A box of books, powerful memories, and the gift of reading
As I was rummaging through and half-heartedly attempting to sort out some boxes in our storage room one day, I pulled back the lid on one particular box and caught a glimpse of some special childhood friends. Laughing, I lifted out ‘The Best Mistake Ever’ by Richard Scarry and sank onto the floor to read. Huckle Cat, sent by his mother to the shop for butter, cream, apples, potatoes and oranges, had forgotten to take the shopping list. His friend Lowly Worm happened to be at the shop and so Huckle, on Lowly’s advice, arrived home with peanut butter, ice cream, apple pie, potato crisps and orange juice instead. Frustrated Mother Cat could see no use for party food, but quickly changed her mind with the arrival of unexpected guests.
As I read the words and perused the pictures, deep, long-buried and almost-forgotten memories bubbled up. Not one memory in particular, but a blending of all those times I stared at the illustrations and touched those thick, textured pages with my little hands.
Leafing through each book, other memories surfaced. I could almost taste the smooth purple jam on Charlie’s toast in ‘Charlie’s Be Kind Day’. The feel of the crepe-like green ribbon wrapped around Billy’s present in ‘My Week’ was almost tangible in my hand. Reading ‘Sleeping Beauty’ brought to mind the distinctive long, high-pitched creak of the door at the top of the tower in the accompanying cassette tape. Familiar senses and emotions, like long-ago childhood friends, instantly recognised despite the passage of time.
They were my friends. I’ve always loved books. I loved being read to, and when I learned to read, I read voraciously. I borrowed countless books throughout my childhood, both from the library and from my fellow-book-devouring cousin. For birthday or Christmas, my favourite present was (and still is) a new book. No matter where I went, a book was never far away, and even yet I’ll pop one into my bag if I think I might find a chance to read. Thanks to books, I’ve hardly ever known what boredom is. Instead, I’ve explored other countries and cultures, other occupations, other time periods. I’ve seen and experienced many things through the eyes of people who are very different to me.
I wonder if the teacher who taught me to read ever realised what a gift she gave me? She played a large part, as did my mother. Mum was the one who most often read to me, instilling into me a love of books from a young age. There were other influences – those who bought me books as presents. At Christmastime, one of the highlights of the season was to have Rosemary, Mum’s cousin, arrive at our house with a perfectly-chosen book for me.
I often hear it said that people aren’t reading books anymore. And, for some, that’s probably true. I have to admit that makes me sad. I understand that not everyone enjoys reading, for whatever reason. But surely there are people out there, who, if they only found their type of book, or if they were able to break free from the pull of brightly-coloured screens, would begin to enjoy the sheer pleasure of simple black letters on a page bursting into a vivid and splendid world of colour, action and emotion.
Thanks to the influence of others, my love for books began as a very small child. There are many nowadays – teachers, parents, and those who buy books for the children in their lives – who also do the same for little ones. That influence is invaluable. Be encouraged.
For when you plant a love for books in the heart of a little one, you’re giving that child a very precious gift.