Celia Mitchell’s Booktopia

Celia Mitchell picks the eight books she'd take to the ends of the earth with her

April 4, 2011
5 min read

The Faraway Tree

Enid Blyton

First published 1939

An only child, I grew up with very few books. I was given the occasional comic deemed suitable for small people, one of which was Sunny Stories, edited by Enid Blyton. This led me on to her books, and The Faraway Tree was the first I read. Salma Yaqoob, from Stop the War, says it was this book that taught her the power of fantasy. I have chosen it because, despite the often twee prose, Blyton knew how to tell a story. Three children discover an old dark tree. They climb it and find it reaches into a magical land, which changes each time they visit. The story opened my mind to the world of the imagination and I became an avid reader.

Just William

Richmal Crompton

First published 1922

I used to escape at lunchtime from my primary school and lead a whole gang of kids to Heston library, where I discovered William, the eternal anarchist. It was during the war but we didn’t think much about bombs or even about the ‘Nasties’, as William called them. When I was evacuated to Nottingham, there was always William to ease my longing to return to the London of the doodlebugs. He lived with me through the war and still makes me chuckle quietly to myself when I am sad.

Moominsummer Madness

Tove Jansson

First published 1954

This is my favourite of the wonderful Tove Jansson’s Moomin books. It starts with a huge flood. With the waters rising, the Moomins see a house with the front door missing floating towards them. It is huge, and they jump on board. Gradually you become aware that the house is in fact a theatre and comes complete with Emma, a grumpy stage manager. It ends with a show, which the Moomins put on for the small animals thereabouts. All jaded actors and directors should read this book.

100 shorter poems

Publisher long forgotten

This was one of my father’s few books. Some inspired teacher must have given it to him and he could recite several of the poems by heart. Later I too had an inspired teacher, who used to write poems on sheets of cardboard, decorate them and lay them out in front of the class. Anyone who finished their work early could choose a poem, learn and recite it. I eventually married a poet, and sometimes think that my father’s little anthology and Miss Mizen’s clever reward system gave me the extraordinary gift of a lifetime of love and happiness.

Wings and the Child

Edith Nesbit

First published 1913

Edith Nesbit was an extraordinary woman who wrote for children in a language they could understand at a time when most such writing had a conservative moral and political bias. Her belief in the power of the imagination, the way she talked of children as real people with their own identities, her sense of humour and her exciting stories all mark her out as a very special writer. This glorious, affirmative book is a reminder that the world is full of wonders.

Plats du jour

Primrose Boyd and Patience Gray

Penguin 1957

One day my French professor invited me for a meal at the Normandy Hotel. It was one of the best turns anyone ever did for me. I learnt the importance of eating properly. Later, when I began to cook myself, I tried to recreate the wonderful cassoulet and salade vert I so enjoyed that evening. And the book that seemed to have all the information and enthusiasm to help me with my culinary attempts, and has stayed with me since, is this little Penguin, so delightfully illustrated by David Gentleman.

Tynan on Theatre

Kenneth Tynan

Penguin

Ken Tynan’s reviews made us leap out of bed on Sundays to get the Observer, and this book contains some of the most important writing about the transformation in British theatre, from Rattigan to Osborne. My late husband Adrian and I met in the office of the BBC’s Tempo arts programme when Ken was its editor; I was a researcher and Ken wanted Adrian to write a script. From then on Ken was a good friend and a loyal supporter. He commissioned Adrian to write Tyger, a play about Blake with music by Mike Westbrook that was done by the National Theatre. And he never hesitated to defend it from its very right-wing critics.

Who Killed Dylan Thomas?

Adrian Mitchell, Ralph Steadman

Ty Llen Publications

This is a lecture given by Adrian in Swansea when he was a happy Dylan Thomas Fellow for a month in1995. It is not a conventional lecture, more a collection of thoughts on poetry and a collage of poems and letters. Adrian sent the manuscript to Ralph Steadman to ask if he could use Ralph’s portrait of Dylan. Ralph sent it back having drawn all over the pages and it was subsequently printed in book form.

It describes the constant struggle to exist that eventually killed Dylan. At the end Adrian writes: ‘Artists can sometimes survive without public help. But do you want art to survive? Or do you want art to flourish?’

The actress and long-time activist Celia Hewitt (Mitchell) runs the Ripping Yarns second-hand bookshop in Highgate, north London, which specialises in children’s and illustrated books


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry

Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram

Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope


1