by Suzanne Hemming
To celebrate International Children's Book Day we asked Suzanne Hemming about her favourite children's book
I’ve been asked a few times recently, "What was your favourite book when you were younger?" I’ve been wracking my brain to think about what books I enjoyed when I was my daughter’s age (5) and I must admit, I don’t have any memory of this!*
Few of us have many memories before the age of about 3 or 4, and they say the phenomenon known as ‘childhood amnesia’ means that it’s really from the age of about 7, that our memories are likely to stay with us into adulthood. This might explain why when I think of books from my childhood, I think of The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, The Faraway Tree series (all by Enid Blyton of course), books that I remember actually reading to myself. I think of Mallory Towers, What Katy Did (what did she do? I can’t actually remember that bit in detail!), and books where you chose the story yourself by answering questions and having to turn to a certain page (what were those called?!).
As I got older the inner romantic in me was fed by Sweet Valley High (probably around the same time that I wanted to be American), and my early teenage years brought Judy Blume and her honesty (not brought to me via the (Catholic) school library though, where Ms Blume and Ralph were banned**).
So even though I don’t remember what books I enjoyed as a younger child, reading in those early days with my parents, obviously had an impact as I do remember how much I loved it once I could read on my own. Hours spent devouring stories, wanting to get the next one in the series as soon as possible.
Reading after lights out with a torch under the covers. Missing characters when a book was finished, oh but the joy of discovering new ones in new stories.
Thinking about how I don’t remember what I had read to me as a young child, made me realise that my daughter Thea won’t remember what we read together now, when she’s older. Which does make me a bit sad to be honest. Her shelves are filled with, amongst others, Julia Donaldson (I think my favourite is still Monkey Puzzle, though Zog is a close second), and the day we discovered Rosie Revere, Engineer was the day we both fell in love with Andrea Beaty’s wonderful rhymes and David Roberts’ amazing illustrations.
What a shame she won’t remember the hours we sit on the sofa, or in bed reading these fabulous stories; or recall the delight we feel as she’s now learning to read, and can read a sentence here and there (which of course makes for a much longer bedtime!). But I know that this will lay down a foundation for a love of books and stories, that will (I hope!) stay with her into adulthood.
* I spoke to my mum and apparently she was reading Ladybird books to me when I was 6 weeks old!
** for anyone who doesn’t know why a school library in the 80s would ban Judy Blume and Ralph, just ask Google!