Clare Sawyer, our Head of Children's & YA Programs, gives us an insight into the authors who shaped her childhood, the books she keeps returning to, and what's on her radar for upcoming YA reads.
What books are currently on your night stand?
Raymie Nightingale by Kate diCamillo (which I've just finished), Frogkisser by Garth Nix, The Turners: Camp Freakout by Mick Elliot, Remind Me How This Ends by Gabrielle Tozer, The Things We Promise by J.C Burke and Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.
What kind of reader were you as a child?
As a kid, my family travelled in a campervan for nearly five years across Europe, so books were my constant companion. I always loved mythic and fantasy stories with a bit of sci-fi and ghost stories thrown in. We were voracious readers — a favourite family story is that my sisters and I were so engrossed in reading that we wouldn’t get out of the van to eat no matter where we were. Mum and Dad would be yelling for us to come and see Chartres, Lucca or Zurich but our books held too much sway!
Favourite book when you were a child?
I still have many of the books from when I was a kid, including Farmer Giles of Ham by J. R. R. Tolkien. I loved the illustrations by Pauline Baynes, which resemble old fashioned woodcuts. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin is one of my favourite books of all time. What an amazing woman she is! It was great to see Ursula Le Guin recently involve herself in contemporary commentary, when she wrote a letter to the editor that grappled with the concept of 'alternative facts' in a very succinct and intelligent way. I am filled with admiration for her. My sisters and I were highly influenced by the books we read. So much so that we chose our clothes based on whether it was a 'Laura Ingalls Dress' or not. For that reason, The Little House on the Prairie books loom large in my memory.
What’s the best kids book you recently read for the first time?
I recently read Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman to my son Lucas. There's a new edition with illustrations by Chris Ridell which is amazing. I can’t wait for Lucas to read classics like The Golden Compass, Dune and Cloud Atlas when he is older.
'The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin is one of my favourite books of all time.'
Who is your favourite hero or heroine from a kids or YA book? And your favourite antihero or baddie?
My favourite heroine of recent times has to be Kady from Illuminae, closely followed by Sabriel. I also adore Mr Gum from Andy Stanton’s series You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum!; he is my favourite anti-hero. How can you not love a man who puts a picture of a shark in his beard to scare young children? In terms of recent YA anti heroines, Rosa from My Sister Rosa really freaked me out!
What book do you find yourself re-reading periodically?
Another book that I still have and return to is The Kingdom Under the Sea by Joan Aiken, which is a collection of East European fairytales and folktales beautifully told and illustrated by Jan Pienkowski's with his iconic silhouettes. Jan’s image of Baba Yaga is seared into my memory. I keep coming back to The Kingdom Under the Sea not just because I love the pictures so much but because many of the stories have feisty girls at their centre. The folktales are quite spooky and not sugar coated. They teach you the value of enduring tough times and being resilient.
What upcoming kids or YA releases are you most excited to get your hands on?
There are some many titles here that I can mention but here are just a few: I'm looking forward to reading James Bradley’s next part of the trilogy for The Change as I really enjoyed The Silent Invasion. I also want to read In the Dark Spaces from Cally Black and Scott Westerfield’s Spillzone when it comes out in May.
What's one book that you think every child should read?
I think Cannonball Simp by John Burningham is a wonderful book about finding your place in the world and I can read that over and over again. Also, The Lorax is a classic for good reason, and now more than other time its relevance shines through.