I like fantasy and science fiction best – and a lot of my favourites are cross-genre. I generally like books for readers of 10 and up, and especially the ones where authors have thought out their settings rather than just grabbing something someone else has invented. Below are some specific titles and what I like about them.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. I love this one for the writing style (DWJ has such a way with words) and for the characters of Howl and Sophie who are so far from the generic hero/heroine but still so much fun to be around. Love the humour, too, and the way Sophie discovers the ‘givens’ she believed were not really so.
The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope has another staunch but odd heroine and another flawed but ultimately likable hero. It has one of the best descriptions of love I’ve ever seen – one that goes way beyond ‘romance’. I love the way the setting (Tudor era) plays with ideas and the way the truth shifts as you look at it.
Polymer by Sally Rogers Davidson. Polly Meridian goes from a cheerful high school graduate to someone who has to think on her feet and learn a lot about relationships. She’s utterly determined to get back something taken from her but manages to stay human through it all. This is a wonderful (Australian) take on the sf invasion theme.
Memory’s Wake by Selina Fenech is another cracking story by an Australian author. Memory has lost her memory and when she finds herself in a fantasy world with a princess, fairies, a thief and a wild boy she has to find a way to survive with the tatters of her self intact. Mem, like Sophie, Kate and Polly in the stories above, is a powerful character in more ways than one.
Replay by Sally Odgers. Okay, so I wrote this one myself, but if a writer can’t write a book she loves herself why is she writing? Replay‘s heroine is Aelfthryth, a Saxon girl who is blessed or cursed to never live beyond the age of fourteen. Her husband Harry can never get beyond sixteen, but in every generation for over a thousand years they have met and loved in different places and different guises. This time round, Ellie is an Australian cancer survivor and Harry is a schnauzer…
Halloween Romance by Donaya Haymond. This is the first of the Laconia series and is the funny, odd story of werewolf Selene Davidson who just wants to get through college without biting anyone by mistake. She’s drawn to melancholy Ferdinand Anghel who has a strange aversion to some kinds of cuisine.
For younger readers . . . The Angel of Nitshill Road by Anne Fine is a lovely funny story about bullying in a primary school and how a new pupil sorted out the problem. This one is for younger children and I’d love to see it in every primary school in the land. It is so utterly different from most books on this theme and treats adults and children with a clear-eyed honesty.
The Jack Russell series – Darrel and Sally Odgers. Once again, I had a hand in this, but the same argument (as for Replay) applies. Jack is a dog who acts like a dog. His concerns are doggish ones and although he talks to his canine pals (he thinks of them as colleagues) he has to use every bit of wit he has to get his point across to his beloved humans.
Poppy and Max by Amanda O’Shea is a glorious AE Wakefield-ish adventure through the Australian bush by Poppy the possum and her companion Max the echidna. Poppy is selfish, scheming and shrewd as a Swiss watch… and great fun.
Which books did you love to read as a young child?
I enjoyed books by Monica Edwards (who wrote two long series set in Sussex and Surrey), historical stories by Geoffrey Trease, the Pippi Longstocking stories by Astrid Lindgren and the Narnia stories by CS Lewis.
Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?
For me, the attributes are – first, an innovative but not over-strange writing style. I like precise description and tend to remember specific passages that appeal to me. For example, in Howl’s Moving Castle, Sophie “weedkills her way along the drive”… and can tell her disguised sister’s identity because of the merry whirl of her thumbs.
Next comes characterisation. I don’t EVER want generic characters. I want them to be individual and a convincing mix of flaws and virtues.
Finally, I want sparkle. This is difficult to describe, but it’s the aspect of a book that makes it instantly memorable. It is like hitting just the right note singing, or that flawless dive into water, or a swift canter across a paddock when the pony is eager but not pulling. Every one of the titles above has this for me. (Yes, even my own two examples. As I said before…)
What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?
Give them interesting stories, not EVER stories that are thinly disguised therapy. Reading should be a joy. Just like food, it is perfectly possible for books to be wholesome, healthy AND tasty. My grandson loves grapes. No doubt he loves lollies too, but it’s the grapes he takes from the fridge where his parents thoughtfully store them low down so he can reach them. He’s two years old. He loves books with rhythm, action and bright pictures.
Name three books you wish you’d written.
Any of the above that I didn’t in fact write! Kate Thompson’s The New Policeman and Kate Forsyth’s Chain of Charms series, too.
Sally Odgers is a Tasmanian writer and manuscript assessor. She loves reading, writing, walking, Jack Russells, flowers, names and naming and her family which consists in order of acquisition of one (living) parent, one sister, one husband, one son, one daughter, one daughter-in-law, one grandson and one granddaughter.