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Award-winning authors name the books that inspired them in childhood

As Hay Festival unveils the line-up for its free Programme for Schools (21-22 May), we asked eight of this year’s award-winning writers to tell us about a book that inspired them when they were young…

  • Award-winning authors name the books that inspired them in childhood

As Hay Festival unveils the line-up for its free Programme for Schools (21-22 May), we asked eight of this year’s award-winning writers to tell us about a book that inspired them when they were young…

Muhammad Khan, author of Kick the Moon...

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson is one of my favourite books. It’s the story of a down-on-his-luck boy called Jess who forms an unlikely relationship with quirky new girl Leslie. At first his prejudices get in the way, but Leslie’s upbeat personality and talent soon win him over. She introduces him to a fantasy world she names Terabithia and together they embellish it with their combined skills and imagination, forming a sanctuary from the outside world. One day, Jess is selfish and a terrible tragedy strikes, one he cannot stop blaming himself for.

Paterson’s writing is never mawkish nor manipulative but brutally real. A child sees the beauty of fantasy worlds with the same eyes they view the hardships of life. The honesty with which Paterson captures this in her writing is what renders the book unforgettable and sublime. Perhaps what makes the story so visceral is that it was Paterson’s response to the loss of her own son’s childhood friend.


Cressida Cowell, Waterstones Children’s Laureate and author of The Wizards of Once series…

The Ogre Downstairs by Diana Wynne Jones. This book has wicked stepfathers, and chemicals that make you fly. When I was nine years old, I read it to my brother and sister, my cousins, to anyone who would listen, and 35 years later, I read it to my own children. I have never met a child who does not love this book.


Elizabeth Acevedo, author of Clap When You Land...

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Sáenz is a master of his craft and I loved this book about these two boys discovering love for each other, and love for themselves. A masterpiece.


Sue Cheung, author of Chinglish...

A Kestrel for a Knave. I read this when I was 13 and its frank and brutal story blew me away. For the first time ever I found someone going through an equally tough upbringing. Like me Billy Casper was poor and got bullied, not just at school but by family too. He fails at school but when he finds a wild kestrel, everything changes. Training his new pet gives him hope, purpose and a new passion for learning, with the message that it is possible to escape the harsh realities of life. The book is bleak but punctuated by much beauty, humour and honesty.


Laura Bates, author of The Burning...

Mine would be A Necklace of Raindrops by Joan Aiken, a book so magical and full of imagination, whimsy and curiosity that I still have dreams about it, over 20 years after reading it for the first time! How many books can you say that about?! If there was any book that made me want to write, and filled me with a love of stories and the strange and wonderful worlds they could conjure, this was it.


Bali Rai, author of Now or Never...

I have many favourite childhood books. In fact, I’d argue that most readers rarely have just one. However, were I to pick one, it would be Sue Townsend’s Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. A book that influenced my own career, made me dream of becoming a writer and one that finally represented real ordinary people from my home city. It’s also hilarious and sharp and pulls no punches. Sue’s talent for nailing the absurdities of everyday British life remains unsurpassed. A brilliant book from a truly brilliant writer who is sorely missed.


Eloise Williams, author of Wilde...

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. I first went to Narnia when I was seven. Hid with Lucy in the wardrobe, backed through the coats, found myself in a forest with snow falling all around me. I battled a witch, talked to a fawn, made friends with beavers and met Aslan the lion. The idea that there could be worlds all over the place completely blew my mind. That something as ordinary as a wardrobe could be a door to a magical land made my imagination grow from the size of a pea to the size of the universe. I still carry that magic in my heart with me everywhere I go. 


Konnie Huq, author of Cookie and the Most Annoying Boy in the World...

Growing up a book that really resonated with me when I reached Secondary school was To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Set in 1930s Alabama the story is set against a backdrop of racism and prejudice. As a young ethnic minority girl growing up in the suburbs of West London these were themes I had never encountered before in literature. Most books I had read featured no people of colour. The central theme asserted by Atticus Finch of being able to walk in someone else’s shoes is particularly apt as this is what books enable us to do so well.


Hay Festival 2020’s free Programme for Schools mixes storytelling and live performances on two specially curated days, Thursday 21 May (KS 2) and Friday 22 May (KS 3 and 4). Booking opens today and closes Friday 1 May. Find out more at hayfestival.org/schools or stream events live to your classrooms at hayfestival.org/livestream.

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