|inside our beautiful new library|
There's a website with author videos, a whole list of recommended new titles, and other incentives to encourage young readers to read... wait for it... for fun.
Such grand schemes did not exist when I was a child. I never saw a real-life author, whether at a book festival, in school, or online… well, there wasn’t an online back then, and barely any festivals existed, though you’ll be pleased to hear we did have schools. I can only assume authors did not do so many visits in those days, or maybe my school didn't have the budget for them.
Fortunately, I needed no encouragement to complete my own personal reading challenge. My local library was my primary source of books, and I would read three (the maximum you could take out with a child’s library ticket) every weekend, and as many as I could get away with during the summer holidays. Before it transformed into the modern library shown above - complete with air conditioned meeting rooms, several floors of new low-level shelving, computers, indoor garden, café, and specially commissioned sculptures with a literary theme - my childhood library looked like this:
|my childhood library today, awaiting demolition|
It had a nice setting in a leafy corner of the local park, and in those days it was not boarded up or covered in graffiti, of course. But to me as a child, the library and its surroundings did not matter. I just remember the books I found there and the stories they contained, which whisked me away from the real world into one of adventure and magic.
So here, especially for the History Girls blog, is the...
*** Retro Summer Reading Challenge ***
Think back to when you were a child (i.e. before you transformed into a rebellious teenager and started reading the equivalent of "Fifty Shades of Grey" secretly under the bedcovers by torchlight). What books and authors did you enjoy?
When I was that age, my favourite author was Andre Norton. I devoured her Witch World books, of which there were many.
I did not know that she was American. I did not even know for sure that she was a “she", though for some reason I assumed this. I did not know she also wrote science fiction, fantasy and historical novels for adults under three pen names: Andre Norton, Andrew North and Allen Weston. I did not know that none of these three names were actually the name she had been born with - Alice Mary Norton - which she legally changed in 1934 to Andre Alice Norton to "increase her marketability”, because most science fiction/fantasy and historical adventure at that time was written by men and assumed to be read by boys. (Interestingly, this is a game many female authors still play today... haven’t we moved on from gender typing yet?!) I did not know she won the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1968, and published over 300 books between 1934 and 2005, when she died aged 93 still writing. To mark her wonderful career, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America created the Andre Norton Award for younger science fiction and fantasy literature.
Wow. If I had known all that stuff about my favourite childhood author, would it have made me want to read her books any more eagerly? I think not. Andre Norton was still very much alive at the time I was reading her Witch World books in the early 1970’s, which was brilliant for me because she already had a long backlist by then but was also still producing new books. I discovered her all on my own, because her books looked interesting on the library shelves, had exciting covers, and - more importantly - there were a lot of them, so I knew I would not run out of reading material. I didn’t particularly want to meet her, or watch a video of her, or see her talk at a festival. I had no idea how old she was and I didn't care. I just wanted her to hurry up and write the next book. Which, happily, she did.
Andre Norton was another author who effortlessly combined historical adventure with science/fiction fantasy, a connection I wrote about in my earlier Hunger Games post for this blog. If she had been in mid-career today, she might even have been a History Girl. Her first book "Ralestone Luck" (published as her second novel in 1938) was an adult historical adventure that begins with these inspiring words:
How hold ye Lorne?
By the oak leaf,
By the sea wave,
By the broadsword blade,
Thus we hold Lorne!
The oak leaf is dust,
The sea wave is gone,
The broadsword is rust,
How now hold ye Lorne?
By our Luck, thus we hold Lorne!
I’m delighted to discover Andre Norton’s "Witch World" novels are now being republished as ebooks to bring them to a whole new generation - one of the unexpected joys of modern technology. What goes around comes around, as they say.
So who was your favourite author (or favourite book) when you were a child? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll create our very own Retro Summer Reading Challenge list!
Katherine Roberts www.katherineroberts.co.uk writes fantasy and historical adventure for children.
Sword of Light, the first book in her Pendragon Legacy quartet about King Arthur’s daughter, has been chosen for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge in UK libraries. See Katherine's message to young readers.