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As I sit down to write, I often find myself victim of the 'Blank Screen Syndrome' which I'm assuming to be a common affliction that bloggers/writers suffer from. I often have to rack my brains to come up with an interesting blog topic to write about. For me it isn't writing just for the sake of writing. I prefer to write about my experiences or about the things that have impacted/educated/entertained me. Even now, as I'm typing, I swear I have no idea where this post is heading! But you know what....that is the best thing about writing. The words automatically appear on screen as your thoughts begin to unfold. I'm actually glad that I sat down to write because a ghost of an idea just started taking shape in my mind. Yeah, you know what? The more I think about it, the more I want to write about it. Alright, so here goes....this blog post will be dedicated to all those books that made reading enjoyable during my childhood years.
Whenever I think about the first books that I read as a child, the earliest conscious memory that I have are of Aesop's fables, mainly The Fox and the Grapes, The Tortoise and the Hare and The Boy Who Cried Wolf. The other early memory I have is of a book called Paddy Dog Sees a Ghost by June Woodman. I was living in Bahrain at the time and I remember that my Dad used to give me a weekly allowance (about a dinar). This book was the first purchase that I made with what I considered was 'my money'. I looked after that book with the highest level of care that you could expect from a five year old! Still on the subject of early memories, the Mr. Men series by Roger Hargreaves can never be far from my mind. Oh how I loved those books (and still do). Even now when I go back to my hometown during vacations, the sight of my collection of Mr. Men books brings a smile to my face. The books have collected dust over the years and may not be in great shape but they still are a treasured possession. As I flip through the pages of the books, on closer examination, I often see chicken-scrawl scribblings of a much younger me, the silliness of which makes me burst into a fit of giggles. And then of course, there are the very popular Ladybird series of books which formed a big part of my daily bed-time story routine. Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Heidi, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Puss in Boots, The Three Little Pigs, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Pied Piper, Rapunzel, Cinderella....the list just goes on and on. It is funny how children get fascinated up to the point of being obsessed with certain stories. Tucked somewhere in a corner of my closet is a Bambi bedspread and pillow case which I strongly suspect had something to do with reading the book! On the subject of great story-telling, how can I not mention the works of Hans Christian Andersen, the mind behind the brilliance of The Snow Queen, The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Princess and the Pea and Thumbelina. Coming to my favorite book as a child, it would have to be Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. I must have read that book a thousand times! I used to find the story about Mr Fox cleverly outwitting his farmer neighbors to steal their food from right under their noses, nothing short of thrilling. I have written my name on it in a hundred different places to make sure that my ownership rights were clearly established! Another book which was a personal favorite was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I think it was that book which made me love horses and secretly wish that I owned one of my own. In my opinion, Black Beauty is a must-read for every child because it not only educates the reader about animal welfare, but it also teaches how to treat people with kindness, sympathy and respect. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame is another classic that deserves a special mention. The mixture of mysticism, adventure, morality, and camaraderie in the story had me drawn to it like a bee to honey. Although recollecting all the books I read during those years is impossible, some of the other remarkable books that I remember fondly would be Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, Peter Pan by J. M Barrie, Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A Milne, 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, Gulliver's Travels by Jhonathan Swift and stories from the Arabian Nights.
During my preteens, my favorite author was (predictably) Enid Blyton. I worshiped her at the time. I loved the fact that her main work was the genre of young readers' novels in which children have their own adventures with minimal adult help. She had the knack of making children appear so incredibly street-smart! During those years, I would be glued to series such as Famous Five, the Five Find-Outers and Dog as well as The Secret Seven. At times, I remember reading all the way up to the wee hours of the morning under the light of a small lamp lest my parents be aware that I wasn't asleep! The Magic Faraway Tree was another series by Blyton that I cherished. It was an escape into a realm of enchanted places, magical creatures and opened up the world of fantasy to me. But everything said and done, if there was one series that would be on top of my list of most favorite Enid Blyton books, it would definitely be Malory Towers. I would read them even now if I could get my hands on them! Malory Towers is a series of novels featuring the fictional Cornish seaside girls boarding school of the same name. That series made boarding school seem so cool! The description of the midnight feasts, picnics, beautiful English countryside, pranks on teachers, rivalry and friendships between the girls had me hooked and how! Another book that I remember falling in love with was Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The beautiful story about a the reunion of a charming little boy from America with his aristocratic English grandfather set in the mid-1880s was touching and left an indelible impression on me. Though I had also read The Secret Garden by the same author, I have only fleeting memories of it. Then there was the famed work of Louisa May Alcott titled Little Women, a delightful novel which follows the lives of four sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March. Apart from these hugely popular stories that had its origins mostly from the West, stories from my homeland were also a big part of my childhood. From a very young age, I have harbored a deep interest in Indian mythology. The enthralling stories, colorful characters, beautiful illustrations, deep wisdom, rich culture, ancient splendor and exotic locations captivated me. As a result, I would spend many evenings flipping through simply illustrated versions of Mahabharatha, Ramayana and the adventures of Krishna. Then there was my collection of Panchatantra, an ancient Indian inter-related collection of colorful animal fables in verse and prose, in a frame story format attributed to Vishnu Sharma.
My teenage years began with a foray in to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. Both these series have been ghost-written by a number of authors and have been published under the collective pseudonym Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon respectively. I feel that not having a common author with a consistent style of writing generally makes these books a hit or miss with some books being vastly superior than the others. Although I haven't read the entire Hardy Boys collection, I have almost read the entire collection of Nancy Drew. Any girl reading Nancy Drew would aspire to be just like her because this girl can do it all. Nancy Drew is a teenage amateur sleuth who spends most of her time solving mysteries with her two closest friends, Bess and George. Any free time that I had would go towards making frequent trips to the library to source out any Nancy Drew books that I may not have read yet. Last but not least, how can I forget the Harry Potter series created by J.K Rowling. Anyone who knows me well knows my love affair with the series. The fact that I have an entire blog post dedicated to it speaks volumes by itself. Apart from the books I've mentioned so far, there was a range of comics that provided me with a constant source of entertainment. Archie, Katy Keene and the Indian comics Tinkle and Chacha Chaudhry were amongst my favorite reads. I had made myself somewhat of a collector but unfortunately didn't do a very good job of maintaining the collection. I hadn't read Tintin back then but I'm making up for lost time by reading the series now. After that, I will be setting my sights on The Adventures of Asterix :)
Writing about all these books has made me nostalgic. So many happy memories of my childhood came flooding back to me which I didn't expect to occur at the start of this blog post. In my opinion, reading is the best gift that you can give to yourself. A good book is like medicine for the soul. It builds your vocabulary, tickles your imagination and enriches your life. At this junction, I'd like to insert a quote that I came across recently
Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled "This could change your life."
At the risk of sounding preachy, please encourage your children to read books. Think about it...."TV"....if kids are entertained by two letters, imagine the fun they'll have with twenty-six! Open your child's imagination; open a book. If children do not develop the habit of reading books in childhood, they seldom pick up the habit as adults. But choose wisely for nothing is worth reading that does not require an alert mind. As James Bryce once said, "the worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it".
Happy reading people!