Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Every Picture Tells a Story


This illustration is taken from an old copy of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, a book presented to my mother as prize when she was a schoolgirl, and eventually given to me. I always loved the stories it contained with the adventures of Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sinbad, but I was captivated most of all by the picture at the front of the book and the promise of magical stories that it represented.

I was never far from a book when I was a child, and I was lucky to grow up in a house where books were plentiful, cared for and shared. As a teacher I encouraged parents to share books with their children. Many would see it as a chore; the nightly ritual with the reading book sent home with a comment card. If they were lucky, Mum or Dad might hear them read whilst cooking the tea, one ear on the TV, one eye on baby brother. If they were unlucky the book never came out of its bookbag. What to write on the comment card? "Jane read nicely today,”  or “Josh struggled with this - it’s too hard.”  Worst of all was the complaint that a book had too many pictures! I lost count over the years of how many times I had to fight that particular battle, and this is not the place to share the arguments I used.

I wasn’t denied picture books as a child, and my own children and grandchildren also developed the reading habit using picture books. These days, of course, they also read interactive books on the iPad.


It’s all about starting them young and here is my daughter aged about ten months with one of her first ‘board books’. These were sturdily made, in order to withstand the trauma of being handled by pudgy infant fingers smeared with Marmite or jam. She soon learned that any book was worth grabbing from the shelf. At this age she learned to treat books with respect, turning the pages carefully and enjoying the sensation of new delights as she did so; what pictures would be next? And what were those funny squiggles? They don’t look quite so interesting, but Mummy and Daddy manage to turn them into exciting stories for me, so there must be something in it!

From here, she progressed to our old friend Rupert Bear, and, like her parents before her, she was given the new Rupert Annual each Christmas. Now I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea; I once heard an Education Advisor in Lincoln, where I began my teaching career, describe him as her ‘bete noire’ and I think the irony was lost on her. The rhyming couplets under each picture were sometimes painful on the ear, but their simplicity lent themselves perfectly to bedtime reading. We have all the Rupert Annuals, going back to the 1940s, and we only stopped buying them a couple of years ago. Space was at a premium, and besides, they just aren’t the same anymore, and far too PC for my liking.
In the 1950s, my parents would read Beatrix Potter stories to me, and by the time I had my own library tickets, I was choosing a range of books from Grimms Fairy Tales to Orlando (The Marmalade) Cat and Teddy Robinson, and yes, they all had pictures. I still love picture books and one of my delights, as regular visitors to this blog will know, is the melding of words and pictures to make the perfect partnership. 

This is not my daughter, but she is wearing her clothes! It’s Sally, and I made her for my daughter one Christmas so that she could have a lifesize doll. Sally was very useful as a visual aid in school, and here she is as part of a display on the theme of childhood, demonstrating the pleasure of books. And look at what she’s reading children; yes, it’s a picture book and one which celebrates the art of one of the finest illustrators, Kate Greenaway.

The keen-eyed amongst you will also have spotted that one of my treasured books of sepia photographs is given a prominent position. This is ‘Children of the Past in Photographic Portraits’ by Alison Mager.


On my bookshelf is another wonderful tome called ‘The Treasures of Childhood’ by Iona and Robert Opie and Brian Alderson. It’s full of pictures of memorabilia that keep you turning the pages in delight. In a section on ‘Nursery Novelties’ they describe how a wooden box with a sliding lid revealed a children’s library. The box was made in 1799 when diversity and playfulness were beginning to appear in children’s books, showing a willingess to encourage reading and even make it fun - some of the parents of my former pupils wouldn’t like that at all. It reminded me of another item on my bookshelf. Fellow blogger Bob, asked if any of us had fake books on the bookshelves, and I do!

Mine was made for my mother by her uncle in Australia, and the hidden treasure it contains is not a minature library but something with its own story to tell; a  piece of coral from the Great Barrier Reef.

See what hidden treasures others have revealed by visiting this week’s Sepia Saturday, where the picture prompt was a man reading a book.



21 comments:

  1. It's not just books that have fallen foul of the PC brigade - the toy on the arm of your chair now has a name that no one speaks and is not to be seen anymore. There is now more precious thing to give to a child than a book with pictures or without. Just one book can spark their imagination.

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  2. Little Nell, oh, I love your post!!! It is just wonderful. Like you, I was lucky to grow up in a household of readers and we always had books around for all ages. At our home, I still do.

    Thanks for sharing with us. I am sure that you lit the book candle under many of your students who would not have been readers otherwise.

    Have a great week!

    Kathy M.

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  3. My elder son always got the Rupert annual for Christmas too! Still have them ... somewhere. Great post.
    Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

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  4. I still have a load of 70s and 80s Rupert annuals at my parents - my boys enjoyed them this Christmas, although we were glad of the rhyming couplets in lieu of the full story, they take ages to read!

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  5. Your first picture is so sweet. that was me too as a child.

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  6. I hadn't heard of Rupert annuals before. I like wood and interesting boxes, so I especially liked your fake book.

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  7. There weren't many books in my home when I was growing up, but I soon discovered our library. It just happened to be the former home of (Max Aiken)Lord Beaverbrook. He went on to donate many buildings to the Miramichi area. His ashes are in a bust of him in our city Queen Elizabeth Square. I remember getting the day off school when the bust was dedicated. We have a new modern library now, but it can't beat the creaking floors and stairs when we used to climb 3 flights of stairs to sit down and read children books.

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  8. Thank goodness my generation of teachers moved literacy from its 'pictures are a distraction' to 'How otherwise could one describe a kangaroo?' and on to reading is FUN! Now we have u-tube to even better supplment prose and pictures! I love paper books but I must soon buy an e-reader!

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  9. It is always endearing to see a child - the younger the better - taking heart in a book!

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  10. It's ironic that I hated reading as a kid, probably because of those lame book reports. Yet I ended up being an English major. Somewhere along the line I decided I had missed too much by refusing to read and needed desperately to catch up!

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  11. When I was a young reader, I loved the illustrations as much as the writing. Tasha Tudor's lovely books, or anything by Maurice Sendak, come to mind.

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  12. There is nothing more joyful than watching a child discover reading. Unless it is reading TO a child. Great post!

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  13. I think the things you read as a child have a huge impact on the way you learn, the way you approach education and grow up - I completely agree that picture books and illustrations are just as useful in getting children to read as the words themselves. I'm also lucky that I had parents who rarely denied me any book I was after since they were generally the only things I asked for :-)

    Jem xXx

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  14. I remember in my first library years my first port of call was to look and see if there was an new Orlando the Marmalade Cat on the shelf.

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  15. A beautiful post. When I was growing up no TV and books were my best friend. I started early to read huge classics and still today love a big thick book. I like my Kindle but miss the feeling and smell of a new book. I have many books in my home but give them to a private library to lend out. I would soon be overrun if I did not.
    QMM

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  16. I love your post Nell, and the photo of your in the chair reading is priceless. I was blessed to have had a dad who thought books were the greatest Treasures one could have and give to another.

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  17. I don't remember being read to in my early years, but I saw the adults in my home enjoying their own reading materials while I listened to stories on 78 rpm records. My teachers were the ones who showed me that books contained wonderful stories, and I've been hooked ever since. Hooray for good teachers!

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  18. You look like a miniature Louise Brooks. Great photos and that illustration is magical.

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  19. Oh, I have bought old illustration books just recently for their artwork, meant for children, I suppose, but I enjoy them and I'm over 40! J.J. Grandville is one illustrated book I just picked up (1970's) but I am always on the lookout for books illustrated by Herbert Cole, Walter Crane, Warwick Goble and William Heath Robinson to name a few!

    The other day, our house smelled like paint as we are having the interior repainted. One of my daughters said "Oh I HATE this smell, I wish it could smell like books instead... old books... I'd like that".

    That made my day! Obviously I liked your post. Oh, and WHAT is that doll on the arm chair? It looks a bit scary. :)

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  20. Books are special - and this comes over so clearly in your post. And I do so agree with your wider point : it doesn't make too much difference the type of book (or indeed whether it is a book or an ipad or a kindle). it is the act of reading, of translating via imagination a written thought into an imagined concept that is important.

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  21. Reading is something that I never seem to be able to find enough dedicated time to do these days. I am quite a slow reader (certainly compared to my wife) and I am easily distracted, so unless I have complete calm around me, I don't seem to get anywhere. As a child I remember very few of the books I read, apart from those on the school sylabus like the Janet and John books, We Went Shopping, and of course a whole raft of Enid Blyton. These days I am reading mainly non-fiction, and have developed a taste for reading about the glory days of Britain's long lost railways.

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