The summer is already drawing to a close and we’re all readying ourselves for crisp autumn days here at Willoughby. The holidays always felt so long and stretched out as a child but now, in the mere blink of an eye, the kids are back at school, with uniforms ironed and pencils sharpened.
Reading as a child and reading as an adult are wildly different experiences.
The very memory of phonics, diaries filled with diligent notetaking by teachers and parents, as well as reading aloud in turns, may send a big jolt of fear down your spine.
These were also the years that may have stoked the fires of your interest, curiosity, and enthusiasm for books. Maybe they were the years that put you off reading until adulthood.
Whether learning to read was a slog or a breeze, there’s no denying the impact that our formative reading experiences have on our relationship to reading now.
We’ve been discussing our bookish memories of back in the day and it has been a lot of fun indulging in some classic school nostalgia.
My first school book memories are from infant school- the feeling of the rough carpet tiles, and the little bottle of milk and the paper straw…
One of the first books that was magically brought to life by being read aloud was James and the Giant Peach, with the lovely teacher showing us the real magic seeds in a paper bag… The same teacher also demonstrated how Flat Stanley fitted in an envelope with a paper cut-out, and of course we were all transfixed.
Secondary school reading brought more, ahem, varied approaches! We were treated to a full academic year of nuclear apocalypse reading by way of Z for Zachariah and When the Wind Blows by one teacher, and another extremely dreary term with David Copperfield, which put me off Dickens for years.
Teachers can have such an influence on children’s experience of reading and have the power to bring books to life or put potential readers off for life. One of the teachers I admired the most had us turn the tables on their sides to create ‘trenches’ and roar the battle speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V at the tops of our lungs, and in doing so opened my mind to the power of speaking words aloud, as opposed to reading in my head. As the school was rather more conservative than her teaching style, she found herself very rapidly stopped from teaching so exuberantly again, but I can still recite that speech.
I can remember the Oxford Reading Tree Biff, Chip and Kipper books, of course, written by Roderick Hunt. They were the first stories that I recall reading properly. Then there were the One, Two, Three and Away! stragglers from the 1960s, brown covers, stained pages and the like!
The Scholastic school book fairs, reading challenges and visiting the library at the end of the day also spring to mind as influential experiences. I remember a particularly exciting year discovering The Worst Witch waiting patiently to be picked up from the trestle table.
The Horrible Histories series, created by Terry Deary triggered my minor obsession with all things Egyptian! Gods, canopic jars, scarab beetles- I loved it all! Any factual books that had a cross-section, a moat, a map, or volcano was always going to grab my attention and I enjoyed soaking up all the interesting facts in an engaging and accessible way.
I grew up with two older siblings with varied reading tastes. In particular, I recall inheriting many Point Horror titles and random Babysitters Club instalments. Sometimes I found myself reading things that were probably a bit too old for me. One year I felt particularly traumatised by the Jacqueline Wilson Girls in Love series (-they were fantastic, just a lot to process in my young brain!).
I think most of us still have the excited school pupil within us every time an author we love publishes a new book, or we find a hidden gem in a bookshop. It’s so interesting to think about how those earlier years informed our future preferences. Where would little Liv be now if she hadn’t listened to Mr. Gibbs reading aloud Anne Fine’s wonderful Bill’s New Frock? Or if I had never stumbled across Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli? So many books provided not only a form of entertainment, but also a small window into the lives of others’ and I’ll always be thankful for a well-stocked library and teachers and parents who encouraged me to read.
I remember getting those book club magazines at school…a paper booklet, it may have been The Scholastic Book Club but I’m not 100% sure of the name.
It would have pages of pictures of new books to choose from. Your mum would fill in the order form on the back page and you’d give it back to your teacher with a cheque for payment. I remember me and my friends always choosing the latest Goosebumps book, and you’d usually get a free gift like a matching bookmark or something. I remember the excitement of when the orders finally came in and the anticipation of the teacher handing out the books at home time, then getting home and being told not to read it all in one night!
How quickly has September come around again? It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, but this time of year always makes me feel like I should be getting my bag ready with bits of new stationery and putting new school shoes on. I’ve always loved books and thinking of school brings back fond memories of being read to, going to book fairs and picking out books to read from the school library. Like the Worst Witch books, which I flew through.
I remember loving the Percy the Park Keeper books along with Beatrix Potter’s stories. We had a whole collection of Winnie the Pooh books at home, which were read to us all at nighttime. During the school day, we also had books read to us and the two that really stick out to me- even now- are The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier and Skellig by David Almond . A couple of my friends and I used to swap books quite often and we quickly got through the Judy Moody books and the Alex Rider books as they came out.
I wasn’t a big reader as a child, I was very slow at it, and it made every book feel difficult and a slog. It was only towards the latter half of primary school that I really started to enjoy it and even started reading outside of school- for fun, what a wild concept! I was also heavily influenced by my very well-read family, with my older brothers having a vast collection to wade through whenever I was bored. With the likes of Jacqueline Wilson, Lemony Snicket, Horrid Henry, Famous Five and Rick Riordan being my absolute favourites (The Lightning Thief is a masterpiece, and I will not criticism on it, thank you very much.)
For me, the bulk of my childhood nostalgia with books can be linked back to my teacher reading aloud to our class. I remember the palpable excitement of us all, eagerly hanging on to to every word, trying to figure out which ingredient George was going to throw into his marvellous medicine next. Which farm was Mr. Fox going to pilfer from next, where was the BFG taking little Sophie? I was actually excited for school the next day to find out what happened next.
The whole experience opened my eyes to the wonders of reading and how an author can create a whole world behind your eyes with just a few words. We were also able to experience it together as a community, seeing how different people understand and interpret everything, how discussing it afterwards can help you see things you may not have otherwise noticed. In fairness, we were probably around eight years old, so they weren’t the most nuanced takes or most critical of analyses I’m painting them as now. It did, however, introduce us to the concept and taught us that reading can be fun.
I can still remember each of the titles and their plots in more detail than some of the books I have read this month: Goodnight Mr Tom, Silver Sword, Under the Hawthorne Tree, and I Am David, being prime examples. I firmly believe that these experiences started me on the path to reading and I know I wouldn’t have stuck with it otherwise.
The Willoughby Book Club is passionate about sharing the love of reading with children and we are proud to have played a part in the reading journey of many subscribers who have received books from us since they were babies and are now at school!
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