Monday 6 August 2012

Retro Summer Reading Challenge - Katherine Roberts

Hooray! It’s summer! School’s out, the sun is shining (at last), and the Summer Reading Challenge for children aged 4-11 is in full flow at libraries across the UK. This year’s Story Lab challenge has an Olympic theme, and children can sign up to read six books of their choice over the summer holidays.

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 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.


Kelly said...

Geoffrey Trease. Or maybe Leon Garfield. Or maybe Rosemary Sutcliff. Or maybe... That question is far too hard.

catdownunder said...

Elinor Lyon - one of her characters had the same name as mine.
Her books are the reason I have a blog, the reason I wrote a book for a young friend and why I now correspond with her son! They are also indirectly responsible for my presence on Twitter and blogs like this.

Michele said...

I was too busy devouring everything I could get from the school and public libraries to have just *one* favourite author. However, the first half dozen names that spring to mind are: JRR Tolkien, Mary Norton, Alan Garner, and (after I went to grammar school and discovered them in the school's library) Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare (despite the fact that Macbeth terrified me age 11 - so much so that I've yet to re-read it, or watch a single production!)

Jane Borodale said...

Ooh. I was a hungry reader as a child, would devour anything lying around (even once 'The Children of the New Forest' - surely the most boring children's book known to man). But my absolute favourites that I read until they fell apart and so I can't pass immediately on to my own children were definitely Susan Cooper's brilliant, creepy, poised 'The Dark is Rising' series, and anything by Penelope Lively, especially 'A Stitch in Time', set set on the Jurassic coast, and 'The Ghost of Thomas Kempe'. also loved John Masefield's 'The Box of Delights', 'Tom's Midnight Garden'. All timeslip books, now that I think of it...

PS. Think the summer reading challenge is a fantastic scheme. We love it.

Michele said...

Jane - you reminded me that I'd forgotten Penelope Lively! Ghost was a huge favourite - as was 'A Dog So Small' - I still regularly rave about how much I loved that book as a child - the power of a child's imagination is portrayed fantastically and beautifully. (Oh look, a rave about ADsS!)

Dorian said...

What, you want me to pick just *one* favourite author? I never could, then or now!

Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, C. S. Lewis, H. M. Hoover, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, Arthur Ransome, Jean Estoril, Diana Wynne Jones...those are the ones that spring immediately to mind.

Katherine Roberts said...

I know it's hard to pick just one, and now several people have reminded me of Susan Cooper's "Dark is Rising" series, another childhood favourite of mine...

Oh all right, since the Reading Challenge is for six books, then you're allowed six retro ones too!

adele said...

I'm older than lots of you. APart from Enid Blyton,whom we all ADORED AND DEVOURED, my best writer at age about 10 was Elizabeth Goudge. Everything she wrote but esp. THE LITTLE WHITE HORSE and HENRIETTA'S HOUSE. Later her adult books were a treat as well!
Lovely idea!

Mary Hoffman said...

JRR Tolkien was my favourite author when I was 9/10 and the LOTR books were coming out. (btw A Dog so Small is by Philippa Pearce!)

frances thomas said...

Rosemary Sutcliff, Geoffrey Trease, Meriol Trevor ( a time travel book called Sun Slower Sun Faster) and Kate Seredy - does anyone else remember her? - The Good Master, The Singing Tree - set in prewar Hungary

Michele said...

So it is, Mary. My bad.


Susan Price said...

As a child, pre-teen, my favourite authors were Kipling and Hans Anderson. Oh, and Henry Treece. Apart from them, I read a lot of my parents' books, such as David Attenborough's 'Zoo Quest' books, and non-fiction books about animals. And myths and fairy-stories.

I really didn't come across writers like Susan Cooper, Sutcliffe, Pearce until much later - when other people were reading racy stuff under the bedclothes. Obviously, I'm a slow developer.

But the sun is shining where you are, Kath? It's lashing down here, and as dreich as November

jongleuse said...

I loved Diana Wynne Jones, Madeline L'Engle and Ursula Le Guin especially, so I'm not sure why I have never read any Andre Norton? Will certainly seek her out now.

Katherine Langrish said...

What a lovely post,Katherine! Recognise so many of these... really hard to say, but John Masefield's The Box of Delights would make it on to any list of mine.

Juliet said...

Ooh, Rosemary Sutcliff, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, John Christopher, Ursula le Guin, Tolkien and all the Jean Plaidy books in the school library(!)

Ann Turnbull said...

Books I read over and over again aged 8-13: Jim Davis by John Masefield; What Katy Did; Little Women; Heidi; the Jungle Books, The Narnia Books; the early chapters of Jane Eyre; Robin Hood by Carola Oman; The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson (discovered Kidnapped later); Hans Andersen stories; She by Rider Haggard; Hunt the King, Hide the Fox by Meriol Trevor.
What an enjoyable post! thank you, Katherine.

Katherine Roberts said...

Ah yes Ann, I enjoyed H Rider Haggard too, though I think he was strictly a writer for adults, since his books were not in the children's section of our library... my mum recommended him to me!

For anyone who hasn't read him yet, you can now get the whole H Rider Haggard omnibus of 50 novels and short stories on Kindle for about £1... and probably lots of the other great authors mentioned above, too, if their works have gone out of copyright.

Isn't "The Little White Horse" one of JK Rowling's favourites, too, Adele? I must have read it at some stage, since I know I read pretty much everything that had a horse on the cover when I was that age, but it's not one that sticks in my mind - mmm, maybe I missed it after all! Another one for the list.

Laurie Graham said...

Rosemary Sutcliff, definitely. Also Patricia Lynch, R L Stevenson and, I'm sorry to confess, Angela Brazil. I love the idea of a Retro Read.

Marjorie said...

So hard to pick just one. Or even just six.

Diana Wynne Jones - I think the first I read, and the one I re-read most often, was 'The Lives of Christopher Chant'
Susan Cooper's 'Dark is Rising' series
The Narnia books, Lorna Hill's Sadlers Wells series, Monica Edwards' Romney Marsh series (I also enjoyed her 'Punchbowl Farm' series but the Romney Marsh ones were (and are) my favourites.
Arthur Ransome
I also enjoyed the Chalet School books by Elinor M Brent Dyer, and although they weren't written for children, I read pretty much all of Leslie Charteris's 'Saint' booksbetween the ages of 11 and 15 (many of them in school)
Little Women, E Nesbit (especially 'The Phoenix and the Carpet' and '5 Children and It')
'Eric Linklater's 'The Pirates of the Deep Green Sea'.

Marjorie said...

Oh, and Astercote and 'A Stich in Time' and 'Charlotte Sometimes'
I liked time slip books, too!