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Favorite books before you could read

December 7, 2008

My original post for today concerned “Black Wednesday”, and the recent downturn in events in the publishing world, and what it might mean for writers.

Then OpenOffice crashed, and through a combination of the autosave feature failing to kick in over a 2 hour period, and my own stupidity in not hitting save, I lost the entire article.  There’s a lesson kids, always ALWAYS remember to save, and save regularly…

So instead, I’m going to share with you something I put on my own blog, with profound apologies for the lack of originality.  Let this be a lesson!

What were your favourite books before you could read?

That sounds like an odd question, but consider children’s books.  They are usually large, and brightly illustrated, in order to draw pre-literate children to them.  They come for the colours and the pictures and the shapes, and while enjoying these illustrations, those strange black shapes that your mum and dad point at, become normalised.

I’ve been trying to find my favourite books somewhere online, and I can’t for the life of me find them.  Unsurprisingly, these books probably date from the late 1970s or very early 1980s.  I remember them always being there, and I was born in 1979, so they have to be from a few years either side of then.

There were two books, from the same publisher, and on the same theme.  They were illustrated collections of fairy tales, one from Hans Christian Andersen, the other from the Brothers Grimm.  I loved to read these growing up (and another part of the puzzle falls into place for you), and before I could read I remember having my parents, usually my father, read them to me.  But what I remember the most, the thing that stands out above everything else, was the illustrations.  Full page, glossy, colour paintings.  They might have been gouache, I don’t know.

But they were tripped out and freaky. I mean serious, good old-fashioned nightmare material.  Frightening visions of hell, evil grotesques that stalked the wilderness of the imagination.  They were exquisite.  Two in particular stick in my mind.  From the Grimm book there was the Four Musicians of Bremen, in the climactic scene, attacking a burglar.  And from the Andersen book, The Tinderbox, and the dog with eyes as big as saucers.  I would stare at these pictures for hours…

We had another set of books, again these were fairy tales, and again I can’t find them.  It was a set of six or so, very small, hardback, and each had a different coloured cover.  The inside covers was that sort of marbled effect.  The stories were illustrated throughout, but in solid black shapes on white, as if you were watching a shadow puppet theatre.  The effect was spell binding.  I miss those books, there aren’t many books that captivate me in the same way now.

What books do you remember from your childhood?  Did any of them have an influence on you later as a reader?

  1. December 7, 2008 1:20 am

    some 15 years or so ago I ran across “Pat the Bunny” and I instantly remembered “reading” the book with my dad when I was a child. This is my earliest memory and it was very much a sense memory, just touching the book brought it back.

    Other Favorites: “where the wild things are” by Maurice Sendak and “the fat cat” by Jack Kent (the cat who ate everyone including Skohotentot and Skolinkinlot)

  2. December 7, 2008 11:50 am

    My absolute favorite book was “The Runaway Pancake”

    I’m not sure if it influenced me later in life or if it was simply the first book in my collection of funny stories.

  3. December 7, 2008 12:54 pm

    I learned to read so early that there aren’t really any books in this category. I know my parents were reading the first Narnia book to my brother and me for a while (not sure if that was before or after I learned to read), but the impression it made on my memory is definitely from when I read it myself.

  4. December 8, 2008 4:56 am

    Could not help smiling at your sad loss of the original article – it took me back to my loss of five thousand words during Nano!

    But as regard my childhood memories – I can to this day clearly remember the first book when I was able to read unaided! It was something about frogs and the pictures are vivid in my mind and the fact that the words were telling me what the frogs were doing in the pictures – to me it was as if they came alive! The funny thing is, I did not tell anyone that I could read now!

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