'As a child, reading this book left me feeling seen': Tólá Okogwu and Jasmine Richards' recommended reading for little ones

We all have books that have opened doors to different worlds, whether rooted in reality or richly fantastical. Here, we list the favourite books of composite author Lola Morayo.

To celebrate the imminent publication of Aziza’s Secret Fairy Door, the dynamic duo who collectively call themselves Lola Morayo share some of their favourite children’s books from childhood – the stories that shaped their writing, sparked their imagination and made their world just a little more magical. 

Lola Morayo is the pen name for the creative partnership of writers Tólá Okogwu and Jasmine Richards. Tólá is a journalist and author of the Daddy Do My Hair series. She is an avid reader who enjoys spending time with her family and friends in her home in Kent, where she lives with her husband and daughters. Jasmine is the founder of an inclusive fiction studio called Storymix and has written more than fifteen books for children. She lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and two children. Both are passionate about telling stories that are inclusive and joyful.

Here, Tọlá’s shares the books that inspired and enthralled her as a child (in no particular order): 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

by C. S. Lewis

Book cover for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The first book in the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis was my first introduction to fantasy, and it was what made me fall in love with the genre. I remember vividly my teacher reading it to the class during story time when I was about eight or nine. It blew my mind – the world of Narnia and the rich detail of each character. I was fascinated by these children who had the power and agency to make a difference… no adults required! Though Lucy, Susan, Edmund and Peter were nothing like me, I connected with them and their story in a powerful way. For years I would look for Narnia in every wardrobe I came across, desperate to have my own adventures. 

Not Now, Bernard

by David McKee

Book cover for Not Now, Bernard

David McKee has written some great classics like Elmer, Mr Benn and King Rollo, but my absolute favourite is Not Now Bernard. As a child, reading this book left me feeling seen. My parents, though very loving, were also incredibly busy people and I often felt the puzzled confusion that Bernard did when trying to get their attention. I recently re-read it as an adult and parent and found myself looking at it with new eyes. I had the realisation that Bernard became the monster, in an effort to be noticed, and that the book provides a measure of comfort to children like Bernard by showing them they are not alone. I was also stung with unexpected guilt as I realised that I’m sometimes guilty of behaving just like Bernard’s parents. It was a much needed and timely reminder, especially in this age of increased technology.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ (The Originals)

by Sue Townsend

Book cover for The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ (The Originals)

No book has ever made me laugh as hard as this classic by Sue Townsend. I still don’t know how she got so fully into a teenage boy’s mind, and I’m not sure I want to either. Regardless, the results are a phenomenally authentic and hilarious book that somehow made my teenage years just a little bit easier. Adrian Mole is the very definition of an unreliable narrator, and much of the humour comes from the dissonance between reality and his perception of it. But he is also an incredibly sympathetic character and you can’t help but fall in love with him, flaws and all.

Jasmine’s favourite children’s books (also in no particular order): 

The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights

by Various

Book cover for The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights

As a child I absolutely loved reading these stories. Many of the stories are well known and include Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor. 

Arabian Nights begins with a young woman called Scheherazade who tells tales to a cold-hearted sultan for 1001 nights in order to escape execution (the sultan has a nasty habit of executing his new wives!). Through her stories, she manages to melt the sultan’s heart and they end up living happily ever after. 

I loved that Scheherazade was such a good storyteller, and that she always made sure that she was at the most exciting part of the story when the sun rose so that she would get to live for another day. But I was infuriated that the sultan got a happy ending.

This fury was the seed for my first novelThe Book of Wonders and was planted aged nine. This time though, Scheherazade is not telling tales; she is having adventures on the high seas and facing down sorcerers, angry djinn and ogres. 

Roald Dahl

Not a book, I know, but I am a huge fan of Roald Dahl’s writing. The Witches, Matilda, The Twits... I love them all. Roald Dahl never talks down to children, and he doesn’t pretend that the world is always a nice place. He’s also not afraid to put his characters in extremely challenging situations. I think it is that honesty that I connected with as a child, and his fearlessness as a writer that I would like to convey in my own books. It fascinates me that Dahl wanted Charlie Bucket to be Black but was advised against it by his agent. Vashti Harrison’s rendering of this Charlie that never got to be is one that makes me smile every time.  

His Dark Materials

by Philip Pullman

Book cover for His Dark Materials

I greatly admire Phillip Pullman and only just managed to keep it together when I shared a panel with him at the Oxford Literary Festival. I absolutely devoured his Sally Lockhart books as a child, and when I was older the His Dark Materials trilogy. Like Dahl he doesn’t talk down to children and isn’t afraid to tackle big issues. He creates a wonderful sense of time and place but not to the detriment of plot or pace, and I’m always awed at how his storytelling evolves; re-reading His Dark Materials always brings new surprises and perspectives. 

Find out more about Aziza’s Secret Fairy Door:

Aziza's Secret Fairy Door

by Lola Morayo Illustrated by Cory Reid

Book cover for Aziza's Secret Fairy Door

A mysterious gift arrives on Aziza's birthday. It is a secret fairy door that will whisk her away to Shimmerton, a magical world with princesses, naughty fairies, shapeshifters, unicorn shopkeepers and mischief around every corner. But when the precious jewelled doorknob is taken, Aziza is trapped. Will she ever see her home and family again? Maybe her new friends, Peri and Tiko, can help . . .