For the love of reading

When we were children we didn’t watch much TV. It’s not that there weren’t things to watch, and believe me, I really wanted to watch them, but the rules in our house were strict. We watched Sesame Street and Playschool. And even Sesame Street was a bit suspect. Mum didn’t much like the way my sister picked up an American accent but maybe it was a harbinger of things to come – my sister lives in LA now!

Last night I was remembering Playschool, the Playschool of my childhood. I remember Big Ted and Little Ted (the teddy bears), Hambel and Jemima (the dolls – one hard bodied and one rag doll) and Humpty. You can buy them now – imitations of the originals – but it doesn’t make sense to do that. I always thought the point was that we were encouraged to work with what we had, any old toy would do, you needed to use your imagination.

One of the props with a great amount of romance attached to it was The Useful Box. It was a hamper with toilet rolls in it, and pieces of wool, and cereal boxes and empty juice bottles. And they made such wonderful things out of this rubbish. I was always in awe. If I just had a useful box, I knew I could be good at craft! I just could! But, no useful box was forthcoming at our house and therefore no craft ability. (I know now, it wasn’t the useful box that was lacking).

I always wanted to go through the arched window. The round and square windows were too boring. (I’m sure everyone knows this, but just in case, you went through a window to see what was going on in the world – they would fade into a video clip of some sort, showing us what a bread factory looks like or some such thing). Not sure what I thought of the actual video clips, I can’t remember any of them.

But the best thing, the absolute best thing was the Rocket Clock (the flower clock was just lame) and what came after – the story! Benita, or Noni, or John would sit in that red wooden chair and hold the book just so, so that you could see the pictures. They would point them out, ‘The dog said ‘woof’ can you all see the dog there?’ and they would read us a story. As I grew up and learned to read I remember setting myself up in a chair, turning the book around so that the imaginary kids could see, and reading the story just the same. I loved the sound that the pages made when they turned, I loved the beautiful diction of the presenters, and I really loved how at the end the presenter would close the book, put it in their lap, and say, ‘And that’s the end of the story’.

I would get a big kick when I went to the library and found one of the books that had been read on Playschool. I remember well ‘John Brown, Rose, and the Midnight Cat’. Such romance! Such an amazing title!

When I got to primary school I was blessed with an amazing librarian, Mrs Dean. She would read Roald Dahl to us, and the Narnia series, so many good books. She had the most amazing way of reading out loud. We were all enthralled, sitting there on the floor in the library in the reading pit (it had carpeted stairs around two edges for us to sit on). We didn’t need pictures and she did the voices so well!

Our family had books on tape too. We had a particular recording of Winnie the Pooh and nothing I have heard since holds a candle to it. My Winnie the Pooh has a very low grumbly growly voice – not the high pitched Disney voice. They’re just wrong! I’m right! (And I wish I knew who the reader was now.)

At age twelve my family moved to Hawaii for a year. We were home schooled. Before you get all excited, we lived on the rainy side of the big island – it wasn’t the paradise you expect. It once rained for four weeks straight. OK not quite four weeks, it lightened up for two days in the middle but for the rest of the four weeks it was a torrential downpour. Songs were written about it.

Anyway, one of the best things about our time in Hawaii was that my father read The Lord of the Rings trilogy to us. Each night we kids would curl up on Mum and Dad’s bed and Dad would read us a chapter. We all cried together when Gandalf died, we all toiled through Mordor with Frodo and Sam. It was amazing! (I tried it with my own kids but life here is too interesting and my kids had much better things to do than listen to Tom Bombadil, so eventually I gave up. They watched the movies.)

The family reading tradition continued and I remember well one Sunday afternoon, we were reading a George MacDonald book (possibly The Princess and Curdie) and we got to a scene where a deaf mute boy was horsewhipped because the owner of the whip thought he was being insolent. It was so moving, so sad. We were all crying. Dad was crying while he read. I was calling out ‘Stop! Stop reading!’ You can imagine! But I haven’t told you yet that we were having a family picnic on the banks of Lake Burley Griffen at the time. All around us were families enjoying the lovely sunny afternoon, riding their bikes along the bike path below us, playing ball games and tossing frisbees, and there we were bawling our eyes out like we were being tortured. Hilarious.

I have so many lovely memories of books. I have read to my own children too, of course (just not the whole of LOTR). And we have got into audio books in a big way, especially when travelling. We once drove from Kingston to Burnie listening to The Silver Chair (of the Narnia series, the Focus on the Family dramatic reading, excellent). We got all the way to Burnie, having spent five hours in the car, and all four of us sat for another 20 minutes in the car, outside our friends’ place, because we had to hear it all the way to the end.

There is such a richness in books, such variety, and it’s such a joy to be able to read. I am so grateful for the time that others have spent reading and writing so that I can mine the riches of their imaginations, enter their worlds, see their memories.  I am grateful for those who have read to me and have instilled the love of reading in me. And, yes, I’m even grateful to my parents for limiting my TV viewing! I might go and read something now – the books are calling to me!

What’s your favourite read? What are you reading now? What do you recommend? Leave me a comment and let me know!

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