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?