World Book Day 2018: MPs’ favourite childhood reads

Politicians, including Jess Phillips, Nadine Dorries and Vince Cable, on the books they fell in love with as children

Nadine Dorries, Conservative

‘Enid Blyton saved my life, or, to be more accurate, my childhood. I sat in the local library in my Liverpool council estate with my fingers in my ears to block out my not so great world and became the secret sixth member of The Famous Five. I lived through every adventure with them. I made it to Smugglers’ Top and I spent my summer in the back of a Romany caravan. My favourite childhood memory is my father walking in through the front door and handing me a brown paper bag, inside was a Famous Five book, I was so thrilled, I cried. He was not so much handing me a book as somewhere to go, an adventure. Enid Blyton is desperately maligned and underrated as a children’s author. Only those of us who needed her, and through her escaped into a different world will ever really know how magical and special she was.’

Sir Vince Cable, Liberal Democrats

‘This is a very politically incorrect choice these days, but I absolutely loved the Biggles books. I loved the tales of fights against the wicked German Erich von Stalhein. One of my other favourites was Thomas the Tank Engine. Like many little boys, I wanted to be a train driver. I’m not sure Aslef would take me now on ideological grounds, though the Fat Controller might bring some order and competence to the rail system.’

Rory Stewart, Conservative

‘TH White’s The Sword in the Stone, with a Merlin moving chaotically backward in time, an Arthur called Wart and a senile King Pellinore chasing a ‘questing beast’. It’s elegantly written, shamelessly inconsistent in time and place, and full of warmth and the energy of childhood learning and natural magic.’

Guy Opperman, Conservative

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a classic. The heroine is Scout – the young daughter of Atticus Finch, a southern state defence lawyer. Through her eyes we see all the world’s beauty and injustice. It is a tale of exploration, humour and wonder, which transfixed me as a child. After reading it I understood justice and friendship in a way no one had ever explained before. I became a lawyer and community campaigner because of Atticus Finch.’

Jess Phillips, Labour

Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole was my favourite book when I was little. It tells the story of a princess forced by her parents to find a prince to marry. She creates a series of challenges that they must overcome to take her hand. Tasks such as roller discoing until dawn and climbing the side of a glass tower. She could manage each task easily while the princes always faltered. Only one flash Harry manages all the tasks so she agrees to kiss him and he turns into a toad. In fairy tale worlds, girls are told of men who come to save the day and how princesses pine for the perfect prince. This book is pure defiance akin to Beyoncé walking the streets smashing stuff with a baseball bat. It told me that girls could do anything and encouraged me to disco until dawn, both of which I did!’

Stephen Twigg, Labour

‘As a young child I was a big fan of the Mrs Pepperpot books by the Norwegian author Alf Proysen. They helped me love reading from a young age. When I was a bit older I became addicted to Agatha Christie. I read most of her books in the early years of secondary school. I remain a fan of crime fiction today!’ Stephen is chair of the International Development Committee

Nicky Morgan, Conservative

‘I loved Enid Blyton books and particularly the Secret Seven. The books were brilliantly written, good page-turners and I’d have loved to be part of the gang. They’ve turned me into a life-long reader which is a great pleasure to have.’

Lilian Greenwood, Labour

‘When my daughters were at primary school, World Book Day demanded dressing up and some of my most successful creations were Draco Malloy, Pippi Longstocking and Sonny Baudelaire. If we’d celebrated our favourite books when I was a child, my mum could have got away with sending me off in a red knitted hat, as worn by Nancy Blackett, pirate captain in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. As a 10 year old I’d never been sailing, camping or wild water swimming, but it sounded so exciting! I also loved the maps in the front of the books and I still love poring over OS maps to plan a walk – and the Lake District of Ransome’s stories. Hate camping though!’ Lilian is chair of the Transport Committee

Maria Caulfield, Conservative

 ‘My favourite childhood book is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I always loved this book and as a child would often be found in wardrobes at home checking to see if I could escape to Narnia . Of the four children in the book I saw myself as Lucy; quite independent and not afraid to speak out and I always wanted to have tea with Mr Tumnus. It’s a wonderful book which I still read now.’

Andrea Leadsom, Conservative

 ‘Clarice Bean is one of my favourites. It’s a real parody of home life that I loved reading to my daughter when she was younger. Clarice is a fantastic role model for any young girl.’

Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrats

Reading Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead But Gutsy Girls Do as a teenager was a revelation. Although it was aimed at women in the workplace, its lessons struck a chord. Filled with interesting anecdotes from Kate White’s own career as a magazine editor, the book challenged the notion that success was achieved by keeping your head down and waiting for your talents to be recognised. I don’t recall reading the words ‘gender stereotyping’, but it powerfully demonstrated how society reinforces different behaviours in boys and girls. This book definitely encouraged me to adopt a ‘go for it’ attitude. Two decades later, I hope that Equal Power will have a similar impact on today’s young women.


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