A couple of weeks ago, the fabulous Tanya Kovarsky asked me to write a guest post for her blog, Rattle and Mum about the books that shaped me as a child. Thought I’d share that post with you here.
I got all nostalgicky thinking about all those books I used to love and read. Would love to hear what you used to to read.
Ever wonder how you got where you are today? I do. I think a lot about how the universe conspired to make me want to grow up to be a writer. I’m sure alcoholics and drug addicts get that a lot too. They wake up in the gutter one morning and wonder; hey, how the hell did I get here?
As most adults sitting in a therapy chair are wont to do, I blame my parents. But I think Mike McClintock, Ludwig Bemelmans and AA Milne are partially to blame too.
You see, every Saturday morning of my childhood, as far back as I can remember, we went to the library. It was ritual. We had to go in two cars because there wasn’t enough room in my mom’s Rover for all eight of us (six kids, two adults). First stop was the library, then the shop, then home for lunch, and reading. So you see, mix that together with being given a piece of paper for a first name and I had no choice other than to become a writer.
As an adult I’ve become re-fascinated with the books I loved as a child. The online store I order from must think I have a young child in the house, going by what I order as I retrace my steps as a young reader.
The interesting thing is that often when you go back to the things you remember loving as a child, they’re never quite as rewarding. Try watching an episode of MacGyver or Airwolf if you don’t believe me (so slow and totally implausible – they defuse bombs with chewing gum wrappers and hair clips, really?). I also tried wearing dungarees again, but trust me, they don’t look as cute on a 37 year old as they do on a 6 year old.
So I’m pleased to report that looking back on my favourite childhood books 30 (very) odd years later, they still don’t disappoint. In fact most of them are as good, if not better than I remembered them.
My all-time childhood favourite was A fly Went By, by Mike McClintock. My dad must have read it to me a hundred million times, till nobody in our family had to actually read the words anymore, even the dog knew it by heart.
Looking back I worry that none of the other children in our neighbourhood ever got to read it, because I always had it out of the library. My father would try to entice me with other books, as much for his own sanity, I suspect, as for my own enrichment. And each week I took and loved them all. Books like Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, and The Berenstein Bears and Winnie the Pooh. But that fly that went by always came home with us too. Getting more dog-eared and loved with every passing week.
Another childhood favourite I recently revisited is called Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina. Something suddenly reminded me of it a couple of months ago, so I ordered a copy. When it arrived I couldn’t believe the kind of detail I had remembered out of the blue after all those years. The illustrations and story line were still so sharp in my memory. And even more impressive I discovered it was first published back in 1940. That’s over seventy years ago. Astonishing that it’s still so beautiful and relevant today. It’s a charming story of a man selling caps and a troupe of naughty little monkeys who get in his way.
I remember the hours I spent living in these author’s worlds. Tracing a tiny little finger over the lines of the pictures. I often wonder what draws a child to a specific book and has them reading and rereading it? Is it the illustrations, or the captivating story lines? Who knows. What I do know for sure though, is that if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.