Saturday, 24 October 2009

1001 Children's books

you must read before you grow up (ed Julia Eccleshare)... is the title of the very fat volume that I have, slowly, begun to work my way through. I am doing this out of curiosity - a little at a time. What do other people think I should have read? Does it matter? Probably not. No, it does not. It is their choice I find interesting.
I packed a lot of books into my childhood, probably far more than most children. I am expecting to find some familiar books in this volume. There will also be some missing. I may, almost certainly will, find some more I feel I want to read. When it comes to books I have not yet 'grown up'. Good children's literature still has the capacity to captivate me.
I cheated slightly with this book because I had first to check that Ping was there. If Ping is there then I can sit cosily in my father's lap. The oven door of the Metters No 5 woodburning stove will be open. I am in my winter pajamas. They have rabbits printed on them. My father is telling me about Ping. He puts his finger on each word as he reads it to me. I worry about Ping. He does not want to be smacked for being last. Being smacked hurts. Being smacked just for being last seems grossly unfair to me. Worse, Ping gets lost. Even at that age I understand that the Yangste is a very big river. Will he ever find his family? I lost mine for a while. It was a terrifying experience. There is an anxious wait, a very anxious wait. I am not sure whether I like the book or not but I want to hear it again and again. At the very end Ping gets another smack but he is back with his family. That is all right. I can go to bed knowing Ping is safe.

Ping was a second birthday present from my godmother. It is one of the books I learned to read from. Learning to read was a process of osmosis I suppose. My father put his finger on the words and I followed him. I cannot remember my mother reading to me. To the best of my knowledge she never did. It was an odd thing for an infants teacher. My father taught older children. If he knew about teaching the alphabet and all the other things that go into the teaching of reading, and I assume he did because he is still interested in those things, he never bothered with it. There were no formal reading lessons. The important thing was the story.
My father brought home other books from the school. Like most rural schools they borrowed from the Country Lending Service. It meant a constant supply of new-to-me books. I liked those new books and was always sorry when the new friends had to leave again. Then I would go back to The Little Engine that Could, the little Golden Books, the Ladybird Readers and the First and Second Primers and, every so often, I would make sure that Ping the duck was safely back with his family.

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