Monday, 9 March 2009

Book Corner

I thought I'd follow Chris Priestley's example and post a small corner of one of my bookshelves in honour of World Book Day. Most of the children at the school where I teach dressed up last Friday. They were supposed to be characters from books, but usually these days they're characters from the book of the film, or maybe from the book of the film of the book. It's all very confusing. I did notice that Harry Potter seems to have faded from the scene. The big favourites were Ben10, (looks like the book hasn't appeared yet for that one!), Snow White, Batman, Spiderman, Captain Hook (along with various pirates from the Caribbean), and police officers - which is fair enough when you think how much crime fiction we consume.

So: my bookshelf. It's almost a little history of my childhood reading. I loved the Sam Pig stories for a long time. They evoke a vanished rural England which was still just about alive when I was a child. When I read them now I can still recapture the vividness of the experience of reading them for the first time, especially the story of Sam Pig and the Hurdy-Gurdy Man. Brock the Badger mends the broken hurdy-gurdy so that it has the music of the woods in it. He says, 'if I can mend broken whistles and broken hearts, I can surely mend a broken hurdy-gurdy.' I had no idea what a hurdy-gurdy was and I didn't see one until I was about 20 years old, but I knew I wanted to be a hurdy-gurdy man!

The Bunkle books and the 'Fred and I' adventures of which Tuesday Adventure is the only one I own, came a bit later than Sam Pig, and unlike Sam Pig they came from the library. Almost all the books I read as a child came from the library. Bunkle was written by M. Pardoe. I've just discovered that the Scottish publisher Fidra Books is republishing her books. There's a biography and more information here. Bunkle is a precocious boy whose father is a spy. The plots of the books are improbable, but the stories are brought to life by the descriptions of family life. The children are realistically rude to each other and there are plenty of devious German spies. Like the Sam Pig books, they were printed during World War Two on thin yellow paper. One of them was a Christmas present to someone called Dick in 1944. It seems strange to think that ordinary childhood was still going on. Tuesday Adventure is part of a series by the poet, John Pudney,who wrote 'Johnny Head-in-Air', probably the most famous poem to come out of WW2. The 'Fred and I' books involve two boys and their Uncle George who is fighting the Cold War from a place called Fort X. I couldn't get enough of them. There was one for each day of the week and then one for each season. I'd read them again if I could get hold of them, but they are very rare.

Jacobs' English Fairy Tales is one of the great collections of folk tales. You can hear the voice of the original storyteller in every one. They were first published in 1890 and still sound fresh today. If I had my way every primary school teacher would be required to tell stories to children every day. It used to be a much more usual thing - the teacher telling stories (and I don't mean reading them) and there are plenty of anthologies like the Lucia Turnbull one designed for the purpose. They're worth seeking out in secondhand bookshops. Elizabeth Clarke produced several.

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