I was walking with a friend the other day, and as I glanced sideways at him an unexpected image flashed into my head. For a split second his profile was the exact replica of an image I last saw about thirty years ago, in a picture book I’d long since forgotten I’d even had. Once that mental doorway was opened, however, the memories came flooding back of other images, words and even the feelings I experienced as I pored over this storybook as a five year old. I think most people who loved books as children probably find the same as me, that reading-related memories are very deeply ingrained within us. Maybe it’s because the most well-loved stories are read over and over again that they stick in the mind so vividly. The book I suddenly remembered a couple of days ago wasn’t one I would have considered as being fundamental to my childhood, but there are certainly others I think of, albeit fleetingly, on a fairly regular basis.
Sadly many of my childhood favourites are long since out of print. Even more sadly, a lot of these now unobtainable treasures are no longer in my possession, owing to the fact that my poor parents eventually got sick of their loft being used as a perpetual storage space for various boxes of my “stuff” that had somehow never managed to find their way into any of the homes I’ve occupied during my adult life. (I should say at this point I bear mum and dad no ill will for their act of loft-reclaiming!) On the plus side, I did manage to track down a copy of one of my all-time favourites a few years ago via an out-of-print book search company. Does anyone else remember “Bottersnikes and Gumbles”? If you do I would love to hear from you as no-one else I’ve met has ever come across it! It was a brilliant, bonkers story about some incredibly odd creatures that had adventures in the Australian bush: the grumpy bottersnikes with warty skin and long ears that glowed red hot when they were angry and the loveable, easy-going gumbles who could mould themselves into any shape they chose. It’s such a shame it’s not around today. One book you will be able to find quite easily is Shirley Hughes’ “Dogger”, a story I remember chiefly because I was absolutely traumatised by it, the idea of a boy losing his most beloved toy dog being more than my sensitive young self could bear. It still haunts me to this day… On a happier note, my fondest reading memory has to be “The Owl who was afraid of the dark” – I think this might be the book I have more affection for than any other. For me, it conjures up images of those near-perfect childhood moments of being tucked up in bed and being read to; even thinking about it now brings about a real sense of comfort.
I love the fact that in this world of technological distractions so many children still love reading. Seeing a child completely absorbed in a book is such a wonderful thing, not least because you know that in twenty or thirty years’ time, they may well still be thinking about it. I’d love to know which books had a real impact on you as a child; as always, please feel free to comment and share your thoughts!