lowly Worm! Magic stuff.
A true classic. And again it was all about adventure and escape. A little known backstory is that it’s rumoured his publisher wanted the book to be about horses, but Maurice said he couldn’t draw a horse so he opted for ‘Wild Things’. I’m glad he did. Horses are quite boring in my opinion.
When I read about Maurice Sendak’s personal life a few years back, I ached for his pain and longing. He was gay and had lived with his partner for 50 years up until his partner passed away in 2007. He later revealed that he’d kept his sexuality secret from most people and he never told his parents, he said, “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy. They never, never, never knew.” Maurice Sendak died in 2012 and donated $1 Million dollars to the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s services in memory of his partner, Glynn, who had worked there.
I get a little emotional every time I read or hear about his story.
My Gran gave me this book when I was about 6 and I’ve had it ever since. Yes, this is my original copy – it’s over 40 years old! I can still recite some of the rhymes, like “I love to go to lectures and make people stare, by walking on their heads and messing up their hair!’. The entire book appealed to my weird sense of humour and Tomi Ungerer’s illustrations looked so simple and I think they have subtly influenced my own style.
I’m honoured to write books for kids and I know I don’t hold a candle to the people who have dedicated their lives to the craft, but I can’t follow the same path. I forge my own style and I have my own message to share. I want to make books that I hope to have the same effect these books had on me.