Julia Golding is the author of the Cat Royal series of books which tell the adventures of a feisty orphan girl brought up in a theatre in Georgian London. The first book in the series, The Diamond of Drury Lane, has been shortlisted for the Nestlé children’s book awards. She is also the author of the Companions Quartet, a fantasy series with a cast of mythical creatures.
“Coming to compile this list, all sorts of books kept begging for a place so I decided to limit myself to one per period. In the end, I chose those books and characters that crystalized something about the period for my imagination.”
1. Prehistoric: Torak in Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother
You root for the orphan boy from the beginning because he is an outcast, trying to survive in the harsh world of a prehistoric forest. You get to sniff the scents, taste the food and feel the fear along with him.
2. Roman: Vesuvius in Caroline Lawrence’s The Secrets of Vesuvius
Perhaps it is surprising that a volcano has made it in as a character but Vesuvius certainly dominates the second book in Lawrence’s excellent Roman Mysteries series. Like all the best romantic heroes, Vesuvius is dark, brooding and destructive.
3. Dark Ages: Sir Gawain in Roger Lancelyn Green’s King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table
I’ve always had a soft spot for Gawain, who ends up in such trouble with his green knight. This is still one of the best retellings of the Arthurian stories.
4. Medieval: Rebecca in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe
Scott is the godfather of the historical novel so no list would be complete without him. This tale of Templar knights, beautiful damsels and dastardly baddies is still a good read and I particularly like the brave and resourceful Jewish heroine.
5. Tudor: Shakespeare in Susan Cooper’s King of Shadows
I’ve always been a fan of Cooper’s fantasy books and only recently read this gem of a time travel book which takes a modern boy back to Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. The playwright and boy strike up a creative relationship and you get a wonderful insight into just what Shakespeare might have been like to work with.
6. 17th/18th century: Long John Silver in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island
No historical list would be complete without a pirate story and the granddaddy of them all, Long John Silver, is still the best. I can’t help but think that Captain Jack Sparrow’s uncertain loyalties owe much to LJS.
7. Georgian: Aaron in Jamila Gavin’s Coram Boy
Music, foundlings and star-crossed lovers – a moving book for the older reader as it deals with the disturbing issue of infanticide.
8. Victorian: Sara Crewe in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess
Burnett drew on memories of her own childhood poverty to create this story of a riches-to-rags orphan in a Victorian girls’ boarding school. It was my favourite book when I was about nine and I read it scores of times. It really starts to shine when Sara relies on her imagination to make her poverty bearable. An age of the Empire story with diamond mines and India in the background.
9. Edwardian: Christina in KM Peyton’s Flambards and sequels
A family saga combining the early days of flight with horses. I found this an enchanting combination (even though I wasn’t the horsy type) and has come to represent this era in my imagination.
10. Second world war: Tom Oakley in Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom
A tale of two lost souls, an evacuee and Mr Tom, helping each other through the traumas of war in Blitz Britain. A beautiful book about childhood, grief and love. You can’t read it without falling for Mr Tom’s gentle curmudgeonly strength yourself.