My father, sitting on my bed, was the first person I recall reading to me but my mother would have fulfilled the role when work took my father away from home, which it did frequently. I enjoyed bed time routine and the rituals our family maintained as we moved every few years from one place to the next. The routine provided stability and bed times meant story time and one on one time with my father.
Being able to read and write are the rudimentary building blocks of education and it was uncommon in our classroom, of the 1960 – 1970s, for any child not to have a level of skill to enable them to learn. As part of our English curriculum from the earliest classes up to the final year in school, comprehension tests were a weekly occurrence, ensuring that each child understood what was being read as well as knowing how to interpret complex plots and becoming au fait with the nuances of poetry.
When Golden Books became affordable to the masses it opened the door to good quality printed books while remaining beautifully presented.. The small bookcase by my bed was a storehouse of packed wonder and adventure as I spent time with the Folk of the Faraway Tree, Noddy and Big Ears, The Pokey Little Puppy, Old MacDonald before moving on to the raucous ventures of the Famous Five and Nancy Drew.
As I grew up my tastes changed in line with my scheduled out-of-school activities that included horse riding and ballet. So it was that I read Black Beauty which introduced me to stories about animals. Classics like White Fang and Call of the Wild were favourites as were the books about the Sadler Wells Ballet school. Of course the Pollyanna series followed as did the Heidi books, all of which I loved.
Readers of QP will know that my single biggest gratitude is the education my parents were able to afford to give me. As with most elements of childhood, it was something I came to treasure and embrace only in adulthood when the advantages became more apparent. My love of reading is shared by my brother who was nurtured in bookish ways alongside myself. As he was into Zane Grey and Andy Capp I was engrossed in girly equivalents which included the St Trinnian’s Girls’ School capers which were later made into black and white films that were screened on Saturday nights at boarding school.
My parents’ influence was profound. Both read avidly and the process of reading a book was not complete without a discussion with someone who had also read the book. My mother belonged to a book club which, in my observations, involved drinking lots of tea and eating cake, although I am sure there was as much discussion about the book of the month. Most times my father returned home from his travels, I received new books; books available neither in Kenya nor South Africa at the time.
There were just two years I spent in day school, the other years I was a boarder. During those two years and then in school holidays, when my father was home at weekends we visited the Johannesburg Library. I learned to read the library catalogues, large printed volumes and then find the book I was searching for by its unique number.
Every floor housed books with entire rooms dedicated to Encyclopaedias and research tables for students and interested citizens to mull and ponder the large tomes of history. Library etiquette was rigorous and enforced to the extent that I learned to wear soft-soled shoes; clunking shoes on the parquet flooring was a no-no, as was talking or whispering too often (this included the ubiquitous sibling hissing at my brother when he accompanied us).
There came a time when I was old enough to find my own library books which meant I could roll the floor to ceiling ladders along their runners and climb to the shelf identified by the catalogue where I would find the book. We were allowed four books out at a time and once the library card had been stamped with the return date and replaced in the pocket inside the back cover, we were free to leave the library.
Reading introduced me to new words so the link between building vocabulary and pleasure were instilled at an early age, naturally spelling became a favourite part of English studies. Each year a classic work was selected as part of the English curriculum but by the time the first term started I had read the work and was fully versed in its contents. It made understanding the details and bits the teachers wanted us focus on so much easier to grasp. I think reading from an early age also contributed to greater linguistic abilities as I grew up and now I enjoy being a competent oral communicator as well as having good writing skills.
My brother and I remain prolific readers although nowadays we tend towards academic and how to books rather than works of fiction. Generally that is, because at the moment I am enjoying a novel by Colleen McCullouch called Tim; I can’t put it down, unless of course it is to blog.