Cathy Cassidy’s top 10 stories about sisters

The Virgin Suicides
 Sisterly love … still from Sophia Coppola’s film of The Virgin Suicides (1999)Bestselling children’s author Cathy Cassidy’s books include Dizzy, Driftwood, Indigo Blue, Scarlett, Sundae Girl, Lucky Star, Gingersnaps and Angel Cake. Her latest novel, Cherry Crush, is the first book in her new series for over-nines, The Chocolate Box Girls, about five very different sisters.

“I grew up in 1960s Coventry, addicted to daydreaming, drawing and story-making right from the start. My dad repaired cars and dreamed of big adventures and my mum looked after both me and my ill, elderly Irish gran, who lived with us. I shared a room with my gran, and it was she who taught me to love stories. She would tell me perfect tales of long-ago Ireland, an idyllic life in the country with sisters called Maggie, Delia, Lizzie and Nellie.

“Eventually I had a little brother, but I never did get a sister, so sister stories have always been endlessly appealing to me. In my friendships, I have often looked for something of the family as well, and have been lucky enough to find it. These days, I find that friendships, and the challenge of getting them right, are at the heart of every book I write.

“It was a challenge for me to write a series about five sisters, but one I have loved. The Chocolate Box Girls are my dream sisters: cool, quirky, arty and individual, full of hopes and dreams. Finally, I have five sisters of my own.”

1. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

This book had everything I wanted as a child: three cool, adopted sisters who have to cope when times get tough. I loved the ballet theme, in spite of having two left feet myself. Or possibly three, even. This book is about following a dream, and making it happen through sheer hard work – a message that is as clear now as it was back then. Brilliant.

2. The Twelve Dancing Princesses by the Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Jane Ray

I was hooked on fairy stories as a child – apart from annuals, a big grisly compendium of Grimm’s Fairy Tales was the only book I actually owned for years. All the rest were from libraries. I still love this story of 12 rebel sisters who outwit their parents and dance all night, every night. My current copy is illustrated by Jane Ray, whose gorgeous artwork is even more perfect than my imaginings.

 3. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Doesn’t everybody want to live in a castle? I did, and I wanted my life to be exactly like those of Rose and Cassandra Mortmain: creative, eccentric, falling in love for the first time. Like Cassandra, I liked to “capture” the people and things around me with words and pictures, and these days I often think of Cassandra’s dad with his worst-ever case of writers’ block, being left in a dungeon to write!

 4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I read many of the classics as a teenager, but this is one of the few I have returned to over the years. Five sparky sisters, but in another world – a world where manners, society and social standing dictate everything. Not just romantic but wonderfully real and believable, even now.

5. Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud

I love, love, love this book. Two little girls and their hippy mum in 1960s Marrakesh, this book poignantly, perfectly, captures the magic of childhood. Adults may be imperfect, impulsive, untrustworthy – but children can cope with almost anything when they know they are loved.

6. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

I love history – it’s all about stories, after all – but hadn’t read historical novels for a long time when I came across this. Philippa Gregory is the real deal: she knows how to balance fact with fiction, how to pull you into the story and leave you asking questions you have to know the answers to. Before reading this, I didn’t even know Anne Boleyn had a sister, and had no idea of how the two girls had been so used and abused by their family in the pursuit of power. Any woman who isn’t sure whether or not to call herself a feminist should read this – guaranteed to make it all startlingly clear.

7. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Four sisters and their evangelical missionary parents in 1960s Congo. As the girls grow up, they begin to see far more than their rigid, narrow-minded father ever will. This novel opened my eyes to a culture on the brink of turmoil – powerful and unforgettable.

8. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

Enchanting, eccentric, full of drama, feeling and emotion, this book is about friends (the Ya-Yas) who pledge sisterhood as young children and stay together through thick and thin. I love the childhood scenes and the searingly beautiful pictures they paint … this book has been passed around my own Ya-Ya sisters.

9. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

This book shocked and hurt me, but it opened my eyes, too. Sisters Celie and Nettie are black women living in the US deep south in the 1930s. Bruised and broken by prejudice and poverty, they find strength and love in sisterhood and friendship.

10. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The story of five teenage sisters in 1970s Michigan … five sisters who each kill themselves as their family disintegrates around them. Narrated by anonymous neighbourhood boys, this is a fascinating, mysterious story that intrigues and confuses.


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