The Books of My Childhood

Last night I was thinking about buying a gift for a friend’s young child, and I thought how I didn’t want to buy clothing or toys that might not last, but something more lasting. And I got to thinking about books and how they have such a lasting impact, planting the seeds of the earliest imaginations. I started thinking about which book every child should get to read…which made me drift back to my childhood…. and these are the books I read as a young child that I can still remember to this day.

A Fish Out of Water – Helen Palmer

This is the story of a little boy who gets a goldfish, and is warned by the pet shop man not to overfeed it. And true to human nature, the urge to test it out and see what happens is too great. Alas, the goldfish is over fed, and grows and grows, until as you can see by the picture, it out grows not only his bowl, but the bath and the entire house. Great rhyming story and illustrations that capture the imagination. It struck the fear of overfeeding gold fish into me, so I guess there was a lesson there too.

The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek – Jenny Wagner

A very sweet story of the mythological Australian Bunyip. Darkish illustrations both delighted and spooked me as a child. The bunyip emerges from the creek not knowing what he is or what he looks like. He proceeds to ask a platypus, a wallaby, an emu, and finally a man who answers by saying that bunyips simply don’t exist. Poor bunyip goes away sad lonely until another strange creature emerges from a nearby billabong.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle

I defy you to show me a child who doesn’t poke their finger through the little holes in this book.

Mr Tickle – Roger Hargreaves

I particularly remember having this book read to me and the anticipation building page by page because I knew what was coming. If you weren’t careful reading this book, you might find Mr Tickle and his long arms reaching around the corner of the room you’re in right now and find yourself well and truly tickled!! I love how children ask to be tickled, then scream with laughter and beg you to stop. This book reminds me of that.

Possum Magic – Mem Fox

Another Australian classic. It has become a favourite of my children too. When I was about 10 my uncle took me to a reading of this book by the author Mem Fox, accompanied by the Australian Symphony Orchestra. She signed my book. I love the illustrations in this one, and have enjoyed other books illustrated by Julie Vivas as well.

In the Night Kitchen – Maurice Sendak

Perhaps not as well known as Where the Wild Things Are, this is still a great book. I still LOVE the illustrations! It’s about Mickey who is supposed to be going to sleep but finds himself floating into the ‘night kitchen’ where the bakers are busy baking the morning cake. He finds himself almost baked into a cake. They chant “Milk! Milk! Milk for the Morning Cake!” So Mickey flies in his dough plane right up to the Milky Way, dives into a milk bottle, swims back to the top and pours some milk down for the three fat bakers. The bakers rejoice and all is well. Thanks to Mickey there will be morning cake. Apparently this book was a bit scandalous at one stage because Mickey is naked. My 1980’s Australian primary school evidently didn’t have a problem with it.

There’s A Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake – Hazel Edwards

The hippopotamus gets to do all the things the little girl in this story wishes she could do. That is, take showers instead of baths, watch TV instead of going to bed and eating cake whenever she feels like it. I understand. I really do.

Has anyone else out there enjoyed these? What are you favourite books from childhood?

Book Review: The Eve Tree by Rachel Devenish Ford

The Eve Tree – Rachel Devenish Ford

When I describe this book to people, I tell them that it’s about family, mothers and daughters, the land and belonging to it, mental illness, love and fires. It also has trees. And a donkey. And some goats.  I also tell them that it was written by a hippy mother of four children who lives 6 months of the year in a community in rural India. Rachel blogs at Journey Mama, I’ve been reading there a while now, living vicariously through her a tiny bit. Mostly for the beautiful beautiful places they stay. Right now, near a lake close to the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal. Absolutely stunning.

Anyway, the book. A simple story, about a family on a ranch that is threatened by a forest fire. This event is a catalyst for the coming together of the Molly’s family – her mother, children and husband to join together to save their property. As the pressure and stress of this event build, long time issues, past regrets and brokenness spills out of the cracks.

The strength of this book is the way the author writes about relationships…their complexities, and the baggage that we bring to them, how messy they can be, and how generational they actually are, but running beneath it all in this story is the strength of love. That love doesn’t always come easy, never comes cheap, but brings healing and reconciliation. It wasn’t syrupy or tidy. This book is very real, but graced with redemption and hope.

Book Review: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

Just what can I say? This book was so gentle and tender and beautiful.  It’s quiet and steady. It’s ok to read slowly. It’s written as a (very long) letter from an aging father to his 7 year old son. I loved every moment. It is a book to be savoured.

I bookmarked passages to write down or to read aloud to my long suffering husband and my book-loving friend, and now the top of the book has dozens of yellow flappy post-its sticking out. This book of fatherly wisdom of full of gems. Beautiful.

I grabbed this book at the library just because it’s a Pulitzer Prize winner. I really would love to own this one. It’s a keeper.

I’m feel happy. I always feel happy when I find a really good book.

Book Review: A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

A Chritsmas Carol

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (illus. Quentin Blake)

I’ve only read one other Dickens’ (Great Expectations). I bought this illustrated hard cover for a good price as I like Quentin Blake’s illustrations, and I thought it would be a little more interesting for the children, and that they may pick it up sometime.

A Christmas Carol

But in the end I actually listened to A Christmas Carol narrated by Antonia Bath. It was my first audiobook and I really enjoyed it. The narrator had a pleasant voice and accent; she read the story with expression and emotion. It still doesn’t feel the same as reading it for myself, because I didn’t see the words, so it felt like an entirely different experience.

“Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; his iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.”

How cleverly and precisely does Dickens write a character? I loved this book. Scrooge is visited by the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future, who reveal to him truths about himself, which dramatically alter his outlook on life. By the end of the tale, he is transformed.

“Really, for a man who had been out of practice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh. The father of a long, long line of brilliant laughs.”

So, yes a happy ending. I needed a happy ending.

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Book Review: The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

The Book Thief

The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak

I have just this moment finished reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, late into the night. What can I say about this book? It wasn’t quite what I expected and I’m so glad. This story set in Nazi Germany was narrated by Death. It doesn’t seem befitting to sketch out the plot for you. Just to say it’s about a German girl, and the story takes place in Germany in the five years up to 1943.  This story was told so sensitively, in the voice of Death –  surprisingly compassionate. Achingly beautiful. Some parts left me breathless. Absolutely highly recommended.

“After three weeks he held her. Trust was accumulated quickly, due primarily to the brute strength of the man’s gentleness, his thereness. The girl knew from the outset that he’d always appear mid-scream, and he would not leave.” …(p 36)

“Liesel stood up and also raised her arm. With absolute misery, she repeated it. ‘Heil Hitler’. It was quite a sight – an eleven year old girl, trying not to cry on the church steps, saluting the Führer as the voices over Papa’s shoulder chopped and beat at the dark shape in the background.” …(p 126)

“He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world.

She was the book thief without the words.

Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when  they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out, like the rain.”  …(p 85)

This story, these characters will stay with me for a very long time.

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Book Review: The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

I really liked this book. There have been so many reviews and there are heaps of plot summaries available online if you’re interested so I won’t go into the story here. What I loved the most was the way the five voices of the story spoke so distinctly in their own voice. The story was narrated by the wife and four daughters of a Southern Baptist missionary in the Congo. Each one’s voice was perfectly captured and in that way I felt like I could really get to know each character. And I LOVED Adah’s voice and brilliant way with words and language. Very clever word smithery right there. So many palindromes that made me smile.

The story itself? It kept me reading although was not gripping. I liked that it covered a piece of history that I’m interested in but knew little about and I liked that it showed it from a couple of points of view (i.e.Rachel vs Leah), although clearly favoured one. It made me want to go away and find out a little more about the Congo.

I loved the descriptions of Africa, and I loved the African characters, especially Anatole.

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Book Review -Tandia by Bryce Courtenay

Tandia – Bryce Courtenay

I have enjoyed all the books I have read by this author. This was no exception. It is the sequel to the more well known The Power of One, which was also made into a movie. It’s is set in South Africa during the apartheid regime, and follows the story of Peekay as he pursues his boxing dream, but focuses on the story of Tandia.

Tandia is a young woman and a promising student who after being brutalised by the police, finds herself working as a prostitute. She is filed with hate for the white policeman who to her represents the brutality of apartheid. The book follows her journey to becoming a lawyer involved in the fight against apartheid.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was the way it included in this fictional story, significant historical events such as the Sharpeville masacre. This helped me to understand better and appreciate the history of the struggle against apartheid, especially as the story also touches on the beginnings of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed militant group of the ANC. It was labeled a terrorist group and banned by the apartheid government.

Tandia was a typical Bryce Courtenay tale. Graphic descriptions of the brutality but a fast moving story that kept me reading. Somewhere near the end, it did become a little fantastical and hence slightly less believable, but I’m so glad I read this book which lead me to read more about these times in South Africa’s history.