World Book Day in the UK is an event that tries to encourage schoolchildren to read, and it got me thinking about the books that have stayed with me since I was a child.
Two stories from my pre-school years that have remained etched into my memory.
THE SNOW QUEEN by HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN-I had a large format picture book given to me as a Christmas gift by an aunt. The illustrations were beautiful and the tale rather enchanting and it is one of my three favoured festive stories, the others being Hansel & Gretel and A Christmas Carol. But it was a pantomime that switched me onto Hansel & Gretel and I never read the Dickens classic until the winter of 2014. As an adult I got a replacement large format copy of The Snow Queen from my husband who realised how much this story meant to me.
SO NOW TO SLEEP: author unknown-This was a small pink covered book with delightful pictures, given to me by my Uncle Harry visiting from Australia around 1973. The prose was actually a long poem which I found an absolute joy and committed to memory thankfully, as the physical book (and The Snow Queen original copy) is long gone. Despite several Google searches I’ve been unable to discover the author of So Now To Sleep (I’m reasonably sure that was the title), but presume it could be an Australian children’s’ writer. Here are the words:
So Now To Sleep
The sun has set and day is done,
It’s time for sleep my little one,
The animals have said goodnight,
And Mr Moon is shining bright,
Your little friends are all tucked in,
Their sweetest dreams will soon begin,
But wait before you jump in bed,
Your goodnight prayers must first be said,
Talk to Jesus he’s your friend,
And say goodnight at each day’s end,
Ask him to bless the people who,
Live in this lovely world with you,
God bless Father God bless Mother,
And don’t forget your baby Brother,
God bless Granny, Grandpa and,
Boys and Girls from every land,
God bless your Aunts and Uncles too,
And don’t forget God bless you,
So now to sleep drift away,
Tomorrow dawns another day.
I devoured Enid Blyton books and for that very reason I am NOT including her in my list. In Primary Four my class were encouraged to find, read and review books from the small school library stock. Teachers knew I was a Blyton buff so banned me from choosing her so I had to find something else, and I discovered the delights of:
BOBBY BREWSTER by H.E. TODD-Bobby was a young boy who had extraordinary experiences with everyday items. Inanimate objects would come to life, speak to him and dish out a gentle moral code of good behaviour and high standards. Every short story was just a joy to read, so innocent and well meaning in their context. I think these books are out of print now but thanks to the internet I’ve recently purchased a few, and enjoyed a nostalgic trip down my reading memory lane.
In my first year of high school the novel I studied was simply unforgettable and made a huge impression on me.
I AM DAVID by ANN HOLM-David a boy who has only known the harshness of an Eastern Block concentration camp (possibly Bulgaria) is given a brief chance to escape. With few possessions he makes an epic journey on foot across Europe to Denmark, where unbelievably he seems to find his mother. The loneliness, determination, humbleness, innocence of the real world and sense of mission are extraordinary.
For English interpretation exercises we read excerpts from books and I was so enamoured by two pieces that I found them in the local library and read the whole book.
TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN by PHILIPPA PEARCE-Tom stays with a relative and hears a clock chime 13. On investigation he is transported back in time where he meets a lonely girl called Hatty. He befriends her and enjoys many fun times, but each time he meets Hatty she has got a little older. Just before the end of his visit he goes sleep walking and calls out for his friend. Tom is summoned by the elderly woman resident in the building Mrs Bartholomew who was disturbed by his tormented sleep, and he discovers it is his friend from the past. I found it an absolutely enthralling and magical tale.
THE SWISH OF THE CURTAIN by PAMELA BROWN– I read this over the May Bank holiday weekend of 1983. It was about a group of kids (around the same age I think) who put together a play by themselves, doing staging, lighting, advertising etc. How they learned the plot and acted it out, and the strains of ego and terror affecting their friendships. I was so absorbed by the book the TV went largely unnoticed, as did the weather outside (probably wet anyway). I still distinctly remember the feelings I had reading this book, BUT as an adult I couldn’t recall the book title or the author or any central characters name. Internet searches proved fruitless until I came across a Guardian article from February 2014, which listed books that could introduce cultural pursuits such as ballet and theatre to kids. The Swish of the Curtain was about the first one mentioned and I swiftly found a copy to buy online. Within a few pages I’d found my elusive book and felt the same pangs of emotion as a forty-something I’d had as a teenager. There are four other books in the series and I’ve bought these as well because I always wondered what became of the characters as they reached adulthood.
EXPLORING THE MIDNIGHT WORLD (Piccolo Explorer Books)-an early purchase from The Chip Club magazine bought from saved tuck shop money. The pictures look like hand painted masterpieces and unveiled the world of animal life active during my bedtime sleep in the countryside and garden. But wildlife from around the world was discussed through desert, jungle and cave environments, and topics such as night sight, a sixth sense and living light were reviewed. It tapped into my sense of wonder about the natural world, and I still remember my utter delight when David Attenborough discussed tarsiers from SE Asia a few years ago. They were depicted in this book and it was love at first sight. To this day I need to be able to locate this little treasure on our book shelves. If my childhood books were threatened by fire this is the title I would save from the flames.
In closing a special mention must go to Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang the first books to ever make me cry.