Sarah Driver recommends Five Brilliant Books
1. A Necklace of Raindrops and other stories by Joan Aiken. Illustrated by Jan Pienkowski
‘From under his grey cloak he pulled out a fine, fine silver chain. On the chain were three bright, shining drops.’
I may have been involved in a bookworms’ scrap over my primary school’s much-coveted only copy of this book. Everything about it captivated me, from the distinctive illustrations featuring silhouettes against vivid, fantastical scenes, to the idea of owning a necklace of raindrops that gives you the power to start or stop the rain with a clap of your hands.
2. Spellhorn by Berlie Doherty.
‘The moon that night was like water, draining down into a misty sky.’
The book tells the story of Laura, a child with a visual impairment who rides the unicorn Spellhorn into the magical world of the Wild Ones. It was written with the help of four children also experiencing visual loss - the author credits them for helping her to see with her ‘mind’s eye’. I spent at least one summer holiday thinking and speaking in the ‘wordspeak’ of the Wild Ones, whose idiosyncratic use of language is uniquely expressive.
‘Absolute truancy…I felt its urgent demand in the blood.’
Defying the usual category of nature or travel writing, this ‘elemental journey’ is a raucous love song for the deep exploration of wildness. It took the author seven years and every last scrap of energy to write. She visited Amazon shamans, anchored a boat to an iceberg where polar bears slept and hung out with sea gypsies. This book is my favourite travel companion on long journeys. I recommend it to anyone who has ever felt the call of the wild singing in their veins. Be warned: it’ll make you want to bunk off.
4. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
‘This wood was very much alive…it was a rich place: as rich as plumcake.’
I first read this curled up on the sofa with my mum, both of us hopelessly lost in the book’s magical world. I loved the descriptions of hidden places where children could have secret adventures, the enticing yellow and green rings, and the eerie ‘wood between the worlds’, with its pools of water serving as portals to other realms.
5. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
‘But in from that night kept sidling the thin black witch who was the pain.’
A startling, masterly re-working of the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red. If any book has ever staggered me breathless with its rawness, immediacy and originality, it’s this one. Once I’d put the book down, it pretended innocence, but I knew better—I could still feel the magic seeping between its closed pages.