BOOKS FOR CHILDREN – Discovering infinite possibilities

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words | Polly Lavarello 

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What are your most enduring childhood memories? For me, holidays, birthdays and funny pranks (usually gone wrong) all feature strongly, but there is one thread that runs through them all. A memory that grew and developed with me – books! From bedtime stories to novels I read by myself. The different books I read over my childhood shaped and framed the world I saw around me.

One of my fondest memories is peeking my head over the top of my bunk bed while my brother lay in the bunk below, both of us enjoying being read to by my father. As a trained actor, he never let us down, reading each character with a colourful array of accents and tones. At one time, he even made up his own story for us, “Polly and the magic guitar”.

Books are so much more than the time in which you spend reading or listening to them. We had many picnics in “forests” on the hunt for A.A. Milnes famous “Pooh Bear”. My brother and I wasted a roll of film trying to capture a picture of him “flying” off the sofa after reading J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan”. I struck up a close friendship which still endures today over a mutual appreciation for Philip Ridley’s quirky children’s books. Much to my mother’s horror, I also found myself being the owner of a real life “Templeton” the rat after reading Dick King-Smith’s “Charlotte’s Web”. And yes, I finally was the proud owner of a guitar (but unfortunately it wasn’t magical, certainly if my playing skills were anything to go by).

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As I started to navigate the rocky journey of my teens, books like “Junk” by Melvin Burgess communicated to me the perils of drug-taking on a level which my parents or teachers would have never been able to reach me. I also developed a strong passion for learning about history through reading engaging books like “Elizabeth: The struggle for the throne” by David Starkey. I had a gentle introduction to the great philosophers when I read “Sophie’s World” by Jostein Gaarder, which lead onto me making the decision to study Philosophy A level.

These are just a handful of examples. While bookstores rapidly close their doors due to the rise of the e-readers, children’s book sales continue to do well. Simply because there is no substitute for the tactile enjoyment of a bright children’s book. A pleasure which involves all the senses.

Before my first child was born, I had already collected most of my childhood favourites and eagerly read them to her before she could even see straight. Now she is a toddler, watching the pleasure she derives from books is such a joy. As a Mother to two, it allows me precious one on one time with her and I love it that we can now interact over them.

It doesn’t take much thought to understand why an enjoyment of reading is so integral to learning. Books open our children and adult minds to new ways of thinking. Imagination is the driving force of ideas and progress. Books educate and inspire. They can teach empathy, encourage passion, unlock parts of your mind and touch feelings you were previously unaware of.

In celebration of Gibraltar Literary Festival which starts later this month, I asked the question: “Among books that you have read as a child or a teen, which had the largest impact or influence and why?”

Ashley Henwood, owner of online children’s bookstore “The Storyteller Gibraltar” has fond memories of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson. “It’s one of those books that I can reread over and over again, and still get completely lost in the plot. The marvellous Misselthwaite Manor, the beautiful moors, and above all, the secret garden the children discover; every single aspect had me yearning for the English countryside as a child.”

The novel has influenced Ashley’s attitude to life. “There’s the wonderful recurring theme throughout the book that happiness and positivity can get you anywhere and anything. It’s a simple notion, but one that’s stuck with me and which I try to adhere to. Now, all I need is a dusty old Manor to call my own and my life is complete!”

Enid Blyton introduced Anna Bogie, Children’s Book Author, to a love of reading “The Magic Faraway Tree holds a big place in my heart; it was enchanting, fun and full of quirky adventures. I read this book again and again, hiding under my duvet with a torch, it definitely led me to a love of reading.” the_gibraltar_magazine_october_2016-photos_page_097_image_0001

Anna discovered the world of adult fiction when she was 16 and read “Birdsong” by Sebastian Faulks. “It made a big impact on me as it was powerful, thought provoking and moving but it was also the first book I read as a teenager that wasn’t aimed specifically at teens. My eyes were opened to a whole new world of books that I could read.”

Jackie Anderson, Freelance Writer and award winning Poet shared “I was a prolific reader as a child and am an avid reader now. So what to pick? “The Secret Seven” had me nosing for mysteries in nooks and crannies of the Rock. The “Malory Towers” series probably warped my expectations of secondary education but spoke to me about friendship and loyalty. “Wuthering Heights” and “Jayne Eyre” inflamed my sense of feminist and class outrage in my turbulent teens and Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” fortunately put me off hallucinogenic drugs before I got as far as university.

But tucked somewhere between “Heidi” and “David Copperfield” came the epic “Lord of the Rings”.

“Lord of the Rings” was a doorway into new worlds; worlds of infinite possibilities. It opened my eyes to a myriad of peoples and races with their mix of attributes and flaws – if, in the world of imagination, this was acceptable, then surely, it is not so strange to accept differences in real life? It spoke of the universal conflict between good and evil.

It was this book that sparked off the longing to create my own imaginary worlds and to write their stories. As a writer, “Lord of the Rings” taught me about the complexities of plot and subplot, characters, tension, texture, layers, about words and their musicality, their magic, their powers to create, to transport, to transform.”

Never has there been a better opportunity to discover great writing, or be introduced to celebrated authors. With a line-up of well-known names, (I’m particularly excited about Maureen Lipman, Louis de Bernieres, Anthony Worrall Thompson, Christopher Lloyd, Tony Hawks and Sue MacGregor). Gibraltar Literary Festival is bringing over exciting speakers as well as celebrating homegrown talent on the Rock. Don’t miss this chance to create some wonderful memories. After all, this Festival is more than books and authors. It’s dreams, ambitions, experiences, comedy, tragedy and so much more.

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