List love: A baker’s dozen of childhood favourites

We all have our favourite childhood reads. These are some of mine.

Many of my childhood favourites were books written in Icelandic by Icelanders and have never been translated into English (although several exist in Scandinavian, Dutch and German translations). I am leaving them out of the list as they can’t possibly be of interest to the majority of my readers. .

  1. The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. I was given his collected fairy tales as a christening present and was familiar with many of the stories before I could read them for myself. My mother used to read from them to me, but it was a proud day when I was able to read them by myself and discover all the dark stories she never did read, like The Red Shoes and The Shadow.
  2. The Moomintroll books by Tove Jansson. I first discovered these on the book-shelves of some friends of mine, and later I would borrow them repeatedly from the library.
  3. Enid Blyton’s Adventure books (and to a lesser extent, the Five Find-Outers and the Famous Five). Enid Blyton’s books were in the process of being republished in Icelandic when I was between 6 and 12 years old, so I got given a number of them for birthdays and Christmas presents, and they cemented my love of detective stories and mysteries at a young age.
  4. A children’s version of the first two books of Gulliver’s Travels. I loved these books, never realising they were bowdlerised versions until I decided to read them in English. Gulliver’s Travels (the full, English edition) is now among my favourite books.
  5. Norse and ancient Greek myths. The books I first read (and still own) in this genre are wonderfully illustrated versions for children that are (sadly) long out of print, but for adult reading I recommend the perennial Bulfinch’s Mythology, especially for the Greek/Roman myths. I also read and loved the Gylfaginning part of Snorri’s Edda, which is the main source of the Norse mythology you find in modern books on the subject.
  6. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. This came out in an Icelandic translation when I was 8. I don’t think I read it until I was around 14, but my mother read it to me and my brother several times and we both love it to this day.
  7. The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren. I can’t remember which I did first: read the book or saw the film, but possibly I may have read the book after I learned that they were filming part of the film in Iceland. My brother, on the other hand, was an Emil of Lönneberga fan.
  8. I am David by Anne Holm. I found this in my grandmother’s library when I went to stay with her one summer, and have read it many times over the years since.
  9. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I unearthed an ancient, rather antiquated translation of this in the local library, and I think I went back and borrowed it every year after that, until I moved away from home.
  10. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. My mother had translations of the first four books, and I read the first three over and over as a young girl. I only read the fourth as a teenager, and didn’t like it much.
  11. The Doctor Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting. Politically incorrect as they are considered in today’s society, when I was growing up I never heard anyone mention racism in connection with these books. It was the animals that interested me.
  12. The Village that Slept by Manique P. de Ladebat. Based, apparently, on true events, this book about two children who survive a plane crash and survive alone in an abandoned village for many months before they are rescued, struck a chord with me, and I read it over and over again. I recently acquired a copy and re-read it, and while I still think it’s a good story, I spotted a number of inconsistencies in the narrative and found the translation a bit stiff. Thus are the favourites of childhood revealed to be less than perfect in retrospective.
  13. A Bear Called Paddington and its sequels, by Michael Bond. Someone started giving these books to my brother as they were issued in Icelandic translations, and we both loved them deeply.


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