'That Reminds Me' - Books & Stories

I have been searching all week for Mary Plain, Milly, Molly, Mandy and The Borrowers.

They will turn up eventually, I hope. In the meantime, I have come across Winnie the Pooh, Little Grey Rabbit, Rupert Bear and rather more dust than I care to acknowledge.

By now you may have guessed that the topic for our memory gathering this week is childhood books. As well as your own remembered favourites, by all means include stories you read to your own (or someone else’s) children. In some instances, of course, they may be one and the same.

Long ago and far away, when children didn’t get to watch very much television, let alone have access to laptops or iPads, they were expected to amuse themselves with books. Some of these would have arrived as Christmas or birthday presents, or they might have been awarded as prizes of some kind. The rest you had to borrow from the local library.

I suppose the amount you read as a child depended on the household you grew up in, and how books were generally regarded. I am indebted to a mother who loved reading and encouraged us to follow suite. She would (successfully) bribe me to stay in bed on a Sunday morning by leaving two sweets with whichever new books we’d brought home from the library the day before.

Often it is the illustrations as much as the story that leave their mark on early readers. No-one (including Disney) could better E.H. Shepherd’s drawings of Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Co. And although Alison Uttley wrote the stories of Little Grey Rabbit and her friends, Hare, Squirrel, Fuzzypeg, Moldy Warp et al, they were immortalised, surely, by the exquisite little pictures that accompanied them? Hands up, by the way, if you knew that the artist, Margaret Tempest, was born in Ipswich (in 1892) and lived here much of her life?

Until I reread “Little Grey Rabbit’s Party”, sweetly of its time and class, I’d almost forgotten (like Hare) what the initials RSVP on an invitation really stand for.  “Rat Shan’t Visit Party” said Grey Rabbit. “It is to make our guests feel at home.”

While I was searching our bookshelves for my missing childhood favourites, I asked my husband which books he remembered. It seems that while I was mostly absorbed by reading about girls who did ballet, rode ponies and went to boarding school (none of which applied to me) he was lapping up Treasure Island, Just William, Jennings, Hornblower and Roy of the Rovers. No wonder the gender stereotypes perpetuated by all those fondly remembered Ladybird Books have lately become such a rich source of spoofs!

Not all the books I remember were classics. I can remember The Wind in the Willows being read to me, but for some reason Beatrix Potter passed me by, as did Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons.  Enid Blyton’s works were impossible to avoid and I enjoyed many of them, although I never took to Noddy and his chums.

How about you? Is there a particular book, or literary genre, that you missed out or weren’t so keen on?

One of the joys of rediscovering books you owned as a child is finding the dedications inside, jogging your memory as to where and when you received them, as well as who gave them to you. I have just found a 1926 edition of “Secrets of Bird Life” which my father apparently won as 1st Prize for Art (He left school when he was 14). I also see that I have written the name of my teddy bear as the owner of a book called “Things to Make and Do” (for Boys and Girls the whole year through). Well why not? Look inside the covers also for reminders of patterns that will instantly transport you to the era when they were published.

Books have other associations that go beyond their covers. For several years I looked forward to receiving a Rupert annual. I’m I sure loved Rupert in his little red jumper and yellow checked trousers, but weirdly I find I still associate reading about him with being ill in bed.

There may be lots of other books, not just story books, that played a significant part in your childhoods. Perhaps you remember a big old set of encyclopaedias, which served as pretty much the source of all wisdom before we could look anything up on the internet.  Did you like Comics, and have a favourite comic hero or character e.g. from Beano or The Dandy, or like Tin-Tin or Babar the Elephant?

Did you like reading aloud, or being read to? Did you “Listen with Mother” on the wireless? Did you or your children enjoy TV’s “Jackanory”?

It is good to remember that there is no rule that says you have to stop reading “children’s” books – ever! So much of it spills over between age groups anyway.

Inheritance Reads: For fun see if you can name one significant, much loved book that was given, passed on or read to you as a child. Then choose a book from your own lifetime that you have passed (or would like to pass) on to another generation.  Please share – we’d love to know!

YOUR CHALLENGE (Should you choose to accept it…)

This week is to have a go at writing a story. Or at least to produce the first few lines. Don’t decide you can’t before you try! Set yourself a time limit and see what happens. Dig into your imagination, or take inspiration from one of the childhood books you remember. Half a dozen lines will suffice, (but don’t let me stop you if you want to pen a whole book).

If you really don’t want to do this, then pick a passage from a book you love that your feel will really engage a new reader and make them want to continue!

If you have access to a small person, try it out on them.

 And don’t forget to add a note of all those fondly remembered or significant titles to your personal scrapbook and/or memory book.

If you have anything you’d like to share with us, and are happy for us to post onto this page, and our social media pages – please email them over to sam@activlives.org.uk.

We’d love to hear from you, and make this a fun community activity with loads of people taking part and sharing their stories, photos, comics – and anything else!


Who wrote “Treasure Island”?

How many spotty dogs appear in the title of a book written by Dodie Smith?

In which year was “Mog the Forgetful Cat” first published and who wrote (and illustrated) it?

Based on a Chinese folk tale, which best-selling rhyming story was created by Julia Donaldson (about a mouse and a fictional creature of her own invention)?

Which country did Paddington Bear come from?

Who famously illustrated many of Roald Dahl’s books for children?

When was the first Harry Potter book published?

Which newspaper did Rupert the Bear appear in?

In which year did the BBC begin broadcasting “Jackanory”?

    Answers next week

    Last weeks answers:

    1. Lee Mack stars in (an co-writes) “Not Going Out”
    2. Cinderella lost her glass slipper whilst exiting a ball at midnight
    3. Cambridge University famously holds May Balls (usually in June)
    4. The Empress Ballroom is to be found at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens
    5. The Pyramid Stage is at Glastonbury


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