Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Childhood Reads

Having been a bookworm and in possession of a library card, I was always at the library. I went after school and on weekends. It probably explains why I went on to study literature at degree level and also why I find it hard to pass a second hand bookshop without having a bit of a snoop round. Even my gradual knowledge of development and adolescence was heavily based on what I read in the "Young Adults" section; books on growing up, physical change, becoming a teenager... all the things that were shrouded in playground rumours and whispers. The information was something that I relished and wanted to absorb more of. For this reason I have an attachment to books and libraries as they introduced me to aspects of life that I would have probably found daunting and scary, and allowed me to discover them at my own pace in the comfort of a big old chair with the sounds of whirring photocopiers and passing buses in the background.There are a few books that particularly fuelled my love of reading and I still look back on them with much adoration. Here they are...

Goosebumps  always left you hanging for more. Goosebumps were as unavailable and coveted as golden nuggets. It all started when my mother reluctantly bought me a copy of "It Came From Beneath the Sink" from a pushy saleswoman. She was unaware that this book would spark an obsession with the Goosebumps series. For a few years I worked my way through the collection, gasping at the end of every chapter cliff hanger, frantically searching for the first word on the next page before the page turn had completed, visiting the library to check for recent Goosebumps returns every day and reserving copies to be snapped up as soon as they hit the librarian's desk. That's what you call love and dedication.

Enid Blyton's Malory Towers was a fantastic set of stories set in all girls' boarding school somewhere in Cornwall. I reckon the reason I didn't become interested in Harry Potter and his magical escapades was because, in my mind, Malory Towers was the boarding school of my childhood dreams. Tales of condensed milk, cold meats, midnight feasts, brisk walks, bitchy slapping, girly gossip, brown and orange pinafore uniforms and pound notes hidden under knicker elastic made the school seem a million miles away from my inner-city London state-run mixed-gender non-denominational comprehensive secondary school.

Married with Nick Sharratt's expressive and colourful illustrations, the Mandy's story really became real. Mandy meets Tanya; a boisterous and troubled older girl who shows her the ropes of shoplifting. As the only child of 60 year old parents and a victim of bullying, Mandy sees this as an opportunity to rebel against cardigans, restrictions and pigtails, which ends in consequences. Wilson presents situations to young readers that they may have or have not experienced or seen before, such as adoption, bed & breakfast housing, broken families, foster and care homes, bullying, and poverty - some of the malaises of society that make growing up difficult. However, the bright illustrations make them accessible and attractive to read for young girls, whilst also educating them that sometimes there is no such thing as a "perfect" family or upbringing - and that it is okay. 

I loved The Twits, and still do. Under the appreciation for girly books and boarding schools, I was a bit of a twisted child. I loved books that were weird, fantastical and a bit disgusting. The Twits is a tale about The Twits (obviously) who are social hermits as they are ugly, smelly and horrible to people and animals. They also hate children, which is a theme that runs throughout most of Dahl's stories in order for young readers to feel even more repulsed. However, The Twits are also very stupid and fall for tricks that they play on each other and that other's play on them in return for their torrents of abuse. It's a funny book and the parts where Mr Twit picks out food from his beard to eat and Mrs Twit takes out her glass eye to scare her husband made it a hilariously revolting read.

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