In the run up to a Christmas when Santa’s lists will be saturated with polite but desperate requests for iPhone 6s and Playstation 4s, it has never been more important to publicise and emphasise the rewards of children’s literature. Book Week Scotland takes place this year from Monday 23 – Sunday 29 NFiveovember 2015 during which hundreds of events will take place across the country to celebrate the written word and its creators, (For more information and a program of events, visit scottishbooktrust.com).
As well as events relating to adults literature happening all over Scotland, there is a multitude of activities for children, to continue to quench children’s thirst for a good story which has been apparent throughout the centuries. Aimed at schools as well as families, the jam packed schedule clearly seeks to encourage (and in some cases sadly to rekindle) the younger generation’s love for literature.
One of the most inspired initiatives is the #ThankBooks message, which lets children (and adults alike) submit a short message of appreciation to an author, a book or even a fictional character who has had an impact on their life. As the Scottish Book Trust puts it, this lets us ‘give something back to books for all they’ve given us, and the people who helped you to love them’.
Whatever the age of those writing these messages today, the likelihood must be that many of these books, authors and characters will be associated with those books that we loved as children. Anyone who revelled in the adventures of the BFG, Heidi or Charlotte and her Web find them very hard to forget and characters that mean a lot to us in childhood rarely let go of our heartstrings due to the mere transition into adult life.
Though we still acknowledge and appreciate the children’s classic that we once adored, the time that has passed since the actual reading of the books inevitably dilutes our knowledge of the stories themselves and the characters that make them. Nostalgia forces us to cling to these tales but many of us fail to revisit these books once we extend beyond the recommended reading age on the cover. Many of the thousands of books that were originally written for children are complex and insightful – much of which is lost on a premature mind. The following are five suggestions but feel free to choose your favourite.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
Since 1908, children have been entranced by the tales of Mr Mole, Ratty, Badger and the Toad. However, there is more to this classic than the beautiful English countryside and an arrogant amphibian. The book doubles as a study of the hierarchy of society, in particular the British class system, through the contrast and conflicts between Toad and the creatures in the Wild Wood. There are also lessons to be learned from our time on the riverbank, with moral teachings of the dangers of self-indulgence and a rejection of technology, that actually relates more to life nowadays than that of a hundred years ago.
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
Through various interpretations, on the big screen and otherwise, the story of the boy who never grew up has been somewhat simplified into a fairytale telling of one boy’s rejection of the responsibilities of adulthood. However, Barrie’s original book uses complex language and deep characterisation to examine the themes of abandonment, parenthood and death. Though children are undoubtedly attracted to the astonishing imagination of Barrie and the sense of adventure that he brings to the story, a more mature mind is definitely required to unearth all the intellectual treasures that Peter Pan and Captain Hook have to offer.
Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton
Despite the lack of elaborate imagery and literary themes, there are still many reasons to re-explore the journeys of Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy. Most of us will still remember (although for some, only just) a time when children were free to climb trees, camp in clearings and pack a picnic lunch without the aid (or perhaps hindrance) of mobile phones and social media to track their every move. As well as providing a well-needed escapism from the obsessions of modern life, the Famous Five remind us of this era when children learnt their own social skills from face to face interaction (not conversations through a keyboard) and created their own adventures out in the garden (rather than the confines of their bedrooms). We would all do well to attempt to bring a little more adventure into the 21st century.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
Almost everyone is aware of the four evacuees who journey to another world through the back of an old wardrobe. Part of the Chronicles of Narnia, the book’s images of the White Witch, Mr Tumnus and the great Aslan are etched in the memories of many. The complexities of the plot are reflected in the web of themes on which Lewis based the iconic tale. Much of these relate to religion, with the most well-known stories from the Bible mirrored in various parts of the series. These include those of Noah, Judas and Adam and Eve (which actually appears in the book’s predecessor – The Magician’s Nephew). As a result, the eternal battle between good and evil is explored in a new context, along with betrayal, forgiveness and guilt.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
In stark contrast to the previous British classics, this is an American novel set along the Mississippi River and published in the late nineteenth century. Indeed, a lot more can be gained from reading this novel as an adult due to the language and the southern accents therein, which may be difficult to follow as a youngster. famous as a study of racism in the USA, the book focuses on the relationship between Huck and a black slave, Jim. It examines the moral conflict inside the mind of Huck, as a young white boy, towards those of other races and social standing. Given the issues coming to the fore in society today, the question of ‘identity’ remains extremely relevant and many could learn a lot from Twaincs masterpiece and the admirable decisions of Huckleberry Finn.
This Book Week, why not pick up an old favourite and reread it in a new light; with a fresh angle and a different outlook on life? You never know, maybe you will find out something about your beloved literary friends or discover a slant on a story that was completely missed the first time round. You might even end up loving it more than you ever did.