Now that we’re all home for the holidays, and summer is finally here, some of us are looking forward to actually reading for pleasure. It may feel like forever since you last picked up a novel, so to help you shrug off the stresses of the adult world and get you in the mood for a fun and carefree summer here are my Top Five “kids running free in the sunshine” reads.
1. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
You may well have read this book as a child but this quirky story most definitely deserves a re-read. 10 year old Gerald Durrell and his rather eccentric family set off from rainy old England to settle on the sun-soaked island of Corfu. There he encounters many memorable characters on his nature hunting expeditions through the countryside whose hilarious exploits, combined with those of his typically “British” family, will make you laugh out loud. Full of wonderfully evocative descriptions of the island’s inhabitants, both human and otherwise. The book details how the family gradually comes to terms with Corfu’s more haphazard way of life together with Gerry’s growing collection of increasingly exotic pets. A lovely, nostalgic story that’s just perfect for summer.
2. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Mark Twain’s 1876 novel tells the story of Tom Sawyer; a young boy living in the fictional town of St. Petersburg alongside the Mississippi river. Tom lives a carefree life fishing in the river, turning cartwheels in the road and falling hopelessly in love with each little girl he sets his eyes on. Full of mischief he manages to wriggle out of many a punishment set by his Aunt Polly preferring to spend his time getting into all sorts of scrapes with his friend Huckleberry Finn. Things take a darker turn when on a night time jaunt to the graveyard the boys witness the murder of Dr Robinson. After testifying in court as to the guilt of the murderer “Injun Joe”, Tom and Huck fear for their lives as the convicted man escapes and begins to hunt them down. Full of lazy summer days in the Deep South, yet packed with the excitement of treasure hunts, twisting caves and uninhabited islands, this is definitely a book that transports you to another place and time.
3. Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee
This is Laurie Lee’s account of his childhood in a rural English village in the time just after the First World War. Some have labelled this novel as one long extended prose poem and the flowery style does take a while to get used to. Persevere however, as after the first couple of chapters Laurie’s tales of his time at the village school, the feud between the two most ancient women that ever existed and the first motorcar to speed into their lives allows us to truly experience the village through his young eyes. The account of his large, haphazard household; his brothers, sisters, mother and four eccentric uncles, is at times achingly funny and at others terribly poignant. Entangled in the jungle that is the countryside; wild roses, honeysuckle and all, if you like coming of age stories with plenty of gorgeous prose this is the summer read for you.
4. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Once you accept that the name Titty (let’s get all giggling out of the way now) was short for Letitia, a perfectly unremarkable girl’s name back in the 1920s, you can begin to enjoy this quintessential English summer story. Reminiscent of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven series, Swallows and Amazons tells the tale of four children; John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker. They’re on holiday with their mum in a cottage on the Norfolk Broads but soon leave all adults behind as they embark on an epic sailing adventure in their boat the Swallow. Camping on an island in the middle of a lake they encounter another set of siblings Nancy and Peggy Blackett sailing in the Amazon. They soon join forces against the Blackett’s uncle Turner who they rename “Captain Flint” and, while exploring the Broads; fishing, swimming and claiming new land as their own, wage a pirate war against the Captain. This book will have you desperate to get outside into the fresh air and remember the excitement of camping out on a dark night with nothing but your imagination and a cup of cocoa.
5. Lord of The Flies by William Golding
Finally, if all the jolly sunshine and innocent high jinks of the previous choices have left you struggling to keep your ice cream down, this last book couldn’t be more different. Though set on a desert island in the Pacific Ocean the children in this novel are far from having fun. As survivors of a plane crash, a group of schoolboys struggle to survive in the absence of adults under the baking sun. Ralph is soon elected “chief” of the group backed up by many; all except Jack the lead choir boy and his choir. The boys descend into madness as the heat, lack of authority and temptation to devote all their time to hunting and the war between the two groups takes over. Far from a childish game this is a disturbing, psychological story that is sure to make an impression.
Hopefully this list has given you some inspiration for your summer reading. If you pick up one of the books mentioned you will certainly enjoy the sunshine alongside Gerry, Tom, Laurie or the Walker children.