Updated: Dec 12, 2022
My answer is not going to win me any high-browed critical acclaim and it doesn't matter. This one is straight from the inner-child's heart. My pick would be 'The Enchanted Wood' by Enid Blyton.
The Enchanted Woods
The Enchanted Wood is one of the first 'big books' I remember reading at the tender age of about eight. It sparked my imagination and made me yearn for a magical new world like nothing had done before.
The story is built around the adventures of three little kids - Joe, Beth and Frannie - who had only recently moved from the city to the country. Next to their new home was a massive forest and because 'helicopter parenting' did not exist in those days, they were free to explore the woods on their own for hours on end (but only after they'd finished their chores if I recall correctly).
From the very beginning they felt that the woods were alive with trees that whispered to each other. As they ventured deeper they discovered an enormous tree, the Faraway Tree, that grew all the way to the clouds.
Being avid explorers, they decided to climb this ginormous tree and there they met many quirky and magical beings that called it home. Some become fast friends and others they learnt to avoid over time.
They also discovered that the top of the tree was an airport of sorts - distant magical lands would arrive, linger and set off after a while. Some lands were great (think rainbows, sunshine and free candy) but others not so much (schools with strict teachers).
The lands did not seem to have a fixed schedule so arrival and departure times were always tenuous (not dissimilar to Sydney buses). The point of tension in the story was always built around this - would our fearless explorers be able to get down into the safety of the tree before the magical land set off or be trapped in a strange place for a long, long time.
I recall my enjoyment at reading this book as a young child so clearly but I don't think I have appreciated how much of an impression this story has had on me and my adult life.
I remember being in awe at the adventurous, fearlessness and independent spirit that these kids had - and if you ask my mother I ended up inheriting a little too much of that.
Like my little protagonists, I have used every holiday I have had to explore distant lands, always making time to visit their precious few ancient forests that are left now. I share their deep love and reverence for the woods and think back to this story every time I am in one.
When walking through old growth forests in particular I wonder if the trees do in fact whisper. I wonder what they say. I wonder if they are telling me where to go to find my very own magic faraway tree.
When I picked up the pen in the midst of COVID last year to write my first children's picture book, Willow the Wonderer, I took a leaf out of Ms Blyton's book, and built the narrative around the most spectacularly adventurous day that any kid could ever have! Gives me goose bumps to imagine the kind of life it may entice my young readers to live :)