The Arts Council is urging people to share the joy of reading with children this Christmas, writes Marjorie Brennan. Here, some of the well-known people backing the ‘Story for their Stocking’ campaign select the books that captured their imagination as youngsters
Eoin Colfer, author
Stig of the Dump by Clive King
When I was a little fella many years ago in the 1970s, my favourite book was Stig Of The Dump. It had beautiful illustrations and they meant as much to me as the words. Santa would bring a present and my parents would always bring a book because we thought that was very important. I was one of those kids who could not sleep for nerves when Santa was coming. One Christmas morning I woke up about 4 o’clock and I remember I had a Lone Ranger boy and this book, and by the time my parents had woken I had read it twice because I was a very fast reader. It had a huge impact on me because the boy, Barney, was a little bit of a loner like me. And he found this amazing friend who not only could teach him how to use a bow and arrow but also take him to magical lands. I think if it wasn’t for this book I probably wouldn’t have been a writer so I owe a lot to Clive King and Stig.
Dr Ciara Kelly, GP, broadcaster
The Enchanted Wood and Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton
What I loved about these books was that they were just way out there —these kids used to escape from adults and up a tree to magical lands. It was a feat of pure imagination — it wasn’t like Secret Seven or Famous Five or those other books that have at least some grounding in reality. This is about people who literally met magical creatures up a tree and the worlds at the top of the tree would rotate so you never knew where you would end up. It was pure escapism and a wonderful adventure in imagination.
Roddy Doyle, writer
Just William by Richmal Crompton
I didn’t know for years that the author was a woman because Richmal sounds like a man’s name. There was a series of ‘William’ books but ‘Just William’, which I think was the first, was brilliant. It was about this young kid, very bold, always had a catapult in the back pocket, and always getting into problems with a gang of friends. What was great was that he always got away with it. He was a cranky young guy, not unlike myself I suspect in ways. The adults in the books were always complete eejits, and very funny because of that, and quite distant. Years later when I read Roald Dahl, they were quite similar to the William books, not in style but in tone, in that the adult world is a distant, often dangerous and stupid place, and children are the real bastions of wisdom.
Sarah McInerney, broadcaster
The Silver Brumby series by Elyne Mitchell
The one set of books I kept coming back to was this series of books about a silver stallion called Thowra. He wasn’t grey, he wasn’t white, he was silver — and that made him very different, so he had to learn how to be the fastest, the cleverest and the wisest. The books just charted how Thowra learned to survive and how he was different from everyone else around him. It was a brilliant adventure and just a really good read. So I just read it again, and again, and again.
Heather Humphreys, Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs
The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton
I thoroughly enjoyed these books because they were full of adventure, excitement, mischief and indeed friendship, and every story had a different angle. I remember picking up the books, reading them with excitement and it was always hard to put them down.
Niamh Sharkey, illustrator, author
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
An aunt of mine brought this back from America and it just sparked my interest in reading and books. It was also my first introduction to illustration, because Sendak was an amazing illustrator.
It’s about Max and his adventures where he meets these wild things which are monsters. It really started my lifelong love of books, illustrations and monsters.
Sean Moncrieff, broadcaster
The Secret Seven series by Enid Blyton
You either liked the Secret Seven or the Famous Five. But I liked the Secret Seven, they were a wee bit younger and they had this cool kind of den that nobody looked for and they’d solve crimes and all the things that eight-year-old children do.
Stefanie Preissner, screenwriter
The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy
When I was a kid I used to really have difficulty when it came to the end of a book. I used to get really traumatised that the whole thing was over so my favourite book was actually a series of books, which was called the Worst Witch. It was pre-Harry Potter, before wizards and witches were really cool; Harriet the witch really, really got me — she was amazing.
PJ Lynch, illustrator and current Laureate na nÓg
The Once and Future King by TH White
I was given this as a Christmas present and I absolutely adored it. There’s so much reading in it but it’s actually four books. This was written back in the 1940s and it’s about King Arthur — it starts when he was a little boy and it’s all about his relationship with Merlin.It prefigures all those series of books like Harry Potter which people are now so fond of.
Diana Bunici, author and broadcaster
Adventures of the Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton
I love this because it was the first book I read completely in English, as I’m originally from Moldova. I moved to Ireland when I was eight so it took me quite some time to pick up the language, to understand every single word and what a sentence might particularly mean. So this was the first book I read in full and it completely captivated me.
It was just such a sense of achievement but it was also a book that took me to a magical enchanting place. I had such a hard time in those first few months fitting in to life in Ireland because it was such a massive change from what I was used to.
I felt like I had a lot of new friends that I had inside the book, so it will always remain a special book memory for me.
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