As schools attempt to return in this year of COVID 19 and as I was writing my previous piece for Silver Crow’s Blog (about my reading during lockdown), I began to think a lot … about how and when we actually become Readers …
I don’t mean the challenge of learning to read but when and how did reading become a key companion for us, for me and for you?
I was born in the mid-1950s in the Vale of Evesham. My parents were beginning a new life together; my dad had de-mobbed from the British army the year before and my mum was German. They had met on the army base where my dad was stationed with the occupying forces and my mum was working. Life was tough, there wasn’t much money but I know that delicious food and quality clothes were my mum’s priorities. Our house was always spick and span, the garden neat and tidy and there was definitely a routine for the family. I am the middle one of three (with an older sister and a younger brother), we had toys and our parents encouraged us to play; alone, with one another and with our friends, in the house, in the garden and in the street.
Books were few and far between until we went to school. Reading at home was the newspaper (national and local) for my dad and comics for us (passed to my dad by a fellow worker when his children had finished with them). I can’t recall my mum reading anything other than the newspapers, knitting and dress pattern instructions and her German cookery book. Our parents never read to me, or my siblings – yet they both loved reading to their grandchildren!
So when and how did I get the reading bug?
I still have three books from my early years; a secondhand book of nursery rhymes and proverbs collected and beautifully illustrated by Marjory Hood, a book of traditional stories colourfully illustrated (a gift for regular Sunday school attendance) and book of favourite television tales (including Sooty and Rag, Tag and Bobtail) which I have discovered was borrowed from a little friend and sadly never returned. All three are vividly etched in my memory, the illustrations ahead of the stories most probably because I spent hours looking at them before I could read the texts.
I loved school, from a ‘rising five’ infant to an A’ Level student (so much so that I became a teacher and taught for many years until the Hunting Raven captured me). In my mind’s eye I can clearly see, smell & feel my first reading books; Beacon Readers, Old Lob (on his farm with all of his named animals), Beacon Infant Readers (books of short stories) and of course Janet and John (my least favourite). I also have a vivid memory of the patience of my kind teacher, Mrs Halse as well as the sand tray, the water play and lying down in the afternoon if we were tired – did that really happen?
But still no books at home!
As I reached my late primary and early teenage years I began to be given annuals at Christmas: Blue Peter, Girls’ World, Bunty for Girls and Dean’s Bumper Books. I still have a random selection of these that my parents had kept and I found when my sister and I were clearing their house. From my independent reading days, I have just four much-loved books still in my possession. Mrs MacNab and the Pirates by J. G. Lockhart (printed at Butler &Tanner, Frome), Heidi by Joanna Spyri, The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith and Treasure at the Mill by Malcolm Saville. Three out of four are illustrated and all are well-thumbed – I recall reading and re-reading them until at the age of ten, I was allowed to go to the town library on my own and choose a stack of books as often as I liked – it was heaven!
Each of my teachers at Junior School read to the class daily, usually before home-time. I loved Mrs Beecham, she wasn’t my class teacher but once a week teachers swapped classes and the beautiful Mrs Beecham (blue twinkling eyes and black hair rolled into a ‘bun’ at the nape of her neck) read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to us. You could hear a pin drop as she transfixed the whole class and transported us to Narnia. My love of reading during these years was balanced equally with a loathing (and fear) of reading out loud in class. I wasn’t a confident pupil and the panic I felt as a nine-year-old remains palpable even today. Those feelings didn’t leave me until my third year of secondary school (that’s year nine for the younger readers of this blog piece). I’m not sure what changed, my mum always said that it was down to hormones and perhaps it was but two brilliant teachers came into my life at that time: Mrs Cross, my English teacher and Mr Lapidge, my Art teacher. Both were inspirational, setting light to the blue touch paper of my interests, enthusiasms and confidence for which I am ever thankful.
By the time I left Secondary School reading was a great passion. Throughout my teaching career, I was determined to encourage as many of my pupils to develop a love of books and reading as possible. Teaching in both special and mainstream primary schools I always read to my pupils daily and I know that this was much looked forward to, as I am still in touch with some of them!
Within my own family, our two daughters love books and reading – they have done so since they were babies. Ours was and is a book rich home, as are theirs now that they each have their own. Daughter number one lives in Belgium and alternates, reading a book in English and then one in French. We exchange books regularly (or did before COVID arrived), recommend and discuss books constantly. Daughter number two (in her NYC broom cupboard) reads fewer books but reads widely and more often online than in print. My husband has astounded us all – even himself! Never a great reader of books, if he managed one a year we cheered and applauded loudly! He would mostly choose printed newspapers or articles online, but this year and especially lockdown all of that has changed, he is now on book number nine. He jokes that it’s only taken him six decades to learn to read! His parents came to live and work in the Cotswolds from Sicily after WWII. He also grew up in a home devoid of books. His Catholic Primary schools were harsh. He was regularly whacked with a wooden ruler if he couldn’t read the words in a text. Secondary School was all about science and sport. Then he was diagnosed as dyslexic at university – studying Chemistry with German, a tutor spotted that he often misused letter b, d and p, which changes the meaning of some German words. He was given extra support and time in exams, and I read some of his German texts in English so that we could discuss them ahead of an assignment. He’d never written about a novel in English let alone written a critique for a German novel in German! It will be interesting to watch where his newfound discovery of reading for pleasure takes him as our daughters and I continue to cheer and applaud him.
So, using the cliché ‘life is a journey’ my life journey continues to enjoy a most treasured travel companion – the Love of Reading. I am unable to imagine not having a book on the go, a stack of books by my bedside and a book rich home. Still owning the few, precious books from my childhood, access to a local public library, some brilliant teachers and their influences, as well as my parents’ encouragement to pursue my passions, have all led to me … Becoming a Reader.
And maybe a Reader who has become a Writer could write a Blog Piece for Silver Crow about Becoming a Writer?
by Karin Campagna
© Karin Campagna 2020