Like so many people, reading was a huge part of my childhood. I didn’t have any siblings, so much of my time was spent either with my neighbours or alone, with my head in a book! I devoured so many books, from the library or the bookshops in the next town over and I could never quite seem to get enough. So many of those books were formative for me, ones that have lingered on in my mind long after I last read them. A lot of them I still own, even if I don’t read them, and I’m not sure I’ll ever get rid of them.
How I loved Enid Blyton! I couldn’t tell you the first book of hers that I read – but I recall making my way through the Famous Five, and then the Secret Seven (the Five were my most beloved though, I mean come on they had a dog!). I longed for their adventures, and never has ginger beer sounded so terrific.. well I say I longed for their adventures, I think it was more the picnics to be honest. I spent many of my holidays at the East Coast as a child, racing along the sands, pretending with all my heart that it was Kirrin Island; they were such magnificent books, still rooted in reality but teeming with adventure.
One thing I do remember were the old Wordsworth classics – before they ended up with dodgy photoshopped covers, they used to have nice ones, usually with old paintings on them. At £2.50 each they were a steal, usually given to me by my grandma and grandad when I went to stay for the weekend. This was the way I read all of Anne and her adventures at Green Gables – for me the most fun was when she was a child – I eventually lost interest in them before she married Gilbert Blythe – but I did still love them. I expect though, you all know what’s really coming, which Wordsworth classic I still have, and shall never part with.. Yep. The Secret Garden. My copy is now old and yellowing, the cover hanging on with grim determination – but I will never part with it. There was something about the mysterious Misselthwaite Manor with all its unknown rooms, high up on the Yorkshire moors, and as I followed Mary Lennox I found myself utterly and completely enraptured. Finding Colin, the garden, making friends with Dickon – all of it was so wonderful to me – and still is. As I read, I saw that sallow faced little girl know what it was to be loved, and to love in return – to watch nature blossom and thrive.
Now this next is a little different – the historical fiction of Emma Carroll. Technically, I didn’t read her work when I was a child, but that didn’t make me love them any less. The very first one I read was Secrets of a Sun King at the grand old age of twenty-four and I could not put it down. My eleven year old, Egyptology nerd self was fair weeping with joy at such a glorious book. Set in the 1920’s with two amazing girl protagonists as they set off on the adventure of a lifetime to hunt down King Tut’s tomb and lift a curse, sliced through with snippets of the final days of Tutankhamun’s reign told through the eyes of a young girl. I absolutely adored it and only regret that I didn’t read it at the age of eleven, because you can bet that it would have been the only thing I’d have even looked at for months. As it is now, I’m happily making my way through the rest of her books. – keep an eye out soon for a more in-depth look at Emma’s most recent book When We Were Warriors.
My bedtime stories too were treasured moments that I tried to keep hold of for as long as possible. Snuggled down in bed listening to a Beatrix Potter story, or even a Brambly Hedge tale (anthropomorphic animals featured quite heavily apparently). I had favourites that I went back to again and again, mesmerised by the gold edged pages, drinking in the illustrations of neat little kittens in frocks or ducks in bonnets as they went about their daily rural lives. There was something so gentle about them – but they did have their moments of darkness too; something strangely horrifying about the glazed stare of Samuel Whiskers as he is made into a roly poly pudding at the hands of two rats….but we don’t talk about that.
There are also books that others loved that I have never read, or could never get along with. I tried and tried to adore I Captured The Castle – and with an opening line like that, how could I not? But, there was something about it that I never truly loved, the same with the rest of the Narnia books or even Charlotte’s Web. One day I might go back to them all and fall in love, but for now, these are the books that were the cornerstones of my childhood. There were so many others that I couldn’t fit in this post -the Deepwoods series by Paul Stewart with the magnificent illustrations of Chris Riddell, bought one hot summer day from the Whitby Bookshop or even Ballet Shoes but I’ll talk about those some other day.