From time to time I will be tempted either by a challenge or a project that someone else in the book blogging world has suggested or even one that I dream up for myself. And every time it turns out to be a mistake. Perhaps this is because I spent the best part of fifty years of my life having texts prescribed for me, sometimes because they were on the syllabus I was studying, more often, latterly, because they were on the syllabus I was teaching. Whatever the reason, the moment I feel obliged to read a book it becomes the last one in the world that I want to pick up. Not that I have anything against the idea of people devising, taking part in and completing challenges. I love the idea of the 20 Books of Summer, for example, but every time I draw up my list, books that I thought I really did want to read suddenly become toxic. Then there was my own self imposed challenge, The Years of My Life, whereby I set out to read three books from each of the years in which I had lived: one intended for children, a crime novel and a piece of literary fiction. I got as far as 1951 (and I was born in 1949!) before falling at what I suppose you would call the third hurdle when I discovered that they really weren’t any books published that year that I wanted to read; certainly not that I wanted to have to read.
So, why did I find myself, over last weekend, drawing up another list?
I think I have a number of reasons. Firstly, I’ve had a real hankering lately to go back and explore again the world of children’s literature: a world in which I spent much of my professional career but which I’ve neglected over the last dozen or so years. As a result of said hankering, a couple of weekends ago I re-read Arthur Ransome’s Pigeon Post and loved every word of it. So many happy memories were evoked and, perhaps because of the times we are living through, that was the sort of read I felt I needed at that moment. The act of re-reading was another spur. I know that readers vary widely in their reaction to the idea of re-reading. Some see it is a total waste of time, time that could be given to books that they haven’t already encountered. Others, and I would number myself among them, see it as a chance to revisit old friends, friends in whose company we already know we are comfortable. Then, there are those twelve missing years. What’s been published in the time that I have let elapse? Which directions has children’s literature taken? Are the current crop of writers as good as, even better than, the ones I remember? And mark my words, many writers of children’s literature produced works every bit as good as those aimed at an adult audience. Some of them, of course, are one and the same. Jane Gardam and Helen Dunmore have both written extensively for children and young adults. And did you know that Jane Casey, one of our leading crime writers, has also written three excellent books for teenagers?
So, as I say, last weekend saw me drawing up yet another list. This time a list of children and young adult authors whose works I would like to revisit. But, and I can’t emphasise this enough, this is not a challenge, neither is it a project, it is simply an aide memoir, so that when I feel the need I can check back, remember a particular past pleasure, and seek out a copy of the work in question.
I’m sure that if you take the time to look over the list, you will think that I’ve missed some obvious people out. There is no Roald Dahl, for example. But, with the possible exception of Danny, the Champion of the World, I really didn’t enjoy Dahl’s work and I certainly wouldn’t want to go back and re-read any of it. That would make the whole thing a chore. It would become ‘a project’. It would become ‘a challenge’. Nevertheless, if you have any suggestions to make, or if the list simply brings back memories you would like to share of your own past reading, then I would be more than happy to hear from you. How many of these authors I will get round to exploring for a second time, I have no idea. A lot, of course, will depend on just how accessible some of the books turn out to be. Children’s literature doesn’t stay in print for all that long and even some of the best received novels can prove difficult to find. Not everything has the shelf life of a Harry Potter or a Dark Materials. However, I’ve already managed to track down two or three old favourites which should be arriving over the course of the next couple of weeks. One I think some of you will remember, but the other two I’m not so sure about. One of the joys of having been so involved in the world at a professional level was getting to know authors that were not household names.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to suddenly flood the pages of this blog with reviews of children’s books. It will probably be no more than one a month. But, on days when I just feel like indulging myself I’m going to allow a saunter down memory lane and hope that while doing so I can remind some of you of the books that may well have encouraged you to become lifelong readers yourselves.