Posts Tagged ‘the Secret Planet series’

Stamford Public Library and the joys of reading

July 30, 2015

libraryRe-living my early memories of Stamford Public Library, with its grand classical frontage, which overawed this small child… it was a veritable treasure-trove to which I was introduced at age seven by my mother, who realised I needed to read, and that the library was the only way of satisfying my thirst for books.

It was frustrating that I only got one ticket, which meant only one book at a time, though the library was open five or six days a week, and when my sisters were of an age to join too, they could sometimes be persuaded to choose books that I could read as well. During holidays I did go pretty nearly everyday, and would start reading my book as I walked home…

There were more books in the children’s section than I could imagine, and the great thing was the series: all the Biggles books (Capt W E Johns), all the William books (Richmal Crompton), all the Jennings books (Anthony Buckeridge), the entire Young Traveller series, the Secret Planet books which introduced me to the world of SF. And I could try out new things, too!

The library was a curious place. The first room was the Reading Room, where the daily newspapers were fixed to the wall by metal rods, and there were exotic periodicals such as The Christian Science Monitor and India News and the Jewish Chronicle – where I first came across the idea that other nations had different calendars from us – and the Daily Worker (shock horror!). This room was inhabited by various down & outs and disreputable types – or so it seemed to me at the time – who offed and blinded as they read the papers. Not sure my mother would have approved of my going in there.

You had to be silent everywhere in the library, which also contained the town museum, with all sorts of curious discoveries and artefacts. The assistants were friendly enough behind the barrier of their counter, with their array of filing trays, tickets and date stamping machines.

Why was the place so magnetic in its attraction? What else did the world have to offer children in those days? Physical sports I have always loathed, so they were out. Television – we didn’t have one, and anyway there was only an hour or children’s programming in those days. I did listen to the wireless quite a lot. That seemed to leave reading, and I was quite happy with that, and seem to have been ever since.

Children’s Books

September 26, 2014

A recent challenge on Facebook asked me to name ten books that had stayed with me. Being advanced in years, that gave me a fair bit to reflect on: The Wind in the Willows made its way into the list. And then I posted it, and carried on thinking about how and what I read as a child…

I was a voracious reader; I read my sisters’ library books as well as my own (as a family we didn’t have the money to buy many books) and ran out of books to read in the children’s section of Stamford Public Library and was given a special dispensation to use the adult library at age 11.

The first book I remember I loved was Winnie the Pooh; then came Kenneth Grahame‘s classic, which I still love, and which, incidentally, is available as a marvellous free recording from the librivox website, and a serialisation of The Borrowers in a children’s comic I read at the time. I remember reading that aloud with my own daughter some 30 years later: the omnibus volume was so long that we only got halfway through: she was a reader of her own by then. I devoured all the books in the classrooms at school: I remember the adventures of a bear called Mary Plain, that continued through lots of books, ages before Paddington became a hit. And there came boys’ books, too: the Jennings series by Anthony Buckeridge: humorous adventures at boarding school years before I actually went to one. Biggles – how many books were there? – by Captain W E Johns, and then a curious discovery of a series of novels about the ‘Secret Planet‘ which must have been what kindled a life-long love of science fiction. There was also a many-volume series called ‘The Young Traveller in (supply name of country)’ which perhaps interested me in travel, another passion which has stayed with me throughout my life. Two children – a boy and a girl, of course – and their parents travelled through a country, visiting its interesting and historic places and learning about them, meeting the inhabitants and sampling the food; all good, wholesome fare for a child, and opening his eyes to the way that people and places could be different.

At some point Sherlock Holmes came along, too, in the form of a paperback for five shillings, bought with a Christmas book token (remember those?) from a relative: again, I never looked back, as many of my students, and my own children can testify.

When our own children came along and we read to and with them, I was astonished by the much wider range of books available, and the colourfulness, too: my childhood books had been full of words, black on white, and perhaps some monochrome photographs in a centre section if I were lucky. Books encouraged my fantasies and unleashed my imagination; books showed me other worlds and other ways to be; books made me think…

I realised how early the joy of words had come to me, how many of my lifelong pleasures had been triggered during my childhood days. I had the run of a library, and was encouraged to read as much as I wanted at school, and I loved it. Books are magic.

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