Book Review: Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan (plus my own history of childhood reading)


The Blurb:
When Lucy Mangan was little, stories were everything. They opened up new worlds and cast light on all the complexities she encountered in this one.

She was whisked away to Narnia – and Kirrin Island – and Wonderland. She ventured down rabbit holes and womble burrows into midnight gardens and chocolate factories. She wandered the countryside with Milly-Molly-Mandy, and played by the tracks with the Railway Children. With Charlotte’s Web she discovered Death and with Judy Blume it was Boys. No wonder she only left the house for her weekly trip to the library or to spend her pocket money on amassing her own at home.

In Bookworm, Lucy revisits her childhood reading with wit, love and gratitude. She relives our best-beloved books, their extraordinary creators, and looks at the thousand subtle ways they shape our lives. She also disinters a few forgotten treasures to inspire the next generation of bookworms and set them on their way.

Lucy brings the favourite characters of our collective childhoods back to life – prompting endless re-readings, rediscoveries, and, inevitably, fierce debate – and brilliantly uses them to tell her own story, that of a born, and unrepentant, bookworm.

Published in Hardback and Ebook 1st March 2018 by Square Peg, Vintage Publishing, Random House UK Further information here


My Thoughts:

What a treat! I whizzed through this part memoirs part history marvel in a few hours, because it was everything I could remember about my own childhood love of books.

Amongst many others the author discusses her discovery of such gems as: The Family from One End Street, The Famous Five, The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark, The Borrowers, Little Women, What Katy Did, Judy Blume and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. If you remember reading any of these for the first time, or just identify as a bookworm in general this book is such a delight.

Every chapter delivers a gift to unwrap; the first time each book is found and its secrets divulged. Alongside Mangan’s own memories of the books there is carefully researched facts and anecdotes about the authors’ lives, backgrounds and the origins of the stories. It also features the very important work of illustrators, who really are arguably the first to capture a child with an imaginative cover and bring the story to life beyond words.

Lucy Mangan’s style of writing is moreish, relatable and entertaining and it made every chapter flow effortlessly. I particularly loved the sibling banter featured from her sister, and the heartfelt fondness expressed for her father, the ultimate giver of books!

This beautiful book has a way of making you think about your own journey in books (mine is detailed below), forgotten treasures, and for me, my own family’s love of reading that has passed down many generations. I am lucky enough that two of my grandparents are alive, both avid readers, and my Grandpa especially (who is 91) loves to discuss newly discovered authors with his grandchildren, and listen to his great-grandchildren read and rave about books. I’m incredibly lucky to have this, that my children and niece have this, and I can only hope I may leave a similar legacy of bookworm passion to children I spend time with through the years.

Fittingly, this book also covers the role of children’s books in both perpetuating and challenging prejudices over time; censorship, diversity, misogyny, how environmental, political and religious messages have been shoehorned in to stories etc. This is touched on succinctly and not in a coercive manner but as it is a recurrent theme for contention I feel it was discussed at important points, opening up important dialogues that continue  in the world of literature.

I am sure it is no coincidence that this book is released on 1st March 2018 which is World Book Day, and I can’t think of a better tribute to the power of reading and a childhood involving books than this. It is definitely an ideal gift for any bookworm you know, one I think will inspire many to revisit some of the classic tales featured, and with such a beautiful cover it will be an asset to your bookshelf.

A favourite quote from the book, sums up my own thoughts on children’s reading material:

You simply never know what a child is going to find in a book (or a graphic novel, or a comic, or whatever) – what tiny, throwaway line might be the spark that lights the fuse that sets off an explosion in understanding, whose force echoes down years. And it enables me to keep, at bottom, the faith that children should be allowed to read anything at any time. They will take out of it whatever they are ready for. And just occasionally, it will ready them for something else.


Bee rating: 4.5 / 5

My own history of Childhood Reading

Inspired by the book, as many will be I am sure, I made a list of the books I can recall specifically devouring as a child throughout my time at school, at home, on visits to bookshops and in the local library. Some of these I was delighted featured in Lucy Mangan’s memoirs and some didn’t but were very special to me.

  • The Fantastic Flying Machine by Gerald Durrell, I remember a class assistant reading this out loud to us and I utterly fell in love with the beautiful cover and nagged my parents over and over until I got one of my own.
  • The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame, I’m not sure this needs any introduction, but the book and the TV series were staples of my childhood.
  • Moondial by Helen Creswell , I remember her visiting my primary school for an author visit probably in 1988 and we all got signed copies, oh how I wish I had kept mine!
  • The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, I had a beautifully illustrated version of this that I used to spend hours pouring over, imagining life underwater.
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, my Aunts still have the copy of this that I borrowed in all it’s green covered illustrated glory.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Milo and his toy car and his watchdog never left me
  • Mrs Frisby and the rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien, I had forgotten about this until it jumped off of the page at me in Lucy Mangan’s book, it was a rare and ingenious book.
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, I don’t think as a 12 year old I fully appreciated the messages within this book but Scout’s view on society, and social justice, formed a large part of my interest in human rights and equality from a young age.
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl , I read most of Dahl’s books but this one I remember reading over and over, always craving a mouthwatering peach.
  • Lord of The Flies by William Golding , I remember my lovely but daunting teacher doing a terrifying job of reading this aloud to our class in upper juniors.
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell, this was a school text but I loved the complexity of it.
  • The Sheep Pig by Dick King Smith, who doesn’t love Babe, it’s probably no surprise I became a vegetarian though some years later.
  • Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, I never kill spiders, ever.
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, I don’t think as a child I really got all of the humour in this book but the crazy hilarious antics were addictive reading, DON’T PANIC!
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, both this and The Secret Garden fueled my childhood play for years pretending to be an abandoned princess with a magical garden, and probably my adulthood getting elbow deep in compost & shrubbery then taking lots of photos of flowers to be an Instagram bore.
  • The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett, family bookshelves were full of Pratchett so I got in to Discworld young, and you never really escape.
  • A Summer To Die by Lois Lowry, a devastating book about siblings and illness, I remember plagiarising this to death in a story I wrote when I was about 9.
  • Dune by Frank Herbert, it took me years to rediscover the book our teacher read excerpts of to us in upper juniors, I remember remembered a pink sky, a mystical land and giant worms and after much bizarre googling I found it! My teacher was a big sci-fi geek.
  • Five Children and It by E. Nesbit, I always looked but never did find a sand fairy, though I can’t remember them now I know I had a list of very specific wishes I needed to ask for.
  • Point Horror series, the original teen horror classics that I absolutely loved.

I hope that some of these hold happy memories for you too (or maybe you hated them?) I’d love you to share your own favourite childhood books or thoughts in the comments.



9 thoughts on “Book Review: Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan (plus my own history of childhood reading)

    • I’m thrilled at rediscovering some favourites that had got buried (never forgotten) I’m looking on eBay for copies of the originals I remember the covers of to keep forever, Lucy Mangan has over 1000 of her childhood books, I wish so much I’d been able to keep mine. Thank you for sharing your own favourites

      Liked by 1 person

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