JL on Children’s Books
My friend Judith Leader has been a guest on this blog before. Here she widens the debate on children’s literature.
I have read with interest the posts by people about the books they read as children. I have been impressed by their knowledgeable writing, the books they read and the influence these had. I was also a little puzzled why I had not read some of them myself, and by a remark Penny made, off the cuff as it were, about a normal middle class upbringing. I tried to imagine what that was like, and remembered the ‘posh’ bits of Leeds, further away from the inner city area where I lived, and I felt a bit diffident about telling you of the book that most influenced me.
I remained in that state until I was reading the interview in the colour supplement of the Guardian where Salmon Rushdie was asked which book changed his life and his reply was: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Or maybe a Superman comic book. They gave me the reading bug.”
We didn’t have many books at home in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s but we did have libraries. My older brother said to me that I ought to read Famous Five books. We had one or two at home, so I did – and those books changed my life, because they gave me the ‘reading bug’.
I would go to the library and devour those books that interested me, not fairy tales, but often school stories of a life so far removed from mine that I inhabited that world. (I might have done better at school had I decided to inhabit my own world, one I didn’t like). I remember a lady who ran a shop telling me of the Chalet School stories, the French and German in them I couldn’t understand but it didn’t stop the enjoyment.
Perhaps the proudest moment was when I asked the librarian to give me advice on what I should read next and she suggested that I had reached the stage where I could use the adult library.
Having failed the 11+ exam I went to a secondary modern school, which didn’t do much with books and poetry, so I didn’t get the advice some people take for granted. I was 16 and in a library and saw a title that intrigued me – “The House of the Dead” by an author whose name I couldn’t pronounce. One of my neighbours explained that his name was, as you will of course all know, Dostoevsky. It was a book I devoured, and so began my love affair with Russian writers.
I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. Probably I would have been an avid reader had my brother not suggested Enid Blyton – but to come back to the beginning, in my far from normal working class background, the book that changed my life was a Famous Five book. That gave me the reading bug. I have no idea of the title but in a way that is irrelevant.
Thank you, Judith.
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