I’ve always been a bookworm. I learnt to read before I started school, and today, words are both my career and my hobby. To me, the greatest thing about reading is that it means I never have to be bored, even if I don’t have a book to hand. I’ll read the ingredients list on the bottle of tomato ketchup if that’s all that’s available. I may only have one bookshelf in my house, but that’s because I’m not, in general, a keeper of books. I prefer to buy (or borrow), read, and then pass on, making room for the next volume. I’d rather discover something new than revisit something I’ve read before.
The exception to this rule is children’s books. Not long after The Boy was born, my mum raided her loft and came up with a pile of books that I read as a child, and The Boy and I have been enjoying them together ever since. As a baby, he loved Peepo! by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Judith Kerr’s Mog series is a firm favourite for both of us – although I still can’t bring myself to buy Goodbye, Mog – and I love the quaint old-fashioned charm of Dogger (‘Then Bella did something very kind…’), not to mention the Lucy and Tom books (naturally). Then there are the oddities and antiquities, such as a quirky 1970s Japanese book called Our Best Friends, given to me by my grandparents on my first birthday and still going strong.
Now that The Boy is a bit older, we’ve started reading chapter books at bedtime. Yesterday, we finished another childhood favourite of mine: Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat, by Ursula Moray Williams. It sounds incredibly dated now, and breathtakingly un-PC, but nevertheless, it’s been magical to rediscover it and to see it captivating The Boy just as it once enthralled me. He was almost in tears when he thought that Gobbolino was going to be cooked to death in the witch’s cauldron – we had to read an extra chapter to reassure him – and soppy so-and-so that I am, even I had a lump in my throat as we got to the final chapter and the hero finally got his wish: to become a kitchen cat.
Of course, The Boy’s bookshelves are well populated with modern children’s fiction as well as my tattered old storybooks. Some of these stories, no doubt, are classics in the making – anything by Julia Donaldson, for a start – and once The Boy and The Baby have outgrown them, we’ll pack them safely away in the loft for them to share with their children one day. But for me, nothing beats seeing The Boy’s reaction to the stories that I loved as a child.
Sooner or later, The Boy will no longer be satisfied by my dusty old 70s stories. I can already foresee a future filled with Horrid Henry, Bug Buddies and anything containing multiple references to poo and snot (snigger, snigger). But it doesn’t matter, because not only will Mog, Dogger et al get a second outing with The Baby, but I’ll get to revisit all my favourite girlie stories with her. I seriously cannot wait until she’s old enough for Ballet Shoes, Little Women, Heidi and the St Clare’s series.
There’s only one thing that I regret, and that’s that one of my best-loved books – Phoebe and the Hot Water Bottles by Terry Furchgott – has gone missing. My mum has turned the loft upside down, but there’s no sign of it. It’s out of print these days, and clearly, I’m not the only one who remembers it fondly, as copies sell on Ebay for a staggering £95. Part of me is sorely tempted – despite what hubby would say – to buy it for The Baby as a baptism present, as something we can enjoy together and then keep to pass on to her children, but another part of me is reluctant to shell out in case it’s not quite as good as I remember.
I keep my eyes peeled at every charity shop, fete and car boot sale that I come across, in the hope that one day, a copy of Phoebe will materialise. But for now, even though it’ll be years before The Baby is old enough to appreciate them, I’ll content myself with asking Mum to dig out my old Enid Blytons and Noel Streatfeilds – just so they’re ready, you understand…