Happy World Book Day!

7 03 2013

Happy World Book Day everyone!

I thought I’d blog today about my childhood memories of books and reading.

Mum began teaching me to read before I started school – I remember sitting with her on the floor by the fireplace, reading letters and short words from little pieces of white card she’d cut up and written in her neat, rounded hand. I quickly became an avid reader, one of those kids that would read under the covers with the aid of a little torch after the lights had been put out. I’d get lost in books, and would often imagine taking part in the stories myself.

One of the first books I remember is ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’ by J.M. Barrie. It was a very old copy with a battered red cover, which had undoubtedly belonged to either mum or dad when they were little. It had delightfully detailed colour illustrations by Mabel Lucie Attwell, although I rather liked the black and white line drawings best – here’s an example:

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I particularly remember Dad reading this book to me at bedtime, and I remember the feeling when I was able to read the whole book for the first time by myself! I loved the flying, the pirates, the Indians… the sad bits, the scarey bits… An all-round good read! I remember being a bit confused initially about Nana the dog, until Dad explained the difference between a nurse (or nanny) and a Nana (which is what we called his mum).

Another book I remember vividly is ‘The Magic May Tree’ by Mabel Dean, illustrated by Anne Rochester. This must have been one of mum’s books. It was a rather strange story if I remember it rightly – a rather spoilt girl having a doll’s tea party with a new china tea set under the Magic May Tree – but the whole thing about the tree coming to life fascinated me. The colour illustrations were rather bright and I seem to remember involved a little too much pink for my liking, but the black and white line drawings were beautiful, like this one of the tree itself:

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As well as mum’s (and grandma’s) school girl annuals from the 1920s onwards, and collections like ‘The Abbey Girls’, I was introduced to Charles Dickens’ books by mum after we’d watched the film of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ on telly one day. He remains one of my all-time favourite authors. When I ran out of her Dickens books, my Grandma and Grandpa provided more – so much more exciting than new books, with their tracing-paper thin pages and teeny-tiny letters! I still prefer to read these old copies today, rather than new editions. Here’s my Grandma’s copy of ‘David Copperfield’ – well-loved and well-thumbed as you can see!

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Dad also shared his childhood books – some of my favourites being ‘The High Girders‘, the story of the Tay Bridge disaster, one called ‘Geography Stories’, in which a boy found a magic stone that let him wish himself to far of lands, ‘Red for Danger’ about train disasters, and ‘The Kon-Tiki Expedition’. Last year I travelled over the new Tay Bridge on the train for the first time ever – something I’d always wanted to do since reading about it – and it was a hugely moving experience to see the remains of those old piers at last.

Every Christmas and Birthday would bring new books – anything and everything by Enid Blyton, Michael Bond’s Paddington, all sorts of annuals, Thomas the Tank Engine, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Beatrix Potter and so on and so on – and then there was the library, regularly visited with dad on Saturday mornings, and second-hand books. Mum used to help out with the local Girl Guides Association, and amongst other things she’d hand-letter big posters for events on bright fluorescent paper, and usually man (or woman!) a stall at fetes and carnivals. These events meant I got to explore strange and wonderful stalls piled high with books I’d never seen before and choose ones for myself for just a few pennies. It was at one of these stalls that I discovered E. Nesbit when I bought ‘Five Children and It’.

At primary school, there was a book club (was it called Book Worms? I’m sure there was a bright green worm with big glasses involved…) and every now and then we’d be issued with a list and could choose a few books from it. Thanks to this excellent scheme I discovered Rumer Godden, with ‘Mr McFadden’s Halloween’ and ‘Miss Happiness and Miss Flower’.

Oddly, I don’t remember discovering Roald Dahl until my early years of secondary school, when we read ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More’ – and of course the weird and wonderful ‘Tales of The Unexpected’ on telly which we always watched together.

Blimey, I could carry on for hours! I’ve missed loads out, but here I’ll stop! As you can see, I had a very bookish childhood, encouraged by my parents, and not just limited to your standard children’s books. I definitely have my parents to thank for my love of books, and undoubtedly for developing my imagination and inspiring me to start writing stories myself.

So Happy World Book Day everyone! Let’s not forget the importance of reading to children, visiting your local library, and encouraging reading at every possible opportunity!

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