Books to make you laugh, weep and eat your veg: Stylist's 10 favourite childhood reads

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Amy Swales
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The books we loved as children never quite leave us as adults.

Whether it's those we had read to us, the first stories we powered through unaided or the shock and delight of discovering characters who thought and felt the way we did, our memories are testament to the power and importance of children's literature.

And age does nothing to diminish our love of our favourite authors, as evidenced in the newly discovered Beatrix Potter tale from 1914 climbing the UK book charts months before it's even published.

The Tale of Kitty in Boots, due for release autumn 2016, was discovered by editor Jo Hanks while researching another project. Stumbling across a reference by the author to a story “about a well-behaved prime black Kitty cat, who leads rather a double life”, Hanks tracked down drafts in the V&A's archives and got illustrator Quentin Blake on board.

This emergence of a brand new, albeit 112-year-old, Potter tale got the Stylist office reminiscing about our own childhood favourites – the books that shaped us, entertained us and revealed the pure fun of escapism.

Here, Stylist staff discuss their 10 most-beloved kids books, stories that will hopefully be tearing future generations away from their tablets and phones for years to come. Does your favourite make an appearance?

The Magic Faraway Tree (Enid Blyton)

Lisa Smosarski, Stylist editor-in-chief, says:

“I enjoyed The Twits – funny, naughty and monstrous but a wicked tale that appeals to the naughty side of every child – and Flat Stanley. Luckily, I didn't get a wardrobe to fall on me to put this to the test, but I really did fancy being nice and flat and posted around the world!

“But Enid Blyton's tales of Moon-Face and Saucepan Man in The Magic Faraway Tree transfixed me as a child, and I still find myself referencing them as an adult! It was the kind of magical adventure you really wished was true, and the book made you believe it could be.”

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The Worst Witch (Jill Murphy)

Sarah Biddlecombe, fashion and beauty writer, says:

“My favourite was The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy because Mildred Hubble was my absolute hero – she had magic powers AND an adorable cat that was just as clumsy as she was. Plus the names in the books are amazing – Mildred’s friends are Maud Moonshine and Enid Nightshade, and their rival is Ethel Hallow. Genius.”

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Balloonia (Audrey Wood)

Amy Adams, Stylist deputy production editor, says:

“Me and my little brother begged for this book to be read to us every night, so we could fly away with Matthew and Jessica to the imaginary lad of Balloonia, where balloons go at bedtime. Reading it now (to friends' kids, who also love it) the older sister is rather irritating and bossy – I can't think why I related to it so much…”

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Struwwelpeter (Heinrich Hoffmann)

Harriet Hall, writer, says:

The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde makes me cry even now. Although it’s built on religious connotations – and I am not at all religious – it’s all about love and generosity and how if you open your heart to someone you'll get so much more than if you close it off. I was also obsessed (and still am) with Peter Pan because there’s something so deeply sad about it, but also so uplifting: the idea that childhood is this magical gift and there are so many adventures to have.

“But I LOVED Struwwelpeter. My mum had this old bashed-up copy of it – it’s a German book of 10 stories and they’re really dark. There’s one about a girl named Harriet who sets fire to herself by mistake and burns up and the cats cry. It is GREAT. There’s a lot of strong messages in there.”

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Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)

Jamie Klingler, Stylist publishing manager, says:

“This was my first ‘chapter book’ and my mom and I would take turns reading a chapter each night. I went on to read everything that Lucy Maude Montgomery ever wrote. Anne was a bright, precocious, layered character who I desperately wanted to befriend. I hate the word ‘feisty’, but Anne was so feisty and I loved the movies as well. I can’t say any other series captured a book as well as that one.”

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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis)

Nicole Holcroft-Emmess, Stylist picture researcher, says:

“Not only is this one of the most magical children's stories ever, it will forever remind me of reading aloud to my primary school head teacher, who told me to always read the dedications of books. This one has one of the loveliest dedications I have ever read – C.S. Lewis wrote it for his god-daughter, the namesake of one of the book's main characters.

“It reads: ‘My Dear Lucy, I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realised that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand, a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather.’”

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The Alchymist's Cat (Robin Jarvis)

Amy Swales, freelancer, says:

“I'm torn as once I started reading I consumed everything I could find! I remember an early favourite being the Mervyn Mouse stories and Matilda had me furiously staring at my lampshade for days trying to move it with my mind, but I'll have to choose Robin Jarvis' books as the ones that really hammered home to me how writing could move people.

“I loved The Deptford Mice trilogy, but The Alchymist's Cat in The Deptford Histories series was the first book to make me cry and I just found that incredible. I'd read it wide-eyed then shut it in horror. A really dark and magical collection.”

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The Four Storey Mistake (Elizabeth Enright)

Anna Brech, editor, says:

The Four Storey Mistake is about four kids who move from New York to a big, rambling house in the country and have all kinds of adventures – from accidentally adopting a family alligator to cycling into the back of a bus (which sounds bad, but it all worked out in the end). The whole story is full of warmth and humour – everything is endlessly chaotic in their household and the characters are brilliantly brought to life. It was published in 1942, but it’s really a timeless read.”

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Avocado Baby (John Burningham)

Victoria Gray, Stylist digital production manager, says:

“If we’re going with picture books, mine is Avocado Baby by John Burningham. it’s basically about the value of eating your greens – a baby gets fed avocados which he doesn’t like (hilarious to think about in the era of avocado toast), but becomes really strong and can defend his WHOLE HOUSE from burglars.

“The message has stuck with me ever since I was read it as a four-year-old. I’m just glad avocados have finally become trendy!”

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Karen and the Little Lost Kitten (Peter Seymour)

Georgina Wilkinson, Stylist social media manager, says:

Reckless Ruby by Hiawyn Oram is so good and totally feminist – it's about a little girl who doesn't want to be treated as precious and grow up to marry a prince. But Karen and the Little Lost Kitten is always a winner, mainly because it's an interactive finger puppet and who doesn't love that?”

Buy it here

Images: Quentin Blake / Penguin / Rex Features / ITV / Dover Childrens Books

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Amy Swales

Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.