Books have always been a great part of my life – there isn’t a room in our house without heaving bookcases or piles of books in corners. Even after a devastating fire eleven years ago, instead of books going to the tip they were relegated to the garage in boxes to be pored over at a later date.
I had a privileged childhood; with two loving parents and two much older sisters there was always someone to read to me or be read to. One of my main childhood Christmas memories was to waken in the early hours and feel in my pillowcase for any books Santa may have brought, then spend the next however many hours reading them. I have to admit that I never really liked Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass, but I still clearly recollect the Christmas morning I sat in bed – freezing cold – reading the large double volume which was a gift from my Auntie Doris.
Little Black Sambo
When the Editor suggested I write an article for the Webmag, the first book which sprang to mind was one which I loved, although these days it would be totally politically incorrect – Little Black Sambo. Having retrieved it from the garage I see it is like me, almost an antique – given to me by my Godmother for Christmas 1951.
Reading it again all these years later I really cannot understand its appeal. The story is of Little Black Sambo whose mother, Black Mumbo, and father, Black Jumbo, gave him a set of clothes and an umbrella and he went for a walk in the jungle! On his travels he met a number of tigers each of which accepted articles of clothing instead of eating him up…. Eventually he observes that the tigers have met each other and are squabbling over who is the grandest. They shed their trophy clothes and chase each other round a tree until they melt!! Little Black Sambo retrieves his clothes and returns home. Black Jumbo, returning from work finds the melted tigers which are now ‘ghi’ as melted butter is called in India. He collects it in a large brass pot he happened to be carrying and takes it home for Black Mumbo to use for frying 251 pancakes for their tea….
Interestingly, my forty-year-old daughter popped in and saw Little Black Sambo on the computer desk and whooped for joy. This book had been one of her favourites and she and her husband had been looking on the internet for a copy – now no need, since I am instructed to leave it to her in my will.
The previous Christmas a student nurse colleague of my sister gave me My Puppy Book. This is unusual because it is printed on black paper with glorious coloured illustrations and the text is in couplets. It is the description of the things which the puppy enjoys and who he meets during his daily activities such as the “lazy turtle slowly walking past”. Looking through this book again after so many years it occurred to me that it could be the reason I love pussy willow in the spring. There is a beautiful drawing of pussy willow with some of the willow heads depicted as tiny fluffy kittens – ahhhh!
Two more books have to be in my favourite category are Pookie in Search of a Home and Stripey to the Rescue. I group these two together as they were written by the same author, Ivy Wallace, and although totally different, both in size and content, Pookie appears towards the end of Stripey as an introduction to “another story”.
Stripey is one of a number of soft toys which get lost and have adventures in a circus before being rescued and eventually finding their way back home. Pookie is the most adorable fluffy white rabbit who can fly. The illustrations in this book are a child’s dream – so full of colour and detail of all the little forest creatures and elves in Bluebell Wood. Pookie belongs to a little girl called Belinda whom we never actually see but is mentioned throughout.
This book is dated 1951, so I assume it will have been a gift to me around that year. Happily I notice that unlike so many of today’s children’s books, which are printed in China and other parts of the globe, it gave me a warm glow to see this was actually printed in Leeds, less than three miles from where we have lived for thirty-odd years.
Finally my very favourite book A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Hilda Boswell. Unfortunately, I cannot find my original copy although I know it is safely tucked away somewhere in an extremely tatty condition with every page held to the next with sticky tape. Most important to me is that the younger of my two elder sisters, who has always been artistic, drew a pencil portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson on the blank page at the front of the book.
Because the original was so worn with enjoyment, I bought a modern hard back full colour copy for our own daughters. I regret to say it is still in good condition! Whether this means they didn’t enjoy it as much as I did, or just took much better care of it I don’t know. There are over 60 poems in the book – some are only four lines; some run to several pages – all wonderfully descriptive.
This exercise has brought home the effect that books have on a young mind. I wonder whether the more modern books which we have read to our grandchildren will remain with them.
Bannerman, Helen (1899) The Story of Little Black Sambo
Chatto & Windus
Morey, Sheena (Date unknown ) My Puppy Book
Illustrated by Kippey
Childhood Publications Ltd.
Wallace, Ivy L. (1951) Pookie in Search of a Home
Wallace, Ivy L. (1948) Stripey to the Rescue
Stevenson, Robert Louis (1885) A Child’s Garden of Verses