International Children's Book Day 2014
On the 2nd April 1805 Hans Christian Andersen, best known for his children's fairy tales, was born. Since 1967, this date has been declared International Children's Book Day, to help inspire a love of reading in children, and also to encourage the publication of high quality children's books.
I absolutely love reading, and I have done from a very early age. Everywhere I go, I have a book with me. When I was little and accompanying my mum to the supermarket, I'd take a book on the five-minute drive. The photos of my eighth birthday are mainly of me reading some of my new books in the garden. When I was 10 and getting ready to go on the end of primary school trip, which had abseiling as one of the activities, my teacher joked that we ought to rig up some sort of music stand on my harness so that I could read at the same time as abseiling down a wall. Even though as a child I tended to get very bad motion sickness (and still do now, windy bendy countryside roads and boats are not good for me!) I'd always have a book with me on journeys; even if I didn't (couldn't) read it, I felt a degree of comfort by having a book there. Now I am older, my Kindle resides almost permanently in my handbag; I read 'proper' books in the flat, so I don't have to carry them anywhere, and then my Kindle is for being out and about. When travelling round South America with some friends after our undergraduate degrees, there was a long-running joke about how I always needed to have a book on me, otherwise I'd be a bit grumpy (my friends would probably say it was more than that!). Indeed, when I went on holiday with another mutual friend, the two who had been to South America with me told her in no uncertain terms to always make sure I had a book with me! When travelling I was always concerned with getting my hands on another book, thankfully most hostels we stayed in had book swapping shelves, so I could always read something in English, even if it wasn't necessarily my first choice of book. Now I have a Kindle, I have no more worries about always having access to new books.
I think it is so important to encourage children to read, and that reading something is better than reading nothing. My year 6 teacher commented on my end of year school report that I was reading lots of the Point Horror books, and that really I should try reading books which would push me further, but at least I was reading something.
There is such a range of children's books out there, for all levels and abilities, and that's what International Children's Book Day is about: to celebrate these books and encourage children to read for pleasure. Here are just a few of my all-time favourites:
Roald Dahl. Is there a child who doesn't like Roald Dahl? His imagination, the language, the characters. As you can see from the photos, my favourite books were Matilda, The BFG and The Witches. My copy of Matilda is stuck together in many places with brown sticky tape. I wanted to be Matilda so much. She read Great Expectations aged 5! She could do long multiplication in her head! Every time I write the word 'difficulty' I sing the song. There aren't many books that I have read over and over again, but these three I definitely have.
I've written before about my love of Enid Blyton's Malory Towers series of books. These aren't the originals I had, they were white and I think were either borrowed from my mum, or were library books. This set was given to me by my mum a few years ago, and I've read them a few times since then. At the weekend I saw a girl, aged about 12, sitting on a bench in town, presumably waiting for someone. She was reading one of the Malory Towers books, and I smiled to myself, knowing that these books, originally published in the 1940s, are still bringing enjoyment to children.
These two Angela Brazil books were given to my grandmother as presents when she was a young girl, and I treasure them now. They are very much books of their time, and the language used is un-PC and bordering on offensive by today's standards. I'm not sure I'd have enjoyed them as a child myself, but I loved reading them in my early twenties. I even bought a few more Angela Brazil books on ebay (nothing like as lovely as these two editions) and gave one to a friend who I know also enjoys early 20th century school stories.
I was a bridesmaid last year for one of my closest friends, who clearly knows about my love of Guiding and old children's books. The bride gave each bridesmaid a present, and I think mine wins for being most personal! It's a old book of Brownie stories, published around the 1940s/50s given the style of writing and also what the Brownies were getting up to. It was such a lovely thoughtful present. Apparently there's a book of Guide stories as well, so I'll start hinting if ever I'm asked to be a bridesmaid again.
Other books I remember from my childhood include the Nancy Drew detective stories by Caroline Keene (although a quick google has informed me this is actually a pseudonym and refers to a syndicate of authors - you learn something new every day!), the books by Janet and Allan Ahlberg and pretty much anything written by R.L. Stine. I also devoured The Baby-sitter's Club books by Ann M. Martin. They were £2.50 each so I could buy two or four of these books with the book tokens I often received for birthdays and Christmas, without having change left over. I knew I was too old/too confident a reader for these books when I bought a new one in town one day and had finished it before I'd even got home! I had a whole shelf-full of these books, I think they must all have ended up going to charity.
This is what is so important about getting children to read, and encouraging them to read for pleasure - it's not just about improving literacy, it's about building confidence, and exploring new worlds and ideas. Who says you're too old for a certain book? If you enjoy it, keep reading!