It probably doesn’t sound great to start the week by looking towards its end, but there is a valid reason for doing so. It’s not because the Easter holiday is approaching, although that certainly is something to anticipate. It is because this coming Friday is International Children’s Book Day. Celebrated annually on what would be Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, it is an event masterminded by the International Board on Books for Young People and is designed to inspire within children and young people a passion for reading as well as to promote the wealth of quality children’s literature available.
Maybe it’s having been forced somewhat reluctantly into the ‘real world’ that has been making me feel nostalgic for childhood and its world of escapism. I don’t consider myself to have ever been the most carefree of children, but it’s when you’re faced with more pressing worries than which combination of jelly and ice cream to choose that you really appreciate the simplicity of those times. If there was one thing that I was serious about in my younger days it was the capacity for fantasy and imagination. Back then, my whole life was one giant daydream (it’s only now that things are beginning to get in the way). I would happily spend my days wandering from one scenario to another, being a supreme detective one minute; an intrepid explorer of the seas the next, thanks to the billowing bedsheets on the washing line that would serve as the ship’s sails; then I would bring the day to a close as a bird or a fairy flying to the highest of heights on my swing. I could dream up all kinds of stories and while playing with my Barbie dolls, would act out storylines that could rival those of dramatic plays or soap operas (although its only just occurred to me that given the very irregular ratio of male to female dolls I possessed that Ken was a serious bigamist).
Of course, I suspect that the large amounts of time I spent reading as a child greatly contributed to the development of my interior world. Since as far back as I can remember I had a book spread out in front of me, whether it was sitting on one of my parents’ knees being read to or being old enough to select my reading material. I’m certain that delving amongst the pages of the likes of The Secret Garden, The Water Babies and the Fairytales composed by Hans Christian Andersen himself instilled in me not just a love of reading and words but gave me the confidence to venture into and enlarge my own imagination. Robert Louis Stevenson continues to be a renowned name in the world of children’s literature, mainly thanks to Treasure Island – of which a sequel authored by Andrew Motion has just been announced. A celebration of the fantastical, imagined scenes of childhood runs through many of Stevenson’s poems, including Block City. Reading this particular poem, I become especially reminiscent of my own pursuits as a child; the line ‘Let the sofa be mountains, the carpet be sea’ vividly recalls how I would climb upon the furniture to avoid the fire/barbed wire/shark-infested-water of the floor below me (my mum was not so thrilled with that particular adventure). It not only makes me appreciate my childhood, but makes me want to revisit so much of the literature I devoured as a tiny tot. Who says you’re too old to enjoy a classic children’s book?
What are you able to build with your blocks?
Castles and palaces, temples and docks.
Rain may keep raining, and others go roam,
But I can be happy and building at home.
Let the sofa be mountains, the carpet be sea,
There I’ll establish a city for me:
A kirk and a mill and a palace beside,
And a harbour as well where my vessels may ride.
Great is the palace with pillar and wall,
A sort of a tower on the top of it all,
And steps coming down in an orderly way
To where my toy vessels lie safe in the bay.
This one is sailing and that one is moored:
Hark to the song of the sailors aboard!
And see, on the steps of my palace, the kings
Coming and going with presents and things!
Yet as I saw it, I see it again,
The kirk and the palace, the ships and the men,
And as long as I live and where’er I may be,
I’ll always remember my town by the sea.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)