The following children’s books are other mentions that didn’t make it on to my favourites list, but were nonetheless important and I found inspiring for one reason or other.
The BFG by Roald Dahl
I’ve read loads of Roald Dahl. Pretty much all British kids have. Kids everywhere have. All corners of the world. It’s because they were so transferrable through cultures. The imagination is awe inspiring, and kids love the characters. You can only imagine that Roald Dahl, like Lewis Carroll, might have been smoking some pretty intriguing substances to come out with what did. Even now when JK Rowling has pretty much taken the crown of most famous British children’s writer, and the launch of the Wimpy Kid, Roald Dahl’s books are timeless and children will forever love them. Ella, my niece, for instance, has the whole collection. Their popularity has brought about many movies, much because Hollywood producers find the books out of this world, so vivid with imagination, and knew the movies would sell as well as the books; like hot cakes. Dahl was a conveyor belt, as well, coming out with a constant stream of classics, whether it be James & the Giant Peach, Danny the Champion of the World, Matilda, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and many more, but it was the BFG that did for me. The nicer side of my personality always roots for the underdog and a gentleman, which the BFG is, and made a hero for millions of more kids like me. An unlikely hero, but the BFG has always inspired me to look at the best in people, despite their difficulties or lack of education, and not to tease or patronise people because of that (maybe as a teenager I didn’t always practice as I then preached, but many teenagers for that insecure period of their lives lose the inner BFG in them). Education can’t buy class after all; look at David Cameron. Like the BFG, I had problems with speech, due to thyroid problems and a lazy tongue, which obviously made me a lamb in a slaughterhouse with peers at school. The BFG acted as a role model, giving me the belief that positivity can still thrive in front a personal difficulty. That’s how important literature can be; it create heroes for many.
I’ve revisted this book twice since childhood. The first in my A-levels when I compared it to Alice in Wonderland, such as cultural values of the time and the style of writing. However, my comparison is more blunt than that; Alice in Wonderland was absurd nonsense while the BFG was absurd brilliance. Sorry Alice in Wonderland fans.
The second time was when I was working at Dowal School and I was giving extra classes to twins from the US. They were exceptionally talented readers for their age and you had to be on the ball, or they would catch you out. They were very competitive with each other too, and had to read the same book and do exactly the same activities, checking up on one another by asking me questions, “How fast did HE read that book?” and “Did I get a better grade than HIM?” We created medicines and sub-plots; all very interesting. The twins also loved the BFG, and before they left to go back to the USA, they confessed that the BFG was the favourite book they’d read with me, which came above some pretty fierce competition, including Treasure Island and The Little Prince.
I read there is a second movie coming out based on the book next year. I can’t wait to see it.
The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier
To be on my favourites list would have been a bit far-fetched because I read it many years ago and I can’t really remember it that well. For that reason alone it can’t be warranted to go into my favourites list. I recall it’s set in WW2 and it’s about three Polish Jewish children (I can’t be sure they are Jewish). Their parents are sent to extermination camps or prison, and kids escape and get winde of where they are. They travel high and wide on foot throughout Europe in search of them narrowly dodging Nazi guards. I can’t remember the importance of the sword or what happens to the parents, nor do I know much about the author. However, I do remember enjoying it and it sparked more reading about WW2, which became a great interest in my young teenaged years, such as the below book, and learned a lot about basic plot interwining plot structures too. I also remember my mother gave it me and it still sits on my bookshelf back in Brum.
The Machine-Gunners by Robert Westall
Back at Hall Green Secondary School, we had touched on the book with Mr. Fenwick in year 7 and then again by one of the world’s worst teachers in year 9 (a book for 7th graders). The patronising Ms. B, who could not understand humour nor adolesence if it slapped her in the face, and it often did, was th. Even though the book in set in the North East of England, it awoke a local interest in the Birmingham’s role in the Blitz. It was a huge arms manufacturer during the war, a specialist in the Hurricane or Spitfire planes, which were always outstripped in numbers by the Germans, but not in being an effective, mobile fighter plane, winning many-a-dogfight. Brummies also feel that the destruction and brave resiliance of city is often understated. My folks told me that bombs dropped very close to our house, and the corner house on our road was flattened.
Back to the book though, it is about a group of kds who find a crash-landed German fighter pilot and take his machine gun, while keeping him prisoner. I was in awe of the power of the gun, the closeness of Britain being invaded by Germany, but also learning about the fear of the enemy, the stereotypes of all Germans being blood-thirsty Nazis, was false, with the German soldier being quite a nice bloke. It doesn’t seem signficant now, but to a 13 or 14 year old whose world is that black and white in the good vs evil narrative, it was quite a shock to the system.
What at the time seemed strange for Ms. B, she gave the class an activity to write whatever we pleased about the Machine-Gunners, whether it be a story subplot or review or whatever. I personally think she was winging it, but we should have known better and realised that it was a trap. I wrote a story which was kind of like The Machine-Gunners, about a young refugee from German named Budweiser (inspired by what my brother probably now regrettably claimed that Budweiser was his favourite beer. He was 17 at the time, but I thought it was a great name for a German boy at the time) who arrives at Hall Green School during the Blitz. Of course, the other kids give him a hard time, but after a while he settles in thanks to good BFG-like- self. I freely admit that the plot got a bit out of hand, especially when the two of us get a bit continental start giving the girls who I fancied at the time “Frenchies”. To not confuse people from other parts of the world where a Frenchy is actually oral sex, or more crudely, a blow-job, a Frenchy in the UK at the time was actually a kiss with lots of tongues, commonly and less sophistically known as a snog. Well, Mrs. B didn’t like it and gave it an E based on content, rather than quality of writing. Classmates thought it was great. I thought it was unprofessional of her to set a trap like that. But there you go. In another activity, a classmate was given a bollocking because he wrote a story about setting a chainsaw upon his bitchy arse English teacher. The story struck a chord with the class and everyone applauded him for his imagery, balls and content to write a piece that even Stephen King would be proud of. Needless to say, he got a telling off and a very low grade, but it all came from her hurt pride. In hindsight, she really should really have showed it to a psychologist to get the evidentally unstable kid help, but she no doubt realised she would have been asked questions why he would feel that way, so she did what she did to all students and made him feel inferior. An awful, awful teacher.
I’ve read books that I’ve enjoyed more, but it could have been in my favourite ten if the teacher who taught us hadn’t been such a patronising monster. It definitely deserves a mention, and not to forget a read (if Mrs. B has put you off).