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The children’s section of our local bookshop has been invaded by older adults buying Christmas presents for grandchildren. Watching them picking up titles from the classics shelf I wondered if they are secretly longing to buy the books they loved as a child rather than today’s bestsellers?

Perhaps all of us can remember the books which seemed to frame our childhood and become part of our identity. They were usually about ordinary children in the real world; they gave us companions who shared the same feelings and troubles. Such books were entertainment and escape, but also something even more valuable. They contained characters who inspired us with a wider vision. Without ever being preachy, they were stepping stones in the confusion of growing up and sorting out what matters in life.

Anne Shirley in the Anne of Green Gables series, Emily Starr in the Emily of New Moon series (L. M. Montgomery), Myra in Apple Bough, Laurel in Saplings (Noel Streatfeild), Katy Carr in What Katy Did (Susan Coolidge), Sara Crewe in A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett) – just some of the vital friends who lived beside me in childhood and ever since. It’s good to see them still on the shelves in bookshops along with today’s favourites Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Matilda.

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