Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sweet Dreams are Made of These

Do you have a favourite book from your childhood?

My book memories are very precious. I still recall the smell of my first library in our old suburban School of Arts building in Sydney. The musty yet delightful smell of yellowing pages, dust motes dancing in stray sunbeams that pierced dingy windows, and the wobbly wart on the elderly librarian's chin. Or perhaps I'm making that last part up.

We didn't go to the library often enough to satisfy my voracious reading habit, but luckily, my next door neighbour let me borrow Milly Molly Mandy and other delights. I could read before I went to school, but in the Infants, I practised reading with "readers" called The Open Road and Travelling On. There were great stories, pictures and poems. I remember we had to read aloud from student to student, and I marked my place with my wooden ruler that showed timbers from New Zealand.

Later, in primary school, I enjoyed Simon Black in Space, Children of the Dark People, and other cloth covered books. But I think school reading was more what the teacher told me to do at school, and not particularly related to my reading ability. At home, I started to receive books as birthday gifts. I guarantee I read Robinson Crusoe, Heidi, one Bobbsey Twins book about eating ice cream made from snow, and Pollyanna, all at least fifty times each.

But my very favourite book of all was Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss. When I look at the formal style of writing and difficult vocabulary, I am amazed it enthralled my sub-teen self. But enthrall it did. I must have read it one hundred times, and my dreams revolved around shipwrecks, and boa contrictors swallowing donkeys. As an adult, I recall discovering the variety of animals and plants in the novel could not possibly have existed in one location. It didn't matter. The book took me to a world so exotic, so full of adventure, that I left my life in the suburbs and became a heroine, helping others survive against all odds.

Do you have a favourite book from your childhood? What memory stands out for you?

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