It’s Six Degrees of Separation time again, and this month, we all begin with Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I read Daughter Number One’s copy of this thirty years ago, and then twenty years ago read it all over again when it was Daughter Number Two’s turn. Judy Blume was every tweenage girl’s author of choice. An issue-led author, talking about puberty, boys, periods, while at the same time telling an involving story – how could this ground-breaking author fail to be popular among young people – and their mothers?
It was so different from the books I enjoyed at roughly the same part of my childhood. And yet one I remember was also ground-breaking, in a different way. Eve Garnett’s The Family from One End Street told stories from the happy lives of the Ruggles children. But this family was exceptional at the time – they were working class! Their father was a dustman! Yet this book was first published in 1938, and has rarely been out of print since then.
My children didn’t read about the Ruggles family. But a book I, and each of them, loved for years was Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. Where would long car journeys have been without endless replayings of Johnny Morris reading The Elephant’s Child or How the Rhinoceros got his Skin?
What about more modern books we all shared together? One that stands out is Quentin Blake’s Mr. Magnolia. All of us know every word of it, and will still cheerfully chant …
Mr Magnolia has only one boot.
He has an old trumpet that goes rooty-toot –
And two lovely sisters who play on the flute –
But Mr Magnolia has only one boot.
… at the least provocation, even though it’s maybe nearly thirty years ago that we last curled up in bed together to read it with my younger daughter. Well, it’s the grandchildren’s turn now.
And we depend upon the grandchildren to keep us up with newer children’s books. Our lives would definitely be the poorer without Kes Gray and Jim Field’s Oi Frog! (and Oi Cat! Oi Dog! and all the rest …) From which we learn that …
Cats sit on mats, hares sit on chairs, mules sit on stools and gophers sit on sofas.
Tiny children, big children and adults alike can all indulge in a bit of silly word play from time to time.
Which leads me back to an old favourite, another one from my own childhood and which my children, and now five year old William is now enjoying in his turn: the Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. This adventure leads bored Milo to discover the power of words, and of numbers in the cities of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis as he meets characters such as King Azad the Unabridged, and Tock the Watchdog, while discovering that eating subtraction stew just makes you hungrier, and that while it’s very easy to jump to the island called Conclusions, it’s hard to escape.
And so to my final link, one that encompasses all these books and many more; Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: a Memoir of Childhood Reading. She’s younger than me, but she too was a bookish child. Her reading choices were my reading choices, and this book brings back memories of much loved favourites, some of which I’d forgotten about. All British bookworms should have this on their Christmas list.