I was very young when I first listened to my parents reading to my brothers and sisters. In fact I was the youngest, and so the books and stories were often beyond my understanding, but I enjoyed them all the same, and remember being amused by certain incidents in J M Ballantyne’s Coral Island, and being frightened by quite a lot of Treasure Island, both chosen for my brothers.
However my parents also read to me alone, and those special times were to prove among the most influential moments of my childhood, certainly they remain my most precious memories from my early years. I was fortunate, since they were good readers, and brought the stories to vivid life. Sixty years later, if I read one of Beatrix Potter’s stories I can still hear my mother’s expressive intonation, and when as a teacher I read them aloud I used those same intonations myself.
I clearly remember the pleasure I felt at wonderful words such as ‘soporific’, ‘the little rabbits smiled sweetly in their sleep. . .the lettuces had been so soporific’ (from The Tale of The Flopsy Bunnies). And there were many wonderful repetitions of phrases which sang like poetry in my mind.
I’m also sure the deft and delicate illustrations influenced my delight in the natural world, and probably dictate how I use my camera today.
Amongst other books my father read to me was Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, and we both delighted in his rich and amusing use of words, prose poetry at its best:
‘Rash and inexperienced traveller, we will now seriously devote ourselves to a little high tension, because if we do not, it is my impression that yonder self-propelling man-of-war with the armour plated upper deck’ (and by this, O Best Beloved, he meant the crocodile) ‘will permanently vitiate your future career.’ (from The Elephant’s Child) was one of our favourites, and we’d chant it together each time he read it.
As I grew a little older we progressed to Puck of Pook’s Hill and The Jungle Book, and I’m so glad I had the chance to love that and its sequel in their original forms before ‘Uncle Walt’ got hold of them and stripped away their richness, and their layers of meaning.
They were the books with the richest language, but I also learned to love the Rev. Audrey’s books – Thomas The Tank Engine, and the others that followed it. What lively rhythms there were in those little books, and what fun!
And somehow I grasped what lay behind the stories in the books of A.A. Milne – laughing with him at the ridiculous poses of Pooh, Eeyore, Owl and their friends. ‘All Rabbits friends and relations’ is still part of my everyday conversation, when talking about a gathering of any kind.
I count myself blessed in my introduction to the world of books. Thank you, Mother, thank you, Daddy, I shall treasure the heritage you passed on to me!