A Few of My Favourite Children's Books

Author and Culture NI critic Claire Savage recalls the stories which enchanted her early years ahead of the launch of her own first novel for young readers

Northern Ireland is steeped in tales of the wee folk and ghostly goings-on, including the North Coast, where the landscape is laced with tales of banshees, mermaids, ghosts and of course, fairies. It’s all irresistible fodder for a writer and certainly inspired me when writing my debut children’s novel, Magical Masquerade, which is set in this suitably atmospheric and scenic location.

The book, a fantasy adventure story aimed at 9-12 year-olds, was published on Amazon in April and will enjoy its official launch at the Belfast Book Festival on June 17. It tells the story of Felicity Stone – a ten-and-three-quarter year-old girl who’s whisked away to the Fairy Realm - a world which mirrors her own, but is full of magic, mystery and secrets. Faced with two quests, Felicity must stop the enchanted pebble thieves causing mayhem in the realm and solve three riddles, or she’ll be trapped there forever.

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It’s a story inspired by many things, not least, by an imagination fed on magical adventure tales over the years. Below are some of the books which helped spark that desire to create fantastical fiction...

The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton

One of my early favourites – from an author who was a staple of my childhood - The Enchanted Wood is about three children who find a magic wood not far from their new home. In it, they meet all sorts of characters, including the folk of the Faraway Tree, who introduce them to magic, marvels and adventure. I loved all the fantastical lands the children visited at the top of the Faraway Tree and the spells and magic they encountered. It definitely fuelled my imagination and transported me to another world – one where anything can happen…

The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith

Like most children, I always wanted a dog, and I’ve always been fascinated by animals. As a child, I wished they could talk back to you so I loved books like this as they delivered adventure stories from a totally new perspective. There was a certain sense of satisfaction in reading books where you knew what animals were thinking – and saying – which was very exciting to me as a young reader. Also, the addition of the villainous Cruella de Vil in this book added an extra layer of excitement which made it a compelling read.

The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann

Another book about animals, this series by Colin Dann, again, fed my curiosity about how wildlife might communicate and live with one another. What must it be like to live as a fox, or an owl, or a weasel? It was both exciting and frightening to read about the animals’ home being destroyed and following them as they escaped to find somewhere else to live. The dangers they faced were very different to those of human protagonists and it was intriguing to see how animals which would otherwise be predating on one another, had to pull together to ensure everyone’s survival. As a child, I just enjoyed the adventure of it all, the insight into other ways of life and being able to lose myself in a world so very different from my own.

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

Not quite fairies, but still very little people, Mary Norton’s Borrowers lived beneath the floorboards and in small hidden spaces, borrowing items from humans and using them in very creative ways. What child doesn’t like to think there might be little people running around underneath their feet, having all sorts of adventures and exploring those nooks and crannies beyond their own reach? (Or was that just me?) The adventures of Arrietty, Pod and Homily Clock are packed full of everything a child could wish for in a book – fun, danger, explorations and much more. It made even the mundane seem interesting and that was magical in itself.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M Valente

Not a book I read as a child, but as an adult, this title is the first in the Fairyland fantasy series by modern-day American author Catherynne M Valente. With an eye-catching cover and quirky title, it delivers a fresh take on fantasy fiction and is full of sharp imagery and very creative storytelling. Valente’s language is very elaborate and distinctive and she certainly takes her 12-year-old protagonist into a very different type of Fairyland that I grew up reading about, though one which is no less enjoyable. A definite feast for the senses.

Magical Masquerade by Claire Savage is available on Amazon now. It will launch at the Belfast Book Festival from 12pm-1pm on Saturday, June 17 at the Crescent Arts Centre. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance. For more details visit www.belfastbookfestival.com.