Michael Morpurgo has written over 60 books for children, including The Wreck of the Zanzibar, Dear Olly, Why the Whales Came and My Friend Walter. His most recent book, Cool! (Collins), is about a boy in a coma.
1. The Rattle Bag edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes
My book to take to my desert island, or to keep in my bathroom if I never get that far. Either way, it needs to be read often. It’s a cornucopia of wonderful poems from all over the world, from all times.
2. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The perfect novella about a young boy, an old fisherman and the big fish he catches. Brilliantly conceived and crafted, it’s an exploration of the elemental relationship between the hunter and the hunted, between age and youth. This is the book I should most like to have written.
3. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Read it any way you want, political parable, animal fable, it’s simply riveting and full of unforgettable lines, “four legs good, two legs bad”, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”, etc. Sparely, beautifully written.
4. The Last Giants by François Place
Written and illustrated by the greatest French illustrator of our times, this is a terrific story of an English anthropologist who comes across a tribe of giants who are peaceable, close-knit and harmless. He studies them and comes to love them. He returns to tell the scientific world of his great discovery. The denouement is hauntingly predictable, but none the less telling for that.
5. The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
I grew up on these. They sing in my head even now, along with my mother’s voice. She read them often to me, and so well. What a wonderful storyteller/poet he was. The cat going off ‘on his wild lone’ in The Cat that Walked by Itself’ is unforgettable. The Elephant’s Child is my favourite, though.
6. Cat in the Manger by Michael Foreman
The best Christmas story since Dickens. While having a nap in his usual place, a manger in a stable in Bethlehem, the cat’s sleep is disturbed by a stream of unwelcome visitors – a couple with a baby and a donkey, a bunch of shepherds and their sheep, then three kings bearing gifts. Is there no peace? A wonderful tale with a wonderful twist.
7. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Still, for me, the greatest of all books about war and the pity of war. We follow the fortunes of a company of young German recruits in the first world war; we don’t want to, so searing is the experience, but we have to. A reminder – and one is sadly needed today – of the horror and suffering of war.
8. Clown by Quentin Blake
This extraordinary book says it all in pictures; words are redundant when we have Quentin Blake’s images. A child finds a life-changing clown doll in a dustbin – life-changing to the child, life-changing to us. A work of rare genius.
9. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
This ancient poem is vividly told: the Green Knight’s arrival in King Arthur’s court, his ghastly decapitation, Gawain’s journey through the Wastelands a year later to keep his promise of a return-match, his repeated temptations at the hands of his host’s wife – all are utterly credible hundreds of years later. The pastoral changing of the seasons is Beethoven’s 6th in three pages of wondrous description.
10. Oscar and Hoo by Theo and Michael Dudok De Wit
A gem of a picture book about Oscar, a lost child with only a friendly cloud for company. They wander the desert bringing comfort to each other. A warm gentle story, both touching and telling, with some lovely lines: “Oscar, I give you my cloud’s word, I’ll never leave you.” Bravo!