From Astrid Lindgren to C.S. Lewis: Nostalgic Childhood Reads From the Students of UiO
Why not take a trip down the memory lane?
April, the month of International Children’s Book Day, had me reflecting on the impact of the books that were read and loved in childhood and the weight the characters and the messages carry throughout adulthood. International Children’s Book Day was a time of discussing, creating, and collaborating with friends on favourite costumes, but it would also get us talking about those books most meaningful to us. In light of this, I asked a couple of international and Norwegian students about some of their favourite childhood reads.
“What was your favourite book growing up and what sticks out as memorable to you?”
Beswitched by Kate Saunders (Anna, UK)
Anna said she read many books throughout her childhood, sometimes more than one a day. As such, it’s hard to pick one favourite, she mentions, but one she’s thought about sporadically over the past decade or so, is Beswitched by Kate Saunders (1960-), an English writer, actress, journalist, and a regular contributor to radio and television.
Whilst it isn’t the book she’s re-read most in her life, it is one that has stuck in her mind. The book follows a spoiled girl named Flora Fox as she gets sent away to boarding school. However, on the journey, she has a strange dream and wakes up to life in 1935, with no access to technology, abiding to a new lifestyle, stricter than what she knew, whilst figuring out a way home. The story contains aspects of friendship, mystery hunting, adventure and a little magic, all based at an old boarding school, which ‘was everything I wished to have experienced as a child’, Anna mentions. Seeing the cover, with its sparkly gold spine, always invokes a wake of nostalgia for Anna. ‘For me, the reveal at the end of the book tied the whole book together. It covered something that I dreamt about as a child and still do today,’ says Anna.
Anna also made some honourable mentions to all the books from the series: The Famous Five, The Mystery Series, Malory Towers, and The Naughtiest Girl in School by Enid Blyton as well as the series The Diamond Brothers by Anthony Horowitz, which all contain similar tropes and settings to Beswitched by Kate Saunders.
Seacrow Island by Astrid Lindgren (Austra, Latvia)
Austra says that books have always been a big part of her life and upbringing. A book that’s definitely at the top of her list of favourites is Seacrow Island by Astrid Lindgren. In Latvian, the title reads Sālsvārnas salas vasarnieki. Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002) was a Swedish writer of fiction and screenplays. She is best known for several children's book series, featuring Pippi Longstocking, Emil of Lönneberga, and Karlsson-on-the-Roof.
‘My mom used to read it aloud to my brother, sister and I as kids, and I remember her not being able to get through a page before bursting into laughter and rendering her unable to keep on reading for several minutes. I guess that love my mom shared for the book was easily transferred to us.’
However, although Austra would describe Lindgren as a brilliant author who has the ability, which clearly shows in this book, to see the beauty in the simplicity of life, nothing hugely dramatic ever happens, and yet she came away from the book feeling ‘inspired to live and feel more deeply, and perhaps to even move away to a small island somewhere in the Baltic Sea to live a life where you can be fulfilled by a variety of small familial adventures, with your days starting and finishing by quietly slipping into the cold water for a swim.’
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (Laila, Norway)
Laila said some of her favourite books were in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, which follows three orphaned siblings who go through enormous amounts of misery and suffering together. Daniel Handler (1970-) is an American author, musician, screenwriter, television writer, and television producer best known for his children's book series: A Series of Unfortunate Events and All the Wrong Questions, published under the pen name Lemony Snicket.
As a child, her favourite thing about the series was that it was seemingly unsuited for children: too dark, too negative, too scary, but it enabled her to process life at a deeper level and showed her how strong, resilient, and independent children can really be.
‘I also loved that it was about siblings standing up for each other, which is how I have always felt with my own sisters,’ says Laila. When asked what stuck out as memorable about this series, Laila answered: ‘Adventure. Adventure. Adventure.’ The unlucky siblings might have gone through a lot of suffering, but to Laila, they led such interesting lives. Since reading this book as a child, Laila says she has always aimed towards a more interesting life rather than a comfortable one.
The First Garment by Guram Dochanashvili (Salome, Georgia)
Salome recalls a fascinating memory from her early teenage years. She mentions the Georgian book that her mother gifted her for her birthday, The First Garment (სამოსელი პირველი in Georgian) by Guram Dochanashvili. Guram Dochanashvili (1939-2021) was a Georgian prose writer and historian by profession, who was popular for his short stories since the 1960s.
She felt it was a book she was first too lazy to pick up, as reading at that time felt like something forced and something far from reality. However, after one year, ‘out of not knowing what to do,’ she opened the books and it appeared to be so engaging that it became the first book she ever read wholeheartedly.
‘Every nuance of the plot and characters felt like a personal discovery, and I believe, that's why it became and still is so special to me, a favourite book one could say. I was a real book nerd for a long time after that.’
It's a story of an inexperienced, adventure-seeking, and maybe a bit simple-minded boy, who decides to take all his inheritance, leave his village and his father's house in search of new life and experiences.
The book contains five pieces according to the journey destinations: The Village (the home), The Beautiful City (city of love and beautiful illusions), Kamora (the city of death, evil and destruction), Kanudos (village of freedom-seekers), and Homecoming. The plot is based on a biblical myth — The Parable of the Prodigal Son, and the plot is at the same time a symbolic depiction of the boy's spiritual journey — the path of finding oneself, and one's own place in the world.
For Salome, the ‘mysterious belief that there might be a good in every corner has been stuck in my head since [she] read the book. No matter how dark the world is or how lost you feel, there is always something or someone nearby, could be even covered under the mask of evil, to give a hand in a critical moment so you find your way through hardships.’
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (Eva, French-Jersey)
Eva has always loved reading, from childhood up until now as a literature student. The first book that stuck out to her was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis as well as the other Narnia books. C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) was a British writer, literary scholar, and Anglican lay theologian.
‘I just loved the idea that there could be a magical world where children could have big adventures. These books really shaped my imagination, and they made me feel a sense of belonging. I grew up on an island and then in the countryside so I spent hours believing that there was magic around me in nature and that animals could understand me.’
Amelia Bedelia series by Peggy Parish and The Pippi Longstocking series by Astrid Lindgren (Valerie, USA)
Valerie mentioned the Amelia Bedelia series by Peggy Parish as some of her favourite books growing up. Peggy Parish (1927-1988) was an American writer known best for the children's book series and fictional character Amelia Bedelia.
The character of Amelia Bedelia is a maid who takes everything very literally, with great earnestness and innocence. Her employers — who never seem to learn their lesson — leave long lists of things for Amelia to do around the house and she misinterprets their intentions in the most lovely way, says Valerie. Instructions to 'draw the drapes' has Amelia sketching out curtains in her sketchbook; dusting the furniture has her spreading dusting powder over everything.
‘I remember feeling gleeful at all the miscommunications Amelia Bedelia managed to get caught up in and being drawn into how wonderfully confusing language can be. She was — and still is — my hero, and I use her as a sort of model for how I want to be as an adult: smart, kind, resourceful and never hampered by the conventions that seem to drag others down.’
Valerie mentioned another series she adored and shared with her own child when she was little as well: The Pippi Longstocking series by Astrid Lindgren. Pippi was this confident, independent little girl who could lift a horse, slept upside down, and seemed to get away with all sorts of schemes and plans under her own supervision.
Fairy Oak by Elisabetta Gnone (Cecilia, Spain)
Cecilia remembers one of her favourite childhood series, Fairy Oak by Elisabetta Gnone (1965-) an Italian writer who is also well known for co-creating the Italian comic/magazine W.I.T.C.H. with Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa.
‘The author created a world and a group of lovable characters, which gave a lot of comfort.’
The books mainly focus on 2 twins that were born in Fairy Oak: a little village in an enchanted valley. In their village, witches and warlocks live with ordinary people. It follows the story of those characters growing up, their adventures with friends, and in the original trilogy, the war against an evil ancient army.
‘I think what really stuck with me throughout these years is, apart from the magical elements, the bond they all shared. Not only the girls with their friends, but also within their family and with the village as a whole. They really felt like a big family and would always help each other if needed,’ says Cecilia.
Mumu by Ivan Turgenev (Natalia, Russia-Canada)
Natalia, an international Russian-Canadian student, recalls her favourite book being Mumu by Ivan Turgenev, which explores the topic of serfdom cruelty through the story of Gerasim, a deaf and mute serf, and his dog Mumu. Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (1818-1883) was a Russian novelist, short story writer, poet, playwright, translator, and popularizer of Russian literature in the West.
‘I remember experiencing the powerful emotions of hopelessness and despair, which was caused by the absolute obedience of ones towards the others in the story,’ says Natalia.
“Do you find yourself returning to these books from time to time?”
When asked whether they revisit some of their childhood favourites, for some, these books simply represent a moment in time, or a memory that does not warrant a revisitation. However, most students had said they had forgotten about it for a long time but often or occasionally return to it during specific moments: in summer, during Christmas, in parenthood and even when writing a Bachelor’s thesis.
‘There is something very home-like in those pages’, says Austra. For Cecilia, these childhood favourites ‘have really become a safe space to go back to every now and then.’
Whilst many of these books are catered to the specific demographic of young children or teenagers, many students such as Eva, Anna, and Austra recommend us not to shy away from them due to this.
‘The Narnia books are always a nice quick read for all ages, it is after all C.S. Lewis that said “Someday You Will Be Old Enough To Start Reading Fairy Tales Again,” and they have been translated into so many different languages so they’re super accessible! I think that children’s stories can always be read, no matter how old we are,’ says Eva. For others such as Natalia, however, a deeper understanding of the context is required when it comes to reading and re-reading children's literature.