Getting in touch with our inner child’s inner bookworms

Hannah B., Modesto, California

I wish I could say that my favorite book as a child was something very forward thinking, something progressive and feminist and badass. But mostly I have fond memories of reading the adventures of Amelia Bedelia – a maid who proved that the English language is not nearly as literal as it claims to be – and Five Little Monkeys – a tale that encourages reckless behavior and shenanigans. And now that I think about it, these themes might have been very telling of my future traits if anyone had been paying attention. At the time, I was a fairly mild-mannered, sweet little girl who, though perhaps implicated in some heavy jumping-off-the-bed antics with my little sisters post “lights-out,” was not much like the characters I loved.

But it has forever been true that books have steered me towards a very particular understanding of the world spinning under my feet. I buy books more often than I buy socks and I always have a literal treasure stashed away somewhere near me in case of a free five-minute reading opportunity. The domains that I enter into have pushed me to question everything around me, but also to be fully enveloped in the juicy bits of life.

Only last Saturday I was wandering the streets of Florence, talking about books over gelato with my sister and one of my best friends (the famous Kirsten Kuwatani of this very blog!) when it occurred to me, for perhaps the millionth time, that my life has so many elements of the adventures of my childhood literary heroes as well as the depth of the more mature novels I now inhale. I love puns fervently thanks to Amelia Bedelia, I’ve been to castles that Cinderella would have envied, I’ve pondered perhaps the same orange groves that John Steinbeck illustrated in Grapes of Wrath and, of course, I’ve been the human embodiment of a horcrux that needed to die (momentarily) to ultimately bring down the dark lord Voldemort. All true.

Some people might argue that reading is an escape, but it never has been for me. It was a moment of calm and family-togetherness before bedtime, it was an excuse to avoid more serious homework in high school, and it continues to be a mirror of sorts for what life has to offer. And becoming a writer (of sorts) myself is the eloquent full-circle moment of that joy.

Clare, London, UK

I heartily thank my mother. Both for the reading and for the buying of books. Our childhood was filled with Six Dinner Sid, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Hairy Maclary, Dr Seuss, 5 Minutes Peace, Mog, Spot the Dog… and for my sister A Dark and Stormy Night (which the rest of us hated, but alas, sibling fairness). Later on I progressed to a series of vet books, which, being dyslexic and being very bad at reading I didn’t really read, more looked at and went through the pages. I’m pretty sure that mum knew this, yet she encouraged me to take an interest in books, both their stories and as objects, she gave them as presents, and the rest of my family used book tokens as birthday-currency. I read my first book all the way through at the age of ten. K M Peyton’s Blind Beauty. I remember finishing it now, on a bus back from Holland after a school trip. I remember the book now, the way the cover fell off after a while from over-reading, the sadness of the horse, the protagonist’s, story, the troubled jockey, and the phrase ‘rose-tinted glasses.’ K M Peyton I have everything to thank you for. Reading that book changed my life.

Flambards followed, and my school was fantastic at making us read, I discovered Scoop which set off a whole love affair with Evelyn Waugh. This marked a transition from children’s books to literature: Austen followed, then my favourite author, Orwell. Then I discovered French literature. I remember reading Le Mariage de Figaro at the age of sixteen now. Never had I been so engaged in a pages bound together: this was when I discovered really what literature could do.

I’m aware this has been a digression from ‘children’s books’ but for me this was all part of an evolution, a long process of learning to read as I do today. Every bit of it was important. But those children’s authors are responsible for a lot of imagination. Thank you!

And now I regress. I love Winnie the Pooh, it is brilliant, and my next book to read this holiday is a children’s book written by a friend: Bring it on.

Ella, Llangefni, Wales

As a child I would constantly be reading, from the books assigned by my teacher, to even the encyclopaedias at home (yes, I was a bit strange as a child). My parents used to have visions of me becoming like Matilda, trailing a trolley full of books behind me wherever I went. Alas, these days I don’t make enough time to read, but when I do I always get transported back to that time when I didn’t have a care in the world. It’s hard to choose one book out of all those I loved as a child, but one that sticks out, that still takes pride of place on my book shelf, even though the cover came off a few years ago, is the Meg and Mog treasury, by Helen Nicoll, and illustrated by Jan Pienkowski.

meg and mog

This is the story of a witch called Meg, and her cat, Mog. Together they go on all sorts of adventures, from visiting a haunted castle, to finding out that eggs they had for breakfast were actually dinosaur eggs. Highbrow literature these books may not be, but younger me didn’t care, the stories made me happy, and the illustrations were bright, bold and colourful, and that was all that mattered to me. Although this series was originally written in the 1970s, and then made into a TV series in 2003, the books still seem popular, from children learning to read, to fans of the cartoon series. Hopefully they’ll still be as popular for years to come too. I don’t remember who it was that gave me this book, nor how old I was, but I do remember how much I loved the bright pictures on every page, and how much the stories made me laugh. No matter how many times I read it I never got sick of it, even now, around 20 years later, whenever I see it on my shelf I’m reminded of all the hours of happiness it brought me.

Hannah F., Bangkok, Thailand

Sitting in a hotel room at midnight in Bangkok, unable to get back to sleep, it’s always a blessing to find one of the Harry Potter films on some obscure channel on the TV. Having blown a load of my layover allowance on Pad Thai and Singapore Slings, it’s the perfect film to sit back and watch while I down my last cocktail.

It’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – the first in J K Rowling’s bestselling series, and it takes me back to over 13 years ago, to a memory of a girl in my primary school clutching her first edition copy and telling me how good it was. It turns out she was right, but I didn’t realise this until a year or so later, when my grandfather bought me a paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – the book that remains my favourite children’s book even to this day. Having finished the third book first, I then went back and read the second, and then the first, before buying a copy of each and reading all three in order. By the time this was done, book four had been released, and I was hooked. The day the fourth novel came out, I was staying at my grandparents’ house. When I came downstairs for breakfast that morning, it was to find a copy waiting on the table for me – it turned out my grandad had woken up early, walked down town and bought it for me as soon as the shops had opened.

I love the Harry Potter books. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read them all. Not only are they a great story that teaches about the importance of love and friendship, and values women for their minds rather than their appearances, but they’re also a series that holds nostalgic value for me. They’re the books I grew up with, the characters that graduated every school year alongside me, and the books that now remind me of friends and family back home, and of just how magic my grandfather really was. It’s a series I wrote about as part of my work for my degree, a series I used in English lessons whilst teaching last year, and their creator is something of an icon for me, not only because the story she wrote was so great, but because she actually made the effort to write it – something I can really commend her for now I’ve started trying to write a book of my own; it’s tough!



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