Remember the Bournvita Quiz contest with Derek O’ Brien with its jingle that went ‘Ba-ba-luba-ba-ba-books-books-BOOKS!’?
Much of a person’s attitude to reading depends on the books they’ve experienced, especially early in life. I was fortunate enough to meet a number of stories, early in my childhood. I think the best thing my parents ever did for me was to surround me with a lot of books. They opened up my mind, shaped my thinking and in general, made me a
I’m sharing ten of my most cherished memories from childhood reading in my first post over at Friends of Books. If you’ve loved books too or have a child who does, leave a comment telling me about your favorite books too!
A Sultan believing that all women are unfaithful, takes a new wife each night and has her executed the following morning. One of these wives, is Scheherazade, the daughter of his Vazir, who offers to entertain him by telling him a story. Her tale intrigues him enough to pardon her for another night,provided she has another story to tell. And thus begins a ritual where each story buys Scheherazade another day of life. When she finally runs out of stories, nearly three years later, the Sultan pardons her and installs her as his queen. Scheherazade’s stories are compiled as Alif Laila, more popularly known as the Arabian Nights. The collection includes classics like Ali Baba, Aladdin and Sindbad. I was also intrigued by stories of the wise Caliph of Baghdad, simple-minded Abu Sir and his greedy friend Abu Kir and several others. Any child really should be introduced to the colourful, exotic world of the Arabian Nights.
I received this short story collection as a gift and I assumed that it had been given to me as ‘meaningful reading’. So I was pleasantly surprised to find it full of nuggets like ‘How the leopard got his spots’, ‘How the camel got his hump’, ‘How the alphabet was made’ and ‘The butterfly that stamped’. What’s more, the book was interspersed with beautiful illustrations of the stories. Each picture was accompanied by a caption, half a page long, which described the picture but also a conspiratorial note from the author on why he drew it in a certain way, what he was thinking and where the pencil slipped, causing mistakes. This last will tickle children who are constantly dodging the perfect world of adult admonitions to ‘stay within the lines’.
Upendrakishore Roychoudhury created the tale of two struggling musicians, ostracized because their music annoys everyone else to distraction. Goopy Gyne and Bagha Byne, have since crept into contemporary folklore through songs and dramatic enactments of their stories. Roychoudhury’s vibrant story was later made into a film by his grandson, the noted film-maker, Satyajit Ray. I found an English translation of this book, well into my adult years but I immensely enjoyed
meeting Goopy and Bagha.
R K Narayan’s tales of a quaint, fictitious little town called Malgudi situated on the banks of the Cauvery river have charmed Indian audiences for many years. Those who grew up in the 80s will remember the television series based on Malgudi Days (featuring Anant Nag). Swami, one of the most popular characters of R K Narayan’s quaint universe, is a 10-year-old boy growing up in British Raj India. He dodges bullies in the school playground, leaves a special offering to God before his examinations, listens to his grandmother’s stories and tries to avoid school and his father’s scolding. Even with the historical setting, Swami’s endearing antics make his stories relatable and thoroughly enjoyable.
A serious Badger, an earnest Mole, a laidback Rat and a troublesome but lovable Toad are the four characters that make up this funny story of friends. Toad is the richest of the four and most inclined to fall into problems but never learn from them. The other three embark on a quest, led by Badger, to reform Toad of his bratty ways. It’s usually a young children’s book that uses animals as key characters. However the characters, their relationships, conversations and the episodes in their lives are so human that this story is extremely relatable, not to mention entertaining for much older readers.
From the Swiss Alps, comes the story of Heidi, a five-year-old girl left in the care of her gruff grandfather. The early chapters of Heidi depict rural life as seen through the eyes of a child. Later, Heidi is taken to Frankfurt to be a companion to a rich, crippled girl called Klara. Heidi grows to love Klara but struggles with the city life, so different from her past. Eventually she returns to her home, her grandfather and her shepherd friend, Peter. Heidi is a simple tale of childhood, of friendship, of fear and loss. The beautiful descriptions of the mountains of Switzerland and the bustle of European cities leave the reader spellbound.
Whether you read this in original or an abridged pocket book (like I did), Tom Sawyer’s antics will appeal to the little rascal in every one of us. The most famous anecdote in this young scamp’s story involves Tom convincing other boys to pay him (in sweets, marbles, knobs, dead insects and other objects of strange curiosity to the boy-child) for the honor of doing his chores – painting the house fence. Tom is constantly in trouble with his strict (and harried) aunt, resents his good-boy brother, falls in love with the new girl in town, defies the town convention by befriending social outcast Huckleberry Finn (who has a book of his own), fakes his death and does everything and anything that a naughty boy possibly could.
Judy Blume writes some of the most popular books for young people today. Her stories are set in urban/suburban America but have a certain universal appeal because the stories are about sibling rivalry, playground bullies, school problems and adolescent friendships. Peter Warren is the narrator of all the ‘Fudge’ books. In Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing, we meet nine-year-old Peter who lives in New York City with his parents and his younger brother ‘Fudge’ (who Peter says is his biggest problem). Fudge swallows Peter’s turtle, ruins his school project, misbehaves in public and embarrasses Peter. Anybody who has ever had a sibling will relate to Peter’s troubles and love how he approaches life.
I met Pippi in an excerpt in the Childcraft books. I must have been roughly nine (Pippi’s age) and my mind was instantly filled with visions of living in a mansion by myself and having a horse on the back porch just like the young heroine herself. Pippi loses her mother at birth and then her father, a ship captain is lost at sea. He leaves her a suitcase full of gold coins, a monkey named Mr.Nelson and shoes twice her size, for her to grow into. Pippi is also the strongest girl in the world so she can lift her horse into the dining room when she feels like company, defeat the strong man in the circus and do many other wonderful things. But Pippi having spent most of her life at sea, is unfamiliar with local norms and social customs. A comedy of errors ensues; her adventures followed by her neighbors Tommy and Anika. The high-spirited Pippi is part super heroine and part comic relief in her own story which will appeal to young readers of both sexes.
My sole saving grace about the start of school, was a new English textbook. Among the many memorable stories, I was captivated by a young artist who drew a picture of a elephant inside a boa constrictor, which was mistaken for a hat by the adults. Years later, I worked with the college magazine. Its editor, the Literature professor gifted me this book for my efforts. When I turned the page, sure enough there was the picture of the elephant within a boa constrictor. In the story, the child artist becomes a pilot who, on crashing into a desert, meets a solemn lad who demands that he draw him a sheep. The Little Prince goes on to regale the author with stories of his own life on a tiny planet with three volcanoes (which he cleans out meticulously every day), baobab trees and a single rose. The Little Prince is a class fairytale, layered with many meanings. Read it as a child and enjoy the sunset world of the Prince. Or read it as an adult when you need a little perspective on life, love and inspiration.