Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Saturday, 22 April 2017

A Muse on Childhood Reading Experiences and Books of the Past

This week Gina reflects on the books she enjoyed as a child and considers there relevance today – can they ignite a passion for reading?

A year or so ago I read an article about whether young adults are still reading pre 20th century titles, an idea I have recently been pondering again. This, along with some of the titles featured in Flis’ recent blog, invited me to drift back to the stories I read and listened to as a child and contemplate some of the books my own children are reading today. Are there wonderful stories they are missing out on because have drifted into the past? Or are they all just outdated? (I like to think not.)

My earliest book memories are the classic Little Golden Books. I had a bedhead bookshelf full of them, which I used to learn to write by copying all the words underneath in the books. Oops, naughty me! I remember the magical delights of these and so many other colourful picture books, eagerly turning the page to see what was to be revealed next. So many of us will no doubt remember the mischief of Naughty Amelia Jane, the wonder of The Magic Faraway Tree and so many other Enid Blyton stories of adventure and magic.   

I particularly remember in primary school when a favourite teacher of mine would read aloud in class. I was utterly captivated by James and the Giant Peach and Charlotte’s Web, my imagination ignited by wonderful characters and the rich details of the worlds they inhabited, the thrill of being carried along with them on their journeys as page after page was read aloud. This is still one of my most vivid and profound memories of school. I remember the joys of stories being read aloud in my own children’s kindergarten class – all that fun of wiggling on the mat and calling out reactions.

I also recall being given books in my primary years as ‘Pupil of the Week’ awards. I still have my dear old copy of good old Pollyanna! Are we still giving children books as prizes these days? My children’s primary school does have a day a year, as part of Book Week, where they can bring in books they have outgrown and swap them for something new – this is such a great

idea! It gives children access to new pre-loved books, and I think it is access that is vital in encouraging children to develop a lifelong enjoyment of reading. It certainly worked for me!

I love that my own children still huddle under the doona with a torch at night to devour Tolkien, Rowling and all manner of stories when they should be asleep. But I feel that I am a lucky parent that my children love to read, and read widely. Perhaps they are lucky that both parents are avid readers, that I am an English and Writing teacher, and that they have ready access to a wide range of books both at home and at school. But sometimes they need a bit of a nudge, a suggestion to read something that was written a long time ago. 

What can we do to encourage our children – and others – to explore the magic of stories past? I like the idea of finding old books being an adventure in itself. Second hand bookstores, markets, garage sales and charity shops, along with the local library (including the old book giveaways!) can make the discovery of books, both new and old, a treasure hunt.

I’m also a big believer in reading aloud, and treasure memories of snuggling up in my bed with two little people either side of me to read hundreds of bedtime stories including We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, The Wide Mouthed Frog, The Rattletrap Car, the entire collection of Beatrix Potter and Roald Dahl books and the Tuesday McGillycuddy adventures. Even my big kids in Year 10, 11 and 12 enjoy being read to. I am thrilled this year that a few of them, at least, are lovers of those dear to my own heart - Dickens, Hardy, Austen and Bronte, among others – but again, perhaps we have a role in making them aware of these and other authors, giving them a taste and hoping that a few more of them might follow a narrative trail into a whole other realm of books.

I am certain there is still a very important place for the novels and picture books of generations, even centuries, past – even if it is just to have a giggle with them at Dick and Fanny. If we can encourage our young people to read widely, particularly in this age of digital distraction, they can access so many more worlds of reading adventure!

Gina Slevec
Teacher, CBCA Tas Newsletter Editor


  1. I still have one of the first books ever purchased from Scholastic Book Club for 50c - The Velvet Room by Zilpha Snyder. My kids have loved it too, and one even took it to her high school, to discover that it had been a favourite of her English teacher.
    I also read almost every colour of the Andrew Lang Fairy Books (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Lang%27s_Fairy_Books)and my favourite author today is Juliette Marillier - whose books rework many of my favourite fairy tales.

  2. I think there is a wealth of wonderful books to be explored by all generations of children. Our modern children may require a context to understand the values and attitudes of some of the older books but this doesn't negate the importance of diverse literary experiences gained from books of different eras.