Books·My Life in Books

Bestselling children's author Barbara Reid on the books that shaped her

Celebrated children's author and illustrator Barbara Reid shares the books that shaped her life.
Barbara Reid's book Sing a Song of Mother Goose is #37 on the list of the 150 bestselling Canadian books of the past 10 years. (Ian Crysler)

Could the books you read with your children at home inspire them to write or illustrate their own one day? Iconic Canadian children's author Barbara Reid describes how eight great children's books have had a personal impact on her life.

Reid, author of over 20 books including Zoe's Year and the bestselling Sing a Song of Mother Goose, which is #37 on the list of the 150 bestselling Canadian books of the past 10 years.

Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman

"It was just mind blowing being able to read myself. The word I can remember figuring out was the word 'cow' in Are You My Mother? which is by P.D. Eastman. I kind of knew how to read it from memory, but I remember stumbling on the word 'cow.' I was a voracious reader after that."

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

"A teacher in Grade 2 or 3 read the Narnia series aloud in class and I just couldn't believe those books. I found them in the library and I read it 150 times. The drawings in them by Pauline Baynes were as fantastic as the stories. Her characters always seem to be moving. I spent a lot of time copying those drawings.The Narnia books were very comforting to me."

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

"I read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass because I thought they were important books to read, but I found Alice very disturbing. Her character was so not like me - she wasn't shy, she was quite bold and the situations she was in were very frightening. I didn't really like Alice, but I was pretty impressed by her. You can tell there are a lot of double meanings and in-jokes and references when you read that book. I really wanted to understand and figure out what was going on. I read Alice once a year, every year, so I would learn something. I don't know what I thought I'd learn. The drawings by John Tenniel were also quite disturbing, but I kind of liked that."

Grimm's Fairy Tales by Brothers Grimm

"Our neighbours had this really early edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales, illustrated by Arthur Rackham, from 1912. It was old with beautiful colour plates. Physically the book was stunning. It didn't occur to me to ask if I could read it, but as soon as I put the kids to bed I would pull out this book. I was always trying to babysit there so I could read Grimm's tales and look at those illustrations. I liked the Grimm's tales also because of the darkness. I think because I had a really fabulous childhood, I wanted to read things that put me in a more adventurous lifestyle. I like the scary things."

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling

"​I would have been all over Harry Potter had I been of the age. I heard about it through writing class really early on and I took the first copy up to the cottage — I have this place I like to read on a dock — and I cracked it open. When that snake talks to Harry, I was like, 'Oh my God, my head's exploding!' So I don't know what it would have done to me if I read it at 11. It would've become my religion probably."

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

"I was really affected by Peter Pan, another ancient one. There's a scene in the original book, where Peter Pan goes off to the island, but then after a year he decides he might want to go back and see his mother. So he flies back to where he lived, but the mother has put bars on the window and he can't get in. And she's in there with another baby. That was the most devastating moment. I would just read it over and over because it was so upsetting."

Angel Square by Brian Doyle

"I would really recommend Brian Doyle. I think he's one of the greatest writers for middle grade readers. A friend of mine quoted a paragraph from Angel Square around Christmas time and it was so moving. All Brian Doyle's books are beautifully written, hilariously funny and will make you cry. They have everything. I highly recommend stuff from Brian Doyle."

The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard

"I'm obsessed with polar exploration, especially the doomed 1910-1913 Scott expedition to the South Pole. The suffering on those expeditions is so extreme, and the stiff upper lip cheerfulness of many of the men is hard for me to fathom. It's almost like reading a Monty Python sketch. One of the heroes in my picture book, Perfect Snow, is named Scott in honour of that boyish doggedness in the face of failure. As well, men in turn-of-the-century polar gear and boys in snow suits strike identical poses."

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