Anne here, and today I'm talking about some of the early books that sparked my youthful imagination. I'm a firm believer that exposing children to fantastic and fascinating stories when they're young, helps develop their imagination. And I believe that my early exposure to magical worlds and memorable characters made me a writer in later life.
My parents, and my older siblings, who were a decade older, used to read to me when I was very small. Until I was four, we lived in a remote house in the bush with no electricity, and so there was no TV or even radio to entertain us. But we had books, and the surrounding bushland, and as well there were stories told aloud — stories from Mum and Dad about when they were children, stories passed down the generations and plenty of made-up stories.
So intrinsic to our lives was storytelling that I'm told that as a toddler I used to sit in the sandpit telling stories to the dogs and the horse. Because they were the only ones who could follow my babble.
From a very early age my family read me AA Milne aloud — not just the Winnie the Pooh stories, but the poems and I'm convinced their rhymes and rhythms sank into my brain well before I could read. If you've only heard or seen the Disney imitations, try reading the originals. They're wonderful — funny, wise, and gentle. And Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Wol and the rest were utterly real to me.
You can listen to this audio version, read by Stephen Fry, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Palmer, Jane Horrocks and others you might recognize. It's wonderful, (though I don't understand why the on-line version is using a Disney illustration instead of Earnest Shepard's gorgeous drawings, which is what I'm showing here.) You can also buy it here.
Another favourite was a series called "Snugglepot and Cuddlepie," written and illustrated by May Gibbs. It's an Australian classic, and for me (and countless children down the generations) those stories brought to life in a magical way the bushland plants and creatures that surrounded us.
This tree in my front garden has reminded me of those stories and inspired this post. It's a "silver princess" eucalyptus (E. caesia) and the blossoms and gum nuts make me think of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. They were tiny "bush babies" and here are some of May Gibbs's timeless illustrations of them.
There were all kinds of different sorts of bush babies, depending on the trees they came from — gum nut babies, wattle babies, all sorts. There were water babies, and ones that lived under mushrooms and toadstools. They interacted with birds and lizards and all the sort of creatures you might find in the bush.
Ever since I was a child I used to collect different kinds of gum nuts and make tiny dolls out of them. You can see how these nuts from my silver princess would make perfect hats, or possibly tiny cradles for bush babies.
When you look at a real banksia cone, you can almost see the banksia man it contains. Certainly I could as a child. And to this day I see a banksia cone and think of the big bad banksia men. And whenever I see gum blossoms and gum nuts I still think of the bush babies that live there.
Another author who inspired my imagination is one that UK readers as well as Australians and others would know — Enid Blyton, especially her books about The Faraway Tree. Oh, what a glorious tree that was, the tallest tree in the Enchanted Forest, with all kinds of curious folk living in it, and strange and magical lands that visited the top of the tree. And if you weren't careful, the land might move on, taking you with it. I loved those books.
Another one of her series was The Children of Cherry Tree Farm, and one of the characters in it was Tammylan, a "wild man" who lived in the forest in a house made of living trees. He had an amazing rapport with animals of all sorts and oh how I wanted a red squirrel to sit on my shoulder like him.
Arthur Rackham illustrations were magnificent — wonderfully spooky, dark and a little bit scary. They reminded me of the ice "paintings" that Jack Frost left on our windows in winter.
And of course I adored all stories about animals. As well as the dog stories that I talked about in an earlier blog, there was Pookie, the white rabbit with wings, all the horse stories— Black Beauty, The Silver Brumby, and many more. Horse stories could easily fill another blog.
We had a big book of folk tales from all over the world, and some of those were very scary. Baba Yaga, anyone? And then there were the cautionary tales — I didn't like them much. Some really nasty things happened in those, generally to adventurous or spirited children. Bah humbug to that, say I! So I'll stick with Winnie the Pooh and Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.
Now, over to you — what stories sparked your childhood imagination? Do you read aloud to littlies? Any favorite books?