During a recent tidy up of my book shelves, I came across some favourites from my childhood. There are titles you will recognise, others will be more obscure, but I’ll come back to those in a moment.
My earliest memory of reading a book on my own was The Land of Nod. Even though I no longer have it, I still remember the cover: a vibrant electric blue with an illustration of a child sitting on a golden crescent moon. It was read, and re-read, many times over along with another favourite, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty.
‘What greater gift is there than sharing our love of reading
with the next generation?’
Books were a luxury in our farming family, particularly during years of drought, and were reserved for birthday or Christmas presents. We did have an impressive encyclopaedia set on display in the lounge room; weighty tomes lined up in a row that were our ‘go to’ for school projects.
There was one book in this set, however, that I read for pleasure: the last volume containing a collection of Aesop’s Fables and other folktales. I’d read different fables before going to sleep entranced by the stories and morals contained within. ‘Androcles and the Lion’ was my favourite. There was many a night where I could stay awake no longer, my fingers relaxing from the edges of the book until it slid off my quilt. The heavy thud startling my mother, who’d rush in to check if I’d fallen out of bed, only to find me sound asleep and the book askew on the floor.
In my primary school years, the school library became my main source of new reading material. I recall reading titles such as Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven and The Famous Five series, Agatha Christie’s mystery novels, Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Joy Adamson’s non-fiction trilogy: Born Free, Living Free and Forever Free to name a few.
Other books made their way into my childhood bookcase as gifts, or school prize books, and have remained with me into my adult life. The pages are yellowed, and the spines are coming away from the pages, but I cannot part with them. At the time, they took me into fantasy worlds and places beyond my own experience and imagination. In Year Four, it was S Coolidge’s What Katy did Next, followed by Hilda Boswell’s Treasury of Children Stories in Year Five — an anthology of excerpts from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; David Copperfield; Heidi; Stuart Little and other stories. Tales of the Wild by French children’s writer René Guillot was the next to find a home on the book shelf in Year Six.
In Year Seven, I received Bushranger Ballads: illustrated by Pro Hart. For many years, I thought this book was lost during one of our family moves. It was like meeting an old friend again when my brother returned it to me two years ago, decades after it disappeared. He could only surmise he’d referred to it for a school assignment and somehow, when our lives diverged as adults, the book had stayed with him. In one of those inexplicable coincidences in life, my husband has a title from his school years from the same series — The Poetry of Henry Lawson: illustrated by Pro Hart. The two now side by side on my book shelf.
‘A treasured bridge between his childhood and mine’
Life also gives us the opportunity to pass our enjoyment of a book from one generation to the next. When I chanced upon a beautifully illustrated A Treasury of Aesop’s Fables illustrated by Don Daily in a book shop in Perth, I couldn’t resist buying it for my youngest son before he started school, with the secret hope that he, too, would enjoy the fables as much as I had. It quickly became the one book he wanted me to read to him at bedtime. He is a young man now, but this book remains a treasured bridge between his childhood and mine. One day, maybe, he too will read it to his children.
Children’s titles have come and gone from the mix on our family’s book shelves, far too many to name in one blog post. Some dispensed with, if only for the reason they were so loved they literally fell apart, such as Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Sandra Boynton’s whimsical board books. Others departed in the flurry of my annual clean-outs to free up more shelf space as my sons outgrew them. They found new homes with the children of relatives or friends, or were donated to our local school or charities.
I often have book donator’s regret for some of the bookish treasures I’ve let go. But my husband is a practical man and reassures me: ‘You can’t keep everything’, and besides, as he says, ‘You’ve given other children the opportunity to love those books, too.’ I know he’s right. What greater gift is there than sharing our love of reading with the next generation? Still, I sometimes mutter to myself: What were you thinking?
I’d love to hear about the books that were your childhood favourites, or your children’s, and if they too remain on your book shelves.