Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Childhood Books by Abie Longstaff

I come from a large and diverse family. My parents are Australian and I grew up first in Adelaide, then in Hong Kong (at a French school) before moving to the UK. I'm one of six sisters and we are spread all over the world: Australia, Hong Kong, Zurich, France, London. Some of us are white, some are not. Some of us are hetero; some are gay. Some of us are stay-at-home mums; some are job/children jugglers; some never want children; some are career high-flyers. Some are argumentative; some are peace-makers; some like to keep out of it all.

But, amidst all the differences, all the chaos, and all the rows, we meet up every year at our family home in France. It's a big old messy house where fuses keep blowing and there's no central heating. It's where all of our childhood things are stored: old toys, photos, school reports, duvet covers and, most importantly of all for me, books.

Every time I go back home a treasure trove of books from my past is waiting for me. I can count my life's journey from the first books my mother read to me as a child, through my early readers, right up to adult books. Now, with children of my own, I love rereading the old favourites - worn out copies of fairy tales, moth-eaten classics sent by relatives in Australia, sticky-taped picture books read and reread a hundred times over.

Christmas is a lovely time of year to pore over old memories - it's cold outside and huddling by the fire reading, and dipping into chocolates is almost compulsory. So I thought I'd share some childhood highlights with you.

 I Am a Bunny by Ole Risom and Richard Scarry (1963)

This was one of my earliest books. I loved it so much that reading it to my children brings a little tear to my eye.

These H.A. Rey books were published in 1944.
Rey went on to write the hugely successful Curious George. These three originals (Where's my Baby? See the Circus and Feed the Animals) were read by my grandmother to my father, my father to me, and me to my children. The colours have started to bleed in places and there is a copious amount of sticky tape holding the flaps together.

Anatole by Eve Titus and Paul Galdone (1956). I still love this funny story of a mouse cheese-taster. This is one of the books I wish I'd written.

My parents were very progressive and we were all read Where Did I Come From by Peter Mayle (1973) at an early age. It's a wonderful book with great illustrations. I read it to my own two when they were very young.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson-Burnett (1905) I loved this book - as a child I read it over and over again. 

A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson (1985) was given to me by my Grandmother when I was around 12. It sparked my Ibbotson craze - she was a master storyteller and I still reread her work today for inspiration.

Another book I really wish I'd written! Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein (1984). This is a truly hilarious book about fitting in and it captures school rivalries and friendships perfectly. Genius work.

What about you? When you go home, which old books do you reach for?


Lynne Garner said...

Abie thanks for sharing.

I'm not one for reminiscing, so when I moved out of my parents I gave my old books to a charity shop. Rather than visiting books from my childhood I like to discover new books. So next time I'm in a second hand book store I'll look out for some of the books in this post.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Oh, I'm with you, Abie! Re-reading and re-gazing at the books of childhood are a huge comfort, and such fun. A lovely Christmas blog - thank you.

Paeony Lewis said...

What interesting childhood books, Abie. I still have two of my hardback picture story books but nowadays I wouldn't feel comfortable reading them to a child because they're definitely 'incorrect' (thankfully we've come quite a way since the early 1960s). But there are some books that still make me smile (and are also covered with my crayoning), such as 'Pussy Willow' (Margaret Wise Brown) and 'Little Grey Donkey' by Alice Lunt , and later I was a huge Paddington fan. Plus I still cherish my books of illustrated fairy stories and folk tales.

Odette said...

When I was a child I loved 'Ballet Shoes', 'Heidi', 'The Secret Garden', the 'Swallows and Amazons' series, then later 'Little Women'. We read Ezra Jack Keats books to our sons who are of mixed race. There were not enough books at the time featuring children who looked like them. 'Peter's Chair' and 'Snowy Day' were two of their early favourites. I also remember that one of the boys loved 'Thursday's Child' by Noel Streatfeild. Margaret was adopted and very spirited.

Moira Butterfield said...

I love your selection, Abie, and hope you had lots of fun rereading them over Xmas. Books that you know work well are an inspiration for the future.

malachy doyle said...

My father was selling the old house where we all grew up. 'Do you want the Encyclopaedia Britannicas, Malachy?' He asked me, over the phone. 'Not really, Dad.' 'It's just I'm doing a clear-out. I've burnt all the children's books - they're all old and battered...'

Enid Richemont said...

Abie - I so envy you your family. I'm an only child, and my first 'novel', at the age of seven, was a fantasy about belonging to a huge and diverse family like yours. And how did the big old house in France come into it? I'm CURIOUS (well I wouldn't be a writer if I wasn't).

Malachy - that's such a sad story. My very grown-up daughter rescued all her favourite children's books from the loft and re-read them to her three children - and I felt deeply flattered that I'd managed to give her such riches.

Does anyone know who wrote Nicholas Bunny? It was my son's favourite book when he was little. When I was little, I was into fantasy and fairytales, and I hated Winnie the Pooh. By contrast, John Masefield's Box of Delights has haunted me forever...

Jane Clarke said...

Thanks for the blast from the past, Abie! When I was small, most books were borrowed from the library, but I treasure my old ragged hardback copy of Downy Duckling, written by W.Perring and illustrated by A.J.MacGregor and it was wonderful to read that to my sons.

Abie Longstaff said...

Enid how funny - Nicholas Bunny is the one listed above as 'I am a bunny'. It starts 'I am a bunny. My name is Nicholas. I live in a hollow tree'. Is that the one you mean? It's a big favourite in our house.
We have the house in France because my parents bought it while they were living in Hong Kong - they wanted something big enough to allow all their 6 children to meet up. At the time the Lot valley was no way near as popular for holiday homes as it is now so they bought it for a song. My parents moved there from Hong Kong when they retired.
It's been great being part of such a big family - if a bit too noisy at times!