What happened when we posed the ultimate question to guest blogger, Lucy Mangan- which of the new A Puffin Book collection would she take on holiday if she were only allowed three? Read on to find out.
This month’s blog is brought to you by an insane question asked of me in the Puffin office as I was looking down the list, drooling with delight, of the 40 volumes included in the A Puffin Book series just before I went on holiday.
“Which three would you take with you?” someone asked.
“I wouldn’t,” I answered. “I’d take all 40. That’s why I grew up. So I wouldn’t have to make these kinds of choices any more. And it’s why I only go to Norfolk, in a big car. No luggage allowance. Also, I happen to be halfway through A Traveller in Time at the moment anyway, so that would just go under ‘books I’m in the middle of’ and not count towards my three. Don’t try this on me. I’ve got an answer for everything.”
But they persuaded me to try it as a thought exercise – I presume because they either don’t know or care how much it hurts. But here goes.
These days, post-motherhood, anything that involves child suffering is out. I can’t cope. As a child, there was nothing I enjoyed more than a plucky orphan enduring its lot, or feeling my way into the mind of an evacuee or bereaved friend, but now? Annie, the beautiful The Silver Sword, Goodnight Mr Tom (which my dad brought home when I was seven – it was the first hardback I ever owned, and the first book I ever forced someone else to read, I loved it so) or Bridge to Terabithia would destroy me. I wish I could take Chinese Cinderella, Adeline Yen Mah’s account of growing up in China as an unwanted daughter. It’s a re-working of part of her autobiography, Falling Leaves Return to Their Roots and looks amazing. But again, I am too weak. I will try to muster the strength once I’m home.
I might be able to cope with Charlotte’s Web or Back Home (Michelle Magorian’s story of another evacuee, Rusty, which is as full and rich and nuanced as Goodnight Mr Tom and which I loved just as much when it arrived as the second hardback on my bookshelf, but which does not harrow the soul quite as comprehensively), but not on holiday.
There would be no point, I suppose, in taking any that I can pretty much still recite in my head if I need to – The Family from One End Street, Stig of the Dump, The Borrowers, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh. But perhaps I could take my beloved The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and re-read it now that some of the more glaring defects in my education have been remedied and I can appreciate that it is set in an alternative England in which the Hanoverian succession never took place and Good King James III sat on the throne instead of…um…the person who did in real life. (Sorry, still some work to repair the damage done by GCSE history revision entirely composed of Blackadder re-runs needed there).
Of course I should take three of those I have never read or even absorbed by osmosis, either because they were written after I was the “right” age for them and before I was old enough to start reading children’s books again, or because I just never found them in the local or school library or Dillons, or the Greenwich Book Boat; maybe Anne Fine’s Madame Doubtfire, Anita Desai’s The Village by the Sea, James Vance Marshall’s Walkabout or Theodore Taylor’s The Cay.
The thing about holiday reading is that it is compressed reading. We ask it to do all that reading normally does for us, but in a limited amount of time, with no room for error. As with everything else en vacances, there is the risk of trying to do too much, of trying to crush a gallon of excitement into a pint pot of time and in the process ruining everything.
So I will be rational. One comfort (re-)read – The Wolves of Willoughby Chase it is. One new-to-me, risky (might be too harrowing) title – Sounder, by Simon Armstrong, about a boy from a sharecropper family in the Great Depression and one that I’m sure will be fine – Geoffrey Trease’s Cue for Treason, set in Elizabethan England and about two boys who uncover a plot against the queen. I’ve just got to check she was a real one, shove some clean underwear in the suitcase, chuck it in the car and I’m good to go. With A Traveller in Time, as well, obviously. I was very clear. Happy holidays, everyone.
Follow Lucy on Twitter @LucyMangan. Image credit: Stylist magazine.
Will you be packing a Puffin in your suitcase this summer? Let us know @PuffinBooks using #PackAPuffin.