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Saturday, 5 July 2014

My life in children's books

I love books! Books have always been an important part of my life. I read for pleasure, I read when I am bored, I read to escape, I read for inspiration, I read to research, I read to learn, I read to remember and I read to forget. The joy of reading is a gift, it provides endless opportunities.

One of my earliest memories of books comes from the 'library' that we had in the front room of our council house. 
In reality the 'library' consisted of a couple of book shelves in the corner of the family living room, but to me it was a magical place filled with books old and new, paperback and hardback. I used to sit among the books sniffing them, inhaling deeply, it was a guilty pleasure. I loved the way they all smelled differently, they smelt of the adventures that would soon be mine.                                                
My next memory of books came not much later. I remember standing on tiptoe, looking out of the window waiting and waiting for the postman to deliver a parcel. The parcel I was waiting for was a I think a birthday present for my fourth birthday in 1965.

The parcel contained a full set of Dr Seuss books! Just thinking about these books evokes a thousand memories of pleasure. The pleasure of sitting in my Mums big, warm bed all safe and warm reading with, and then to, my mother. As the youngest of eight children with a mother and father who both worked full time, time spent reading with my mother were especially precious. 

'The Cat in the Hat', 'Green Eggs and Ham', 'Fox in Sox' but my favourite was 'Are you My Mother?' I loved the repetition and quickly remembered what was going to come next as my mother read. My mother always told me that Dr Seuss taught me to read! I'm not sure if that is true but I do know that Dr Seuss was indeed my first journey into books. 

The next phase in my relationship with books was when I was a newly independent reader.  The ones that stick in my mind the most from this phase of my life with books are 'The Wishing Chair' and 'The Far Away Tree' by Enid Blyton. With Enid Blyton I was able to enter a world full of fantasy: 'When Peter and Mollie wander into an antique shop to buy a present for their mother's birthday, little do they know how enthralling life is about to become. Quite by accident, they acquire a wishing-chair which sprouts wings and flies them wherever they want to go.'

My Naughty Little Sister came next, probably bought for me by one of my older siblings. She was actually the little girl I wished I could be when in fact I was, I think, a quiet and quite serious little girl.

Then the Borrowers entered my life, taking me back to a world of fantasy -  'The Borrowers own nothing at all; they live in the secret places of quiet old houses – behind the mantelpiece, inside the harpsichord, under the kitchen clock. Everything they have is borrowed from the 'human beans', who don't even know they exist. Arrietty's father, Pod, is an expert Borrower – he can scale curtains using a hatpin and bring back a doll's teacup without breaking it. Girls aren't supposed to go borrowing but as Arrietty is an only child her father breaks the rule. But then Arrietty makes friends with a boy – a 'human bean' – and from that moment danger is never far away for, above all else, they must avoid the great disaster of being seen'.

Her Benny by Silas K Hocking was given to me by my Mum. It had been her favourite book as a child growing up in Aylesbury in Wiltshire. How ironic that she would later go on to raise her children not far from the city in which the book is set. This book was to become the first book that made me cry. I remember sobbing when Benny's little sister Nelly died. 

My Next adventure with children's books continued with the birth of my two daughters Sarah and Beth. I vowed to read to them regularly, as my Mum did with me so that I too could give them the gift of reading. I have many happy memories of reading to them in my double bed, one of them either side of me, all snuggled, safe and warm. Peepo was one of their early favourites due to both the beautiful illustrations and the repetitive, rhyming pattern which allowed them to eventually join in saying the words along with me as I read. My daughters are 26 and 28 now and one of them a mother herself and they still remember all of the words in this book off by heart!

As they grew into toddlers their favourite books became the stories of Alfie and Annie-Rose written and beautifully illustrated by Shirley Hughes. Alfie becomes trapped inside the house whilst Mum and  Annie-Rose are outside on the step, the window cleaner nearly saves the day by climbing up his ladder to let himself in an open window. But just in time Alfie manages to turn the lock and let everyone in - andhimself out. On the last page, Alfie, his mum, Annie Rose, Mrs MacNally, Maureen and the window cleaner are sitting cosily round the kitchen table with tea and biscuits - the perfect celebration for the perfect little hero. 

We went on to read many, many books together and both of my daughters do indeed have the gift of reading and although both have busy lives they try to read as regularly as they can. My daughter Sarah who has her own son has gone on to read both 'Peepo' and 'Alfie and Annie Rose' to her son. After raising my family I went back into full time education and qualified as a primary school teacher. This was to herald a brand new adventure with children's books and to provide me with the opportunity to share the joy of reading with many, many children over my 16 years of teaching.

Harry Potter Lloyd and the Philosopher's Stone' was published in 1997 whilst I wl and swept along with the hype that followed. I was, and still am,  a huge Harry Potter fan. Any author who can capture the interest of children and entice them into reading has my vote without question. As we know J.K. Rowling went on to write a further five books which has provided me with a great amount of reading material to read with my pupils over the years. I even have a copy of the first three books on tape read by Stephen Fry which I used constantly on the school Coomber. Sadly Coombers no longer come with tape players but I cannot bear to part with them nevertheless!  

I have to confess that I have never really been a fan of Roald Dahl books. I think this is perhaps because they do not really lend themselves to 'reading aloud.' However, this all changed when became a KS1 teacher for the very first time. My first topic 'Down in the Woods' set me off in search of a 'class read' or 'read aloud' book. I considered 'The Far Away Tree' but felt that it would be too long for my purpose. The book I wanted needed to be relatively short as I wanted it to be part of the exciting launch to a topic. I then stumbled upon, literally, The Minpins: Running from the terrible Gruncher monster of the woods, a young boy is rescued by the tree-dwelling Minpins, a tiny race of nature-loving beings who live in an ancient tree high above the forest floor.This book was an amazing find as it led on to me cresting a 'Minpins' door at the bottom of the tree outside my classroom which the children in my class then 'discovered' The results were magical! We also used 'conscience alley' to help us to think about the conflicting feeling Billy had before going into the forest despite his Mum's warnings. 

As part of the same topic we also read The Stick man by Julia Donaldson. I am a huge fan of Julia Donaldson. Her books are beautifully illustrated by Alex Schiffer and due to the repeating, rhyming nature of the stories they are lovely to read and allow the children to 'join in' in key parts of the story. This means they are all actively engaged in the reading process which I and they love. After reading the book  we all made our own Stick man or Stick Lady love which was great fun.

All of the childrens books I remember the most are' fiction', perhaps because my own personal joy of books comes from the joy of sharing, imagination and escapism. Non fiction has been part of my life in children's books but not as much a memorable part. 

If I had listed all of my favourite children's books my blog post would quickly have turned into a book itself, such is the impact that they have had on my personal life as a child, mother, grandmother and teacher. I love children's books! Which books would be on your list?