Sunday, 14 February 2016

The Books that Made Me - or Thanks for the Library

Lynne Benton

A recent series on television called “The TV that Made Me” gave a fascinating glimpse into the TV that various “celebrities” watched during their childhood which made them into the people they are now.  When I was a child we didn’t have a television (my parents didn’t get one till after I’d left home, when my father overruled my mother’s objections so he could watch the 1966 World Cup!)  But I never felt deprived, because from a very early age I discovered that I could whisk myself away into another world as soon as I opened the covers of a BOOK. 

Although I had some books of my own, they were never enough for a keen reader like me.  So when I was allowed to join the library, aged 6 or so, I couldn’t believe my luck – here were thousands of books for me to choose from, and all for free!  It felt like paradise.  Over the years I borrowed a great variety of books, including many by Enid Blyton, who in those days was the undisputed queen of children’s literature (children were always to be found queuing up beside the B section of the children’s library, waiting for returned Blytons!)  My teachers in the primary school used to read us some of her stories, too, so they all became favourites.  I particularly loved her books of magic, such as "The Magic Faraway Tree" and "The Wishing Chair", and as I grew a little older I enjoyed her books of adventure and mystery, such as The Five Find-Outers, and "The Castle/Ship/Island of Adventure."  Later, of course, her reputation became tarnished, but back then she was just someone who wrote very exciting stories.  

Other favourites were inspired, not by television of course, but by radio.  I was an avid listener to Children’s Hour (one hour a day at teatime) which introduced me to Alison Uttley’s “Little Grey Rabbit” and Kenneth Graham’s “The Wind in the Willows” (both read by the incomparable voice of David Davies).  Children’s Hour also serialised some wonderful books for children, including “Jennings at School” by Antony Buckeridge,
“White Boots” by Noel Streatfeild

and “The Swish of the Curtain” by Pamela Brown.

These all fed my imagination, so that as soon as I’d heard them on Children's Hour I looked for them in the library and read them for myself, and was delighted to discover that they were all parts of series, so I was able to read more and more by the same authors. 

I also discovered L M Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables”, the whole series of which I borrowed over time from the library.

In the first year at Grammar School our form mistress introduced us to Malcolm Saville’s “Lone Pine” series, many of which I was again able to borrow from the library.  A friend and I were even inspired to form our very own Lone Pine Club. Sadly, most of these are out of print now, but they were great stories of mystery and adventure, set in real places you could actually visit.

I also loved the “William” books by Richmal Crompton
and anything by E. Nesbit, as well as “What Katy Did” and its sequels. And although I had my own copies of the Katy books and the Little Women books (birthday presents from an aunt) the others I borrowed from the library.

So it seems to me that most of the books that "made" me were thanks in no small part to the local library.  Magic, families, adventure, mysteries - they were all there for me to read and read and read.  Although I was originally inspired by Children's Hour or by interested adults (usually teachers), it was thanks to the library that I was able to read more of each series that I latched on to, until I felt as if I knew all the characters through and through.   And this is what I want to do in my own books - create characters that children will feel they really know.

No doubt everyone has their own list of books that made them the people they are now.  Maybe some of today's children will one day remember our books in the same way.  As long as libraries still exist for them to find all the books they want to read...


Sheena Wilkinson said...

Lovely post! I was 'made' by similar books -- also The Chalet School, K M Peyton and Antonia Forest -- and yes, none of it would have been possible without the library.

Sue Purkiss said...

I loved most of these too - I've been trying for ages to remember the name of the Malcolm Savile series, so thank you! They were always kept in the boys'section, but there was nothing to stop anyone taking them out. And the Jennings books too... lovely!

Lynne Benton said...

Thank you both - glad it reminded you of books you loved!

Steve Gladwin said...

I too was a Lone Pine fan Lynne and have always meant to reread/buy them. Now I live quite close to where they're set so I really should go and visit those places. I also loved Jennings and EB's 'of adventure series.