Do Childhood Books Shape Who We Become?

back to schoolAs I was immersed in the chaos of the first week of school (and wondering how I could ever have forgotten the ear-shattering decibel level of 200+ girls in one room), I started thinking about how the books we read as children shape who we become.

I grew up in a world long before DVD’s and 500 channels. I grew up in a world WELL before smartphones, the internet and instantaneous information. Books were my world and my library card was my best friend. I was born in England and each week, from the time I could walk, my mother would take me to town to buy a new Ladybird book. We immigrated to Canada when I was three and my books and British heritage came with me. My parents read to me constantly until I started school and by that time I was reading my own books. Every three weeks, I would go to the library with my aunt and take out 10 books, as that was the most I was allowed.

malory towersI don’t remember the first Enid Blyton book I read, but I remember systematically working my way through her entire repertoire (and our small town library had them all). For those of you not familiar with her work, she wrote adventure stories and child detective/club stories in the 40’s and 50’s. As much as I loved her Adventure series, I loved her boarding school stories even more. I loved school and could think of nothing more exciting than living at school! Classes, and strict teachers, and living with friends and studying at night! I wanted to wear a sharp uniform, abide by the rules and go to an all-girl school too! The fact that Ms. Blyton was describing life during her own time period never occurred to my 8 year old self. To me, that was what school was like in England and I wanted to go there, not to my boring old school in Canada.

From these stories, I learned the rules of acceptable behavior and respect, that at 16 you acted like an adult and that doing your studies was of primary importance. It was a bit of a shock to me when I visited England at the age of 11 and discovered that English schools were really no different than my own (other than the sloppily worn uniforms). I visited my mum’s old school, met my aunt who was a teacher and went to school for a day. It was shattering to discover the truth. I never told anyone that I cried myself to sleep that night; cried for the loss of what I had thought to be real.

The true irony came 30 years later when I accepted my first teaching job at an all girls private school, and to top it all off, I was to live and work in the residence with the girls. Part of me still expected boarding school to be like I always understood it to be; because really, I never had visited a boarding school. I was a stickler for rules and always insisted the girls wear their uniform properly. It annoyed me when other teachers looked the other way or worse, didn’t even seem to notice. I taught full time and lived in the residence for four years before moving out and becoming a day teacher.   I’m still a stickler for the rules and usually end up with at least one confiscated cell phone on my desk each day. There’s a system in my classroom; a way the tables go, the chairs must all be pushed in and computers stay in their bags by the door unless we’re using them. And absolutely no cracking of any body part. That one actually has a sign on the wall.

My idea of school never really went away. What I learned in those stories as a child became part of me. I love my students and I love my job but I often wonder if I was born in the wrong time period.

Images:  The Malory Towers picture is my own.

Back to School is was Posted by Kolej T6 Haji Zainul Abidin – https://smkhzapenang.blogspot.ca/2016/03/

3 thoughts on “Do Childhood Books Shape Who We Become?

  1. A perfect description of me! I also begged my mum to let me go to boarding school. I read all the Mallory Towers and Naughtiest Girl in the Scool books and wanted to play lacrosse, have a tuck shop and midnight feasts. They also taught me respect and to do ‘prep’.
    In England, I went to an all girls grammar school with very strict rules, smart uniform and emphasis on study. If suited me to the ground but I was a ‘swot’. It was the 1960s and others rebelled. I do agree with you, Lesley, that what we read when we are young greatly affects our older self, but i think have to also include (as you have) the encouragement and example set by parents and family.

    I really enjoyed this blog. Thank you.

    Like

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed this blog. I like my cousin, Angela went to an all girls grammar school. You did not just go there willynilly though. You had to do a special exam to enter and only a few spots were allocated from our district. We were very poor but still had the same uniform as the Doctors and lawyers kids. I always read from the time I could but did not have the advantage of a library living in a small rural Village so at Christmas and Birthdays I always hoped I would get a book. When I entered grammar school I walked from School Into the town to the Library and caught a later bus home. This was at eleven years old, graduating from Enid Blyton to Agatha Christie. Keep up the good work on this blog. It is bringing back a lot of memories.

    Like

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