Ever since I re-read the Chronicles of Narnia this Lent, I have been enjoying reading some children’s books. There is something about their directness, their sense of mystery and magic that really makes them rather special. (In fact, this morning I was reminiscing about The Velveteen Rabbit and our need to be ‘real’ at the Feast of All Saints.) We had a first meeting of our new Book Group this week and it got me thinking to when I started reading. I always had my nose in a book as a child and when my mum sent me to my room for some misdemeanour it was never really the punishment she thought, for I was quite happy to curl up in the old brown leather armchair and escape into another world. Like most children of my generation my first books were by Enid Blyton. Oh how I wished I could go to boarding school like the twins at Mallory Towers. My friend Valerie and I spent all our pocket money on disguises in the joke shop on Forrest Road so that we too could solve crimes like the Secret Seven, although quite how we thought anybody would be fooled by a rather pathetic acrylic beard beats me. Then there were the Famous Five and lashings of custard and apple pie from complete strangers in those oh so innocent times. (I could always relate to George.)
As a teenager I progressed to whatever my mum was reading which was Georgette Heyer and then Daphne du Maurier. At an all girl’s school we were starved of male attention so any romance was lived out on the pages of bodice rippers. Mum had a series of classics from the Reader’s Digest and I worked my way through the greats like Pride and Prejudice, The Woman in White, and Jane Eyre. I remember a series of books about Catherine someone which I thought were quite racy and we passed them round the classroom, desperate to find out what happened after she was kidnapped by that handsome but loathsome pirate. Then there were the Mandingo books set during the time of slavery in the deep south which opened our eyes to another world – and a bit of steamy sex, although I imagine it was all fairly tame really.
But it wasn’t all girly stuff that caught my imagination. James Bond was my real hero and they could be found at any Sale of Work in a dusty church hall for a few pennies. Soon I had collected them all and my best friend Joey and I would trot along to the Playhouse almost every Saturday afternoon for a double bill of 007 (one of which was nearly always Thunderball, and as a result I know the script almost off by heart). Alistair McLean’s adventure novels came next and I discovered the joys of the whodunnit with Agatha Christie.
From then on I became a voracious reader – anything and everything would do. Until recently, if I started a book I always finished it – no matter how bad it was. Those days are gone now. Life is too short and the charity shop too convenient to waste time on reading something that doesn’t grab me. Funnily enough, apart from using the library as a teenager I’ve never really got into that. I love having my own book, even if secondhand, to go back to or lend. (As a result my accountant still queries how much I’ve spent on books in a year!)
But back to children’s books. Lately I’ve read Underground to Canada by Barbara Smucker on the recommendation, and given to me by J & L at St Mark’s. It tells the story of Julilly and her friend Liza who escape slavery on a Mississippi plantation and travel on the ‘underground’ railway which helps escaped slaves reach Canada. Now I never knew that there was no slavery in Canada and that some of those spiritual songs that spoke of a promised land were not talking about heaven but about the real country where slaves were free. A good history book couched in a great escape story.
Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo (who is rapidly becoming my favourite children’s author) is a kind of modern Robinson Crusoe story for young people. Michael’s parents decide to take him out of school for a year to sail round the world. The inevitable storm washes Michael up on an island in the Pacific where he struggles to survive on his own. With no food or water he curls up to die but when he wakes there is a plate beside him of fish and fruit and fresh water. He is not alone… A great read or read aloud book.
One of the girls at church has suggested that I might like the Twilight series so, against my better judgement it has to be said, I am now the proud owner of the first book on my Kindle. But more of that another day…