How I love the proper books from my childhood. Rustly pages, big typeface, simple illustrations – and that unmistakable, addictive old book smell.
I’ve always been a voracious reader, and even now at the grand old age of nearly 28, I often go back and read my old favourites – it’s the literary equivalent of proper comfort food.
When you’re feeling blue, or have had bad news, or are generally just not quite yourself, there is nothing better than revisiting the old friends in the books of your childhood.
It’s nearly impossible to choose favourites from the many friends inside pages I had when I was little. But here are a few – I’d love to know if you knew them too…
Winnie-the-Pooh is maybe an obvious one, but has been part of my life almost since I was born. Dad read them to me when I was small, and he and I still buy each other Pooh-related memorabilia from trips and things. This 80th anniversary edition was a gift from him, not long after he and Mum and I had visited the real Hundred Acre Wood.
Mr Galliano’s Circus, now fairly dog-eared (this is a seventies edition) is one of my all time favourite books. I was captivated by the circus, the sparkly costumes, the animals and life on the move. My burlesque and photographer alter-ego Lotta Fiero takes half her name from circus-girl Lotta from these stories – my way of honouring the impact it’s had on my life.
Swallows and Amazons is the other series that has followed me throughout my life. It’s a firm ambition to go and learn to sail on Coniston or the Broads, and follow in their footsteps. I devoured the entire series as a child (and had a shock, on picking this one up to read a couple of weeks back, to realise that it’s more than twenty years since I first got to know Nancy and the rest…) and I regularly re-read them all in order.
Malory Towers, the Chronicles of Narnia, The Indian in the Cupboard and Why The Whales came – there’s no real pattern to this, but oh, how I loved them all. I wanted to be at that clifftop Cornish boarding school with all my little eight year old heart. I look hopefully into every old wardrobe I come across in case it’s an entrance to Narnia. I used to dream of having a tiny, live toy horse and being able to gallop around the house and garden on him.
Why the whales came is cheating a little – though it’s certainly a children’s book and one that I adore, I only came across it when I was fifteen or so, when my first boyfriend told me he had loved it as a child. It contains narwhals, which I always think are underwater unicorns, so I read it and was hooked.
And finally Puzzle Island. I don’t know anyone else who remembers this book, but it was big and square, and had beautifully written riddles next to incredible pictures. You had to find the hidden animals in the pictures, solve the riddles and eventually at the end of the book, you discovered a secret. Can you see the lion and the otter in the picture above? I remember spending literally hours poring over this book, even once I knew all the answers – I was hypnotised by it.
These are the books which have followed me into adulthood, the books that have helped to shape my passions and interests and ambitions. These are the books I go back to again and again to remember how it felt back then, to reset myself when adulthood gets on top of me. And these, to me, are the essence of the magic of reading.
What did you read when you were younger? Do you still have them now? Do you still read them or are they just keepsakes?