This article was originally published on For Books’ Sake website as part of their Mothers’ Day celebrations. This is the unedited version (they are stricter about word counts than I am.)
My motherhood goal has always been to cultivate a good reader. Why is this so important? Well, for someone who prefers the company of books to that of most other people, I want my daughter Elinor to experience the solace, friends, wisdom and knowledge that I’ve discovered on the page. This list is a little old fashioned but there’s a reason that most of these are well known classics. These are the books I have reread many times. I don’t expect her to like all of them – I know she will find her own favourites – but I hope that she’ll find something in a few of them to love as much as I do.
The book she may easily hate
Anyone named after a person in a novel has some kind of legacy to live up to and I’ve probably doomed her to dislike Jane Austen by naming her after one of the main characters in Sense and Sensibility. Nevertheless, I gave her a hardback of the novel for her first Christmas and hopefully she’ll grow up knowing that I don’t expect her to be the perfect picture of restraint, but rather that she sticks to her principles and cares for others. And that the main reason I named her Elinor was that I thought it was timeless and I loved the unusual spelling.
The book that makes me think of my mum
My own copy of Little Women is a battered second hand copy we must have bought at a boot fair but I’m sure that I was encouraged to read it by my mum. I loved that it came from Louisa M. Alcott’s experiences of her own family and I loved the background of her radical parents who lived across the road from Emerson and Hawthorne. I wonder if Elinor, like so many girls who read it, will see herself as Jo March, as I did.
The book that offers up a strong heroine
Actually they all do this. But in terms of a flawed, wilful, angry, strong heroine, perhaps Jane Eyre is the greatest. The most quoted line may be “Reader I married him,” but the line that always springs to my mind when thinking about Jane Eyre is “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.” Such a well phrased way of standing up for yourself.
The book that offers up adventure
I read a lot of Enid Blyton as a child so I was used to adventure stories with girls in but they pale in comparison with The Dark is Rising Sequence. Susan Cooper’s quintet of myth and legend is by turns full of peril and intrigue as well as offering up captivating details from British folklore.
The books that offer some historical insight
The same Welsh hills in the Dark is Rising also make their appearance in Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden so those same legends and stories sat behind this tale of London evacuees and the characters they meet in wartime. The impact of the war on children was something I found fascinating and I loved Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit for the same reason. I’d like Elinor to understand how the personal can be affected by international events – these still seem the best way to do this.
The book where I found my friends
Another book with family connotations – my grandma this time, who bought me several of the sequels to Anne of Green Gables as a treat. I still have them. I usually cry at certain passages in this but since becoming a mum, I’ve come to appreciate Marilla’s character even more. There’s so much love in these books but not in a soppy way, just an everyday acceptance that we can do much for each other.
The most recent book on the list
I loved A Gathering Light when I read it a few years ago and remember thinking how much I’d have loved it when I was a child too – the dark, grown up nature of its storyline is so appealing to a young girl.
The book that first made me think about women
I’d be so happy if Elinor loved Du Maurier’s Rebecca, if only so she’d understand why I start quoting it whenever I see a large swathe of rhododendrons. But more importantly, I remember having so many changing opinions about it over the years and about the women’s roles in it as I grew up and understood more and more.
The book that next made me think about women
I think body image is the one issue that really concerns me as the mother of a girl. I really have no idea how to ensure that she grows up as confident as she can be. And so I hope I might get some help from having her read The Bell Jar. “I am, I am, I am.” Plath was introduced to me only by her madness by a teacher so I’m so glad I discovered her better by myself.
Books that nearly, but not quite, made the cut: Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray-Williams, The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy, I Capture the Castle by Dodi Smith, and Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.