The Magic of Children’s Books

When I was younger I loved reading. I always had a book with me. We used to visit both my grandparents’ houses every Sunday and a book was always an essential for the trip. I brought my own book to school as I hated how limiting the school library was in Primary and the fact that the book in your hands wasn’t yours to keep. Everyday, I read after homework when I came home from school and then read every night after dinner before going to bed. I was obsessed.

Reading was fun to me-even though pretty much nobody else in my class read books at all. This was when Gameboy’s were out and not too long before Nintendo DS. I never really understood this craze. In my mind, there was literally nothing better than getting completely lost in a book. I was pretty imaginative. When I wasn’t reading, I was writing my own “books.” I now have a collection of stories about powerful mermaid’s fighting sea demons, Princesses with magical powers defeating all evil who want their crown, and the occasional story where I had adventures with my favourite fictional characters (basically little innocent fan fictions).

I loved that with books, unlike films, you had your own version in your head of what everything looked like from the descriptions on paper and only you could see it exactly that way. It was just for me to wander about in.

One of the first few books I got into was the works of Roald Dahl. I got some of his shorter stories (George’s Marvellous Medicine, The Twits, and Fantastic Mr Fox) from cereal boxes that were including Dahl’s books to collect. I absolutely adored them. I remember thinking they were really weird but funny and I am pretty sure I read them about three times each.

One of my friends in school was a big reader, like me, and she was reading this fairy series as well as a series of books on a girl’s boarding school (if memory serves me right). I remember one day I was at her house and she was explaining the story and the characters of one of her fairy books and it just sounded so boring. I was an extremely girly girl when I was young and I loved baby dolls, Barbies, and Disney Princesses but when it came to books I wanted something exciting, with colourful characters who weren’t just pretty fairies who could somehow defeat a bad guy whilst also simultaneously finding love. I wanted something a bit weird and funny but also scary and exciting. That was the definition of magic to me.

When I was seven, I had just finished reading my Roald Dahl books and the Horrid Henry series and was on the prowl for something new. I was so huge on reading at this point that I often entered the kid’s competitions at my local library and even won a few. These could be colouring or drawing competitions but more often were challenges to read so many books in a certain amount of time. I still have a folder in my loft where I recorded what books I read and sometimes wrote little book reviews on them. I was really cool when I was little, obviously.

My parents got a phone call one day that I had won a competition and my prize was in the library waiting for me. We went down there and I was rewarded with a pack of fridge magnets. Yep, fridge magnets. However, these were no ordinary fridge magnets – they were Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events fridge magnets. The film based on the books was out in the cinema but I’d never heard of it before. I immediately sent my parents to quiz the librarian (as I was far too shy) on what this was and where I could get my hands on the books. The library only had the first three out of the then 12 book series so I booked out all three to begin reading the instant I left the building.

I was hooked and, may I add, I am now also extremely excited for the new Netflix TV show. They were so whimsical and funny with a really dark gothic twist which I am sure lay the foundations for my Tim Burton obsession later in life. The books were immersive and I had my own little world where I could follow the lives of the Baudelaire children complete with mystery and a dramatically evil villain. I even managed to get my fairy-loving friend to read them as well and she liked them (probably not as much as me, but still). I longed to be Violet Baudelaire, I’m not really sure why because she had an awfully hard life, and go on adventures running away from Count Olaf. I even dressed up as her for a World Book Day event at our school where we lived the dream (well, I did) and dressed up as our favourite character from a book.

Lemony Snicket’s were the first books I ever hid under my pillow past bedtime and squinted my eyes at with the light from a small torch, that I got from a kid’s magazine, hiding under the covers of my bed. I was obsessed with the series, and later the film. They were the perfect books for me and (besides Harry Potter) I am yet to find a novel that grabs me as much as they did when I was seven.

I then read the Harry Potter books and simultaneously fell in love with them. They were as breathtaking as my previous read and at a time I would’ve probably said J.K. Rowling was my favourite author.

From there, I read Spiderwick, Twilight (cringe), House of Night, and a few John Green books. But, as I got older I gradually lost that spark. That feeling of butterflies in your stomach as you opened the page and read the first taste of what was to come. It’s almost as though your imagination fades where you still have the ability to get lost in a book but its just not as magical.

Now, my favourite author is F. Scott Fitzgerald but not for whimsicality, gothic humour, or the colourful characters. I love his novels for different reasons as they are written beautifully and you can get lost in his symbolism and character’s that never really say how they feel yet always talk about themselves. Now, I read about adventures that are maybe more realistic. I fear my tastes have gotten more boring and safer as I’ve gotten more boring and less brave.

It’s sad really that the magic has faded. I can still get excited and look forward to reading a book but I have never felt the same spark that I got when I was seven years old, asking my parents to define the big words, and cheering on my favourite characters battling the bad guys who were obvious, dramatic and fun to hate.

Now, I find whimsical humour and weirdness in books that, in my eyes, will never die, such as Alice in Wonderland. But, I am afraid to ever crack open a Lemony Snicket novel or a book from the Harry Potter series as it might not give me the butterflies anymore. For now, the books I once hid under my pillow find themselves residing in my loft.

I miss the journey I went on through my years at Primary school where I read everything exciting I could get my hands on. My constant exposure to literature made me want to write stories and I dreamed of being an author for most of my childhood. It also lead me to watch films and to become obsessed with writing stories and creating fictional characters through scriptwriting.

I have my younger self to thank for what drives me today. If it wasn’t for the wonderful magic of children’s books I discovered when I was little, I wouldn’t be constantly striving to find that spark that grabbed me when I was seven years old.

 

Opening of Lemony Snicket’s, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Bad Beginning:

"If you are interested in stories with happy end-
ings, you would be better off reading some other
book. In this book, not only is there no happy
ending, there is no happy beginning and very
few happy things in the middle."

Opening of J.K Rowling’s, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone:

"Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were
proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank
you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be in-
volved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't
hold with such nonsense."

 

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