Some of my fondest childhood memories are of scurrying up to my bedroom after school, climbing up onto my windowsill, closing the curtains and reading a book sat in the corner (of said windowsill) until my parents found me and made me do homework and eat dinner. When I started at primary school, I had to have extra support for English because I’d grown up in a household where I was only spoken to in Cantonese. I couldn’t thank my parents enough for doing this as I’m lucky enough to be bilingual, but it did mean that I was a touch behind my peers and needed to replace a couple of RE (Religious Education) classes in order to get up to speed with my English comprehension (the bit of the lesson where you read and answer questions based on the literature) and speaking. And part of that meant I was asked to read as much as possible outside of school. Mum took it very seriously indeed, and we’d spend Saturday mornings at the library, poring over the newest titles and loaning them before heading off to do the food shop.
Consequently, I fell in love with reading and with books. I loved – I love, still – the ritual of a reading session: selecting a title, deciding where to read it (always, always my windowsill), carefully prising open the book (I’d always be sure to select the newest edition with pristine pages still square at the edges), never cracking the spine and listening for the satisfying crinkle as the pages turned and stories unfolded. I enjoyed holding my place with a leather bookmark gifted to me at school for hitting my English comprehension targets. I slept with books underneath my pillow because they were such a comfort to me.
I’m a serial re-reader, I love delving anew into old stories and finding that things were exactly as I remembered them. It’s the same as how many of us comfort-watch Friends and Gilmore Girls, I suppose. So without further ado, here are the books I read growing up that made an impact on me, and that I re-read time and time again:
Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah
Long-term readers of this blog will know that growing up, I didn’t really feel too different from my peers, race-wise. In fact, I had almost no idea because the kids at my primary school were relatively kind and I didn’t have any realisation that our backgrounds were so different until I was finally invited to a friend’s house for ‘tea’ and noticed that 1) they didn’t take their shoes off before traipsing around the house, 2) the dinner table wasn’t laid out with a bowl of rice and chopsticks, and 3) WHAT WAS A CHICKEN NUGGET.
I read Chinese Cinderella when I was in Year 5 and every night, I’d have a new question for Mum. The autobiographical novel tells of Adeline’s experience being a castaway from her own family as – much like in Disney’s classic story – her Dad remarried and slowly, she was shoved aside in favour of her new stepmother and stepsisters. There were hints towards Eurasian culture and how she saw white privilege slowly become prevalent in everyday life, and I remember feeling absolutely shellshocked that this could have ever been a thing. Of course, how was I to know this still existed and would affect my own life growing up. I credit this novel with beginning my ‘journey’ into learning about my Chinese background and beginning to realise that my story was different to my (white) friends.
Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn
My brother and I selected this book at one of those World Book Day fairs at primary school. It was a ‘grown-up book’ to us, a thick book with small print and it took us absolutely ages to read! Across the Nightingale Floor is simply one of my favourite novels ever, it doesn’t get much deeper than that. It’s set in a fictional Japanese feudal system, following 15-year-old Tomasu (later Takeo) and his story that begins when he discovers his entire family has been slaughtered.
I suppose this book has stayed with me simply because it was my first ever grown-up read that wasn’t a Jacqueline Wilson novel. I’d have to ask my parents to help me understand passages and constantly refer to a dictionary, but it helped me open my mind to other lands (truly) and I found the entire book fascinating. It also helped me to ground my anime and manga interests, realising that, ‘hey, Japan is a real place!’ and it also kick-started my love of history and my fascination of how fantasy meets reality in the faintest of ways.
The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson
I think most fellow British girls who grew up in the 90’s can vouch for how Jacqueline Wilson defined their childhoods. I myself had almost the entire back catalogue of her books and was distraught when Mum started donating the older ones to charity. The Illustrated Mum stands out to me because it taught me about families that were vastly different from my own. I’m very grateful to be part of a family with parents that are still together and siblings that are my best friends, but had I not read this book and then Wilson’s other novels that of course dealt with familial relationships, I’d be ignorant towards all of that side of things. To this day, I find it incredible that Jacqueline Wilson managed to broach all of these subjects (broken families, adoption and fostering, alcoholism, etc.) in such thoughtful and non-invasive ways.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K.Rowling
How could this Potterhead finish this post without including the one that started it all? If I were to be completely honest, I’d be including Chamber of Secrets here because I read that one before Philosopher’s Stone, but the Harry Potter series absolutely defined my childhood. I’d queue up at midnight for them and not sleep until they’d been read cover-to-cover. I watched the films over and over, bought the merch… And I still do! I’ll wrap this section up, because I don’t think it needs to be said again how much I adore the entire Harry Potter world.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Finally, I have to include Anne Frank’s incredible diary on this list. The Diary of a Young Girl is something that was once touched upon in a Year 5 History lesson and that I of course popped to the library to loan by the weekend. I still find it hard to comprehend today – even having visited the Anne Frank House – that these tragedies happened in this century. If you’ve not read the famous diary and writings of a 13-year-old Anne Frank, I absolutely recommend that you do.
What are some of the books that’ve made an impact on you?