This is a post to chime in a new arrival on the literary scene – my two week old niece. She is the most beautiful baby and has brought so much joy to our family as she is the first baby to be born since I arrived 25 years ago. As the granddaughter, daughter and niece of three women who live, breathe and devour books she has no choice – she has to love reading. It is a legacy that we will bestow (force) upon her and over the past two weeks I have already been dreaming about trips to the library, bookshop and theatre with her.
My sister, I should add, claims that she is Librarian in Chief – oho, how I laugh at this weak assertion. I am planning my literary coup as I write this. She has no idea.
Some of my earliest memories are trips to the library in Chichester, reading with my mother and reading with my sister (who always did excellent voices). There are so many fantastic children’s books that I want to read to my niece (if I can send my sister on a fool’s errand), many of which I still know off by heart.
I can recite Each Peach Pear Plum
in its entirety – not the sexiest party trick, but a party trick nevertheless. One of my ultimate favourites (and I still have this) was The Jolly Postman
and, for my favourite time of year, The Jolly Christmas Postman
. These lead me on to Burglar Bill
, Peace at Last
and the First Picture Book by Althea which my sister and I obsessed over. It is now out of print (published in 1978) and it is the most extraordinary book of illustrations and stories. We still have our copy at our mother’s house in safe-keeping where it is falling apart. We go through it together now and when I look at a particular illustration of some hedgehogs in leaves I truly feel like I am at home. I am small again and joy and wonder can be found in a simple picture.
My ultimate favourite picture book has to be the very cool feminine tract Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole. I vividly remember my mum giving it to me, and she has called me her Princess Smartypants ever since (she always was sarcastic). Smartypants does not want to get married, why should she? She is rich, beautiful and can do anything. But her father orders that she has to find a husband and a string of weedy, dweeby, wimpy Prince’s try to woo Smartypants by completing the tasks that she sets them. Of course, they can’t. Her man-eating slugs attack them, her glass tower is too slippery and she is far too good at out roller-skating them at her roller disco. But then Prince Charming turns up and he can do the lot. Will she succumb and marry him? Babette Cole also wrote Prince Cinders which is equally as fantastic and witty. These will definitely be on my niece’s bookshelves.
It is so exciting to think of all the book discoveries that she will make, to watch her find joy in words and stories and also to learn from her. Sometimes I feel that as adults we forget to see things for the first time, we miss simple pleasures and we find it too easy to speed through reading experiences. There are few, if any, books that I have revisted over and over again as an adult but I still open my picture books when I go home and I must have read some of them hundreds of times. Obviously, it is easier and more fleeting to read a 20 page, rhyming picture book again and again than it is to read a 400 page novel but the memory of reading those first books is somehow more lasting, prominent, comforting and, ultimately, exciting.
I wonder which will be my niece’s favourite and which will be her worst. One of my sister’s favourite was Dogger
which absolutely scarred me for life as I couldn’t bear the thought of losing my cuddly toy. I only hope I don’t have to read this to baby at bedtime, although I think the Librarian in Chief will make sure it is on the nursery shelf.
What books were on your nursery shelf? Any that you absolutely hated? Do you still read your favourites? It would be great to know as I am on the hunt for the best picture books around to usurp my sister and steal the Chief Librarian crown – it’s going to be a difficult task but I’m not called Smartypants for nothing.