Saturday 21 March 2015

Reading by Torchlight

True, it’s one of those clichés of a bookish kid – reading with a torch under the covers to avoid detection by a parent, but I’ll admit, I definitely did this. I was one of those bookish kids, like I’m sure many of you were, who took a book everywhere. And I mean everywhere – church, lessons, parties, friend’s houses, sports day… I always had a book in hand. Many a time I would fall asleep reading, book splayed over my face, or I would stay awake, late, trying desperately to keep reading and avoid detection, as well as figuring out how to breathe under the hot and sweaty duvet. Yet, somehow, there was nothing better than that thrill of reading late into the night and coming out of a book haze to realise that the house around you is completely still and quiet.

And those books have stayed with me. So many of them were classics, books that have stood the test of time. 

I remember my dad reading the Chronicles of Narnia to me, and that scene when Lucy walks out into that snowy Narnian wood is vivid to me, even now.

I remember recovering from chicken pox and being handed a load of my mum’s childhood books – What Katy Did, Pollyanna, Heidi, Little Women, 101 Dalmatians, and so many more.  I loved Five Children and It and The Phoenix and the Carpet. I loved Anne of Green Gables and read as much of the series as I could find.

I remember spending many a sick (and well) day, curled up in bed, rereading  the Famous Five adventures, Malory Towers, and the St Clare’s books. Returning to them was like revisiting old friends, old friends who I knew wouldn’t change or desert me. 

some old favourites
These books are all still in print and children still read them these days, which I’m glad to see. There is a reason after all these books are children’s classics, and while some of them contain those rather Victorian morality tales, which can be uncomfortable for a modern reader, it doesn’t really matter. After all, when I was a child, it was the story, the characters, and the settings that mattered to me. And many of them were set in a world that I couldn’t possibly understand, one that was so foreign to me that it washed over me, but at the same time, I related to them. I loved them. I wanted to go on those adventures too; to find smugglers, and strange creatures in the sand, flying carpets, and so much more.

The books you read as a child really do stay with you, and they are certainly the reason I wanted to become a writer. I wanted to be one of those people who wrote these magical stories and created whole worlds and adventures. There couldn’t be anything better, especially if I couldn’t be one of those children (and anyway I didn’t think I’d be brave enough) – I didn’t think anyway. 

From time to time, I still pull these off my shelves to reread or leaf through. Some sit proudly on my shelves still, while others I have to pull out from the back of my cupboard (mainly due to space restraints).  But they’re still there, and I still think about these books regularly. 

a small portion of my shelves
These books are important. And I’m glad they’re still read and will be passed on. They’re important influences I’m sure on many writers and readers.

But most importantly, they’re books about children and children don’t change – even if the world has moved on and times have changed, and children have mobile phones and TVs and computers. Everyone can recognise themselves somewhere in these tales – whether it’s as the uncertain orphan Anne, who tries to please everyone, or the adventurous Famous Five who long to get rid of all adults and make their own adventures. There is an element of fantasy in these books – after all, none of us expect to fall into wild adventures with smugglers and kidnappers, but we enjoy reading them and casting ourselves in those roles. And it gives us a chance to do that – to be a part of that world that we know we will never be a part of. As much as these stories are tied down with morals, they’re also an escape, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

It was great to read recently the magnificent Five Children on the Western Front, which won the Costa Children’s Book of the Year. It inspired me to go back and reread those old favourites, starting with Five Children and It. I’m keen to read all those ones I accidentally missed out on too, or the ones where I know I saw the film adaptation, but I don't know if I ever did read the book. It was recently announced too that Jacqueline Wilson is writing a modernised version of What Katy Did, called Katy, and it will be published later this year. I'll certainly be interested to see how she updates this classic, Victorian tale. Jacqueline previously wrote her own modern take on Five Children and It too.

While I love all the new Middle Grade fiction that’s coming out – much of it inspired by those classic tales - today I implore you all to go and read a classic, and let’s get talking about classics!

Which classics do you remember fondly? Have you reread any of these recently? Which were your favourites? How much reading by torchlight did you do?