The first module I took for my English MA a few years ago was called ‘Transatlantic Childhoods: Literature and the Child Study Movement 1880-1920′. Apparently, the class examined ‘tensions in attitudes to, and representations of, children in the nineteenth-century, when emergent sciences, especially evolutionary theory and psychology, raised significant theoretical challenges to previously cherished “Romantic” assumptions about children’s innocence, malleability, and intuitive, spiritual creativity’. Thrilling stuff.
While much of the theory was lost on me, what I did take away from the class was a new found love for the simple pleasure that is reading children’s literature as an adult. Since then, returning to books that permeated my childhood has given me no end of pleasure. Not only do I find myself drawn in by the story and its characters, I also lose myself in memories from my past, relishing the nostalgia I feel for the time I originally read the novel. Looking at things afresh, through the lens of adulthood, and contemplating how much of the person I am today is down to the books I read way back when, is fascinating.
My contribution to Sarah’s ‘Books Are Amazing’ series is a handful of suggestions for those of you that might want me to join me on this literary trip down memory lane...
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The classic tale of little Mary Lennox and her secret garden at Misselthwaite Manor has been my favourite children’s book to return to as an adult. The story of Mary, a disagreeable orphan who is sent from India to live with her estranged uncle in the Yorkshire dales, is magical, dark, mysterious and whimsical in equal measure. Burnett captures what it is to be an awkward child perfectly, while still imbuing Mary with enough feistiness to turn the whole household upside down. The description of the garden as a wilderness, hidden behind a locked door for many years, and its subsequent transformation at the hands of the children makes for compelling reading.
The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Wealthy Sarah Crewe is trying to make friends and settle into her new boarding school when she suddenly learns she’ll never see her beloved father again. Plunged into a world of poverty and endless drudgery, she soon learns that kindness and generosity are the only riches she needs. It is Sarah’s imagination, illustrated so beautifully by the author’s description of her story telling and day dreaming, that I love most. The notion that our dreams can elevate us from a difficult situation and that we can be whoever we chose to be remains a powerful message, even in adulthood.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
I re-read this book in one sitting. The intoxicating tale of a treasure map, a perilous sea journey, a mutiny lead by Long John Silver and a dangerous scramble for buried treasure, all seen through the eyes of young Jim Hawkins, is filled with action, intrigue and adventure. Stevenson may have written it with a young audience in mind, but I was on the edge of my seat all the same. If Jack Sparrow is the only pirate you’ve had dealings with recently, I’d really recommend giving this a whirl.
Little Women by Louise May Alcott
I vividly remember reading this for the first time, and I’m pleased to say my love for the March family endures. Again I wept when Beth fell ill and I still love Laurie. Once more I was overcome with a desire to disappear into the domestic world created by Alcott within the pages of her book. I still want to step inside that cosy cottage and live Jo’s life, poverty and all. I was struck by the book’s celebration of the simple things, as well as the fact that Jo and her sisters are rich despite their lack of wealth or material possessions. There was a little more religion than I remembered, but it’s a beautiful read that I found no less inspiring the second time around.
This year I’m planning to re-visit The Little House books by Laura Ingles Wilder which I adored as a child. I read most of them by torchlight, long after my Mum had told me to go to sleep! Now you’ll simply find my Kindle glowing among the bed covers while my husband dozes next to me.