“The way that you start reading as a child is the way that you will read for the rest of your life.” (Emily Howarth, interviewee)
SELCIE worked alongside the city’s Museum of Childhood to curate the Growing Up with Books. A History of Children’s Literature exhibition. This ran from the 1st of June to the 9th of December 2018 at the Museum, and displayed material from the Museum’s vast archive, with material ranging from the 18th century to the early 20th century. Growing Up with Books was designed to display snapshots of the reading interests and experiences of children across these centuries, but the SELCIE team also hoped that these books would stir the memories of those who saw the exhibition, recalling their own experiences as readers in childhood. Lois Burke, Sarah Dunnigan, Danielle Howarth, and Joanna Witkowska spoke to some of those who came along to the exhibition, and recorded these rich memories and reflections in the following series of interviews.
From a wide range of ages, countries, and backgrounds, the interviewees who agreed to share their experiences as young readers reveal the wide-ranging influence and appeal of children’s literature. Indeed, the interviews comprise an important record of the reading phenomenon which have shaped the reading experiences of children not only in Scotland but all over the world, from the Unites States and Australia to China, in living memory. From those whose libraries at home were filled with the explosion of Enid Blyton novels for children which came out in the 60’s and 70’s, to the millennial generation whose early reading was incontrovertibly shaped by the Harry Potter phenomenon, these reflections reveal the influence of children’s fiction on a broad, even global, scale. However, the interviews also reveal the significance of less well-known, perhaps more culturally specific, stories, as many of our speakers include fairy tales and annuals amongst their childhood favourites.
Time and again, the interviews emphasise reading in childhood as a shared experience, one which brings together siblings, friends, and parents and grandparents with children. We hear of, and from, mothers who have read aloud to their children, grandparents who have shared their childhood favourites with their grandchildren, siblings who fought over who got to read the next Harry Potter book first, and friends who joined together in writing their own stories. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of those who contributed their testimonies here went on to have careers in education, and speak of how they share their love of reading with the children they teach.
Each interviewee reflects upon these memories with fondness, telling of the happiness which reading brought to their childhood, and indeed their adult years. Growing up with books, they explain, inspires a life-long love for the written word and storytelling, and, in many cases, imparts values integral to survival in the adult world. As one of our interviewees, Emily Howarth, so eloquently puts it, “The way that you start reading as a child is the way that you will read for the rest of your life.”
Interview 1 – Emily Howarth
Emily discusses her early experiences as a reader, recalling her earliest encounter with reading in Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham and her teenage years growing up with Harry Potter. She draws attention to the ways in which her experiences as a young reader have shaped and structured her life as an adult, inspiring creativity and teaching her how to live in and engage with the world.
Interview 2 – Sze-Man Chan
Sze-Man tells us about her reaction to the Growing Up with Books exhibition, and of her favourite book as a young reader, Alice in Wonderland. She recalls the ways in which her love of the book led her to watch the film adaptations and collect toy memorabilia, and reflects upon the ways in which it shaped her understanding of British culture.
Interview 3 – Maureen Whiteman
Maureen Whiteman tells us about her reaction to the Growing Up with Books exhibition, and shares with us her love of reading as a child. She tells us of her earliest memories reading the children’s pages of The People’s Friend and enjoying her mother’s childhood books at her grandmother’s house, and lists her favourite books to read at home, including Eleanor M. Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School books, Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and Famous Five series, the Emma books, written by Honor Arundel and set in Edinburgh, and her personal favourite, the Jill’s Gymkhana books. Maureen reflects upon the profound influence that these books have had on her adult life as a teacher now, and speaks of the solace that returning to them bring in moments of sadness and upset.
Interview 4 – Min-Hsuan Chiang
Min Chen tells us of her early fascination with book illustrations as a young child, and her favourite childhood book, Peter Pan. She speaks of her love of adventure in the novel, and its ongoing influence in her current work as an art teacher in a nursery.
Interview 5 – Yun Sheng (Serene)
In this interview, Yun speaks a little about her early experiences as a reader growing up in Taiwan. She tells us about the novelty which she found in English nursery rhymes at pre-school, and in particular the charm and enjoyment which she found in singing these rhymes to her sister, and making up her own songs. Reading, Yun explains, gave her a freedom of imagination which she couldn’t find in television as a child, and she tells us about some of the stories which she most enjoyed.
Interview 6 – Anne Brodie
Anne Brodie speaks to us about how the Growing up with Books exhibition reminds her of the books that she read as a child growing up on the Isle of Lewis. She tells us some of her childhood favourites, in particular Enid Blyton’s much-loved Secret Seven, Famous Five, Malory Towers, and St. Clair’s series, and the immense joy which she found in getting lost in these stories, and indeed writing her own short stories. Anne speaks a little about the challenges and pleasures she has found in sharing this love for books with her own children.
Interview 7 – Clara Fidelis
Clara tells Danielle about her interest in the gendered nature of the books written for boys and girls in the Growing Up with Books exhibition, and speaks about her earliest memories of reading as she grew up in Austin, Texas. She recalls reading Dr Seuss when she was practicing English with her father, and enjoying the rhymes in her particular favourite Green Eggs and Ham. She reminisces over her enjoyment of action-driven novels such as Percy Jackson and Cherub as she grew into adolescence, and speaks about how she admired and aspired to the courage of the protagonists.
Interview 8 – Katie Couba
Katie tells Danielle and Sarah about her love for reading as a child, and her fascination as a History graduate with the older books in the Growing Up with Books exhibition. She tells SELCIE about how her particular love for Harry Potter is bound up with her memories of her family, as her mother used to read the books to her and her brother, and speaks of how her fascination with Rowling’s books has stayed with her as an adult, leading her to research the films and inspiring her to travel and see their locations first-hand. She speaks of how this has shaped her reading as an adult, as reading has continued to inspire her to travel, for example the Outlander books brought her to Scotland.
Interview 9 – Elaine Murphy
Elaine speaks to SELCIE of her great love for reading as a child, and reminisces over reading raffles at school. She tells Danielle and Sarah of her particular love for the books of Enid Blyton, and comics including the Bunty, explaining the joy which she found in anticipating and escaping in each new adventure in the books. As a mother now, she tells of how her experience of reading has changed and adapted.
Interview 10 – Linda Abela
Linda speaks of her early childhood memories of reading books such as Janet and John, and winning book prizes at school for her good attendance. She tells Danielle and Sarah of her later love for Enid Blyton as she matured, and how she has shared these books and her love for reading with her grandchildren, and reflects upon the ways in which her childhood reading has shaped her career as a teacher.
Interview 11 – Anne MacDonald
Danielle and Sarah interview Anne about her reaction to the Growing Up with Books exhibition, and love of reading as a child. Anne recalls her favourite childhood books and genres, including fairy tales, the novels of Enid Blyton, and annuals, and speaks about sharing this love for reading with her children and grandchildren.